30 April 2005

30.04.05. The United States and global warming: a tale of two countries

Editor’s note: More in this excellent series, The politics of climate change, published by openDemocracy Ltd developed in partnership with the British Council as part of their ZeroCarbonCity initiative. For the full series go to http://www.opendemocracy.net/climate_change/index.jsp

The United States and global warming: a tale of two countries

Alden Meyer

The challenge of global climate change forces the world to ask: what to do about the United States? Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists says: ignore the Bush administration and get on with business.

To have a fighting chance to keep global warming within safe levels, industrialised countries must reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases by 80% below 2000 levels by 2050 – and we must begin to make those reductions right away. Under the Kyoto Protocol, Europe, Japan, and other industrialised countries have committed to start making modest cuts in their emissions, and have acknowledged the need for much deeper cuts in the years ahead.

In stark contrast, US emissions are projected to increase 14% over the next decade, and the administration of President George W Bush has made it crystal clear that it will not engage in negotiations – or even informal discussions – about mandatory emissions limits.

President Bush has proposed no meaningful alternative to Kyoto. His voluntary, business-as-usual approach is heavy on long-term technology research, but ignores the tremendous potential of currently available clean energy technologies to cut global warming pollution right now. His administration has consistently opposed serious policies to accelerate deployment of these technologies, such as the proposal supported by 58 senators – including 10 Republicans – to require electric utilities to increase the share of their electricity generated from renewable energy resources from the current two percent up to 10% by 2020. And when California responds to the federal leadership vacuum by putting sensible limits on global warming pollution from new vehicles, the Bush administration joins the auto companies in challenging the state’s right to take such action.

Fifty years from now, the Bush presidency will likely be remembered for two things: the war in Iraq, and the utter irresponsibility of the president’s climate policy.

And while 43 senators voted for the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act, which would establish mandatory economy-wide emissions caps, 55 senators, including most Republicans, opposed it. One of them, who by luck would have it chairs the Senate’s Environment Committee, called global warming the “greatest hoax every perpetrated on the American people”.

Beyond the Beltway

Fortunately, all is not doom and gloom in America. In addition to California’s path-breaking emissions limits on new vehicles, a number of states are pursuing mandatory caps on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, and eighteen states have adopted renewable electricity generation standards. Over 150 cities and counties have signed on to the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign, setting specific emissions reduction targets and developing action plans to meet the target.

Many business leaders are also stepping up to the plate, setting emissions reduction goals for their companies. DuPont, for example, set out to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 65% from 1990 levels by 2010; by 2002, the company had exceeded this goal, achieving actual reductions of 67 percent. Others are speaking out on the need for mandatory national emissions limits. John Rowe, chairman of Exelon Corporation, one of the nation’s largest electric utilities, recently endorsed a call to regulate global warming emissions, saying “the science on climate change has become overwhelming.”

Another major utility, Cinergy Corporation, has stated that a “well-constructed policy that gradually and predictably” reduces global warming emissions can be managed “without undue disruption to the company or the economy.” Many other corporate leaders share these views, but are reluctant to speak out, afraid of retaliation if they publicly disagree with the Bush administration on this issue.

Meanwhile, other voices are joining the debate, such as evangelical Christian leaders motivated by the likely severe impact of global warming on the world’s poor and the Bible’s call for stewardship of God’s creation. As the Rev. Rich Cizik, vice-president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, recently put it: “I don’t think God is going to ask us how he created the Earth, but he will ask us what we did with what he created.” As evangelical Christians are widely seen as a core component of the Republican Party’s political base, their engagement on this issue is quite significant.

While these are all hopeful signs, there is little chance they will produce a change of heart in President Bush in his remaining years in office. It is more likely that this mounting pressure will cause the next president, whether Republican or Democrat, to reverse course and restore American leadership in the fight against global warming.

The world’s choice

With negotiations due to start later this year on emissions reductions beyond the end of Kyoto’s first commitment period in 2012, the rest of the world has three options in responding to current US intransigence.

First, try to engage the Bush administration on post-2012 climate policy. Given the administration’s posture, this would be like talking to a brick wall.

Second, wait for the next administration to take office in January 2009 to start negotiations on what comes next. Given the urgent need to minimise the impacts of climate change, the world can’t afford such a delay. Moreover, this would create uncertainty amongst the world’s businesses, just now starting to adjust to the reality of binding emissions limits under the Kyoto Protocol, as to whether those limits will in fact continue and deepen post-2012.

Third, enter into these negotiations without any expectation of meaningful participation by the United States. This can and should be done in a way that makes US re-entry into the process possible after President Bush leaves office. One suggestion is to informally consult the growing number of US governors, mayors, and business CEOs who are taking progressive action on global warming as to the shape of the future climate treaty regime. This would ensure that constructive US views are taken into account in the negotiating process, while building support within the United States for the post-2012 agreement that results from the negotiations.

This last option is far from ideal, but is the only one that holds out any prospect for progress.

The European Union must take the lead in these negotiations, by engaging major developing countries such as Brazil, China, and India, and by declaring that it will move forward with further emissions reductions post-2012 even in the face of US inaction. Implementation of its existing Kyoto commitments will also show how seriously the EU takes this issue, and will demonstrate the fallacy of President Bush’s claim that meeting the Kyoto targets can only come at the costs of the economy and jobs.

In fact, it’s the United States’s non-participation in the emerging global climate regime that poses the real long-term threat to the US economy. Companies in Europe, Japan, and other countries that are moving ahead to cut global warming emissions are grabbing market share from US companies in renewable energy systems, fuel-efficient vehicles, and other clean technologies, not only in their own markets but also in explosively growing new markets in China, India, and other developing countries.

It may seem a paradox that the best way to ultimately draw the United States back into the international climate treaty regime is by not wasting time trying to engage the current US administration. But that is the reality the world now faces. Only by demonstrating the political will to move forward on the deeper emissions reductions needed beyond 2012 can other countries add to the mounting domestic pressure for the United States to get serious about global warming.

Copyright ©Alden Meyer 2005. Published by openDemocracy Ltd. You may download and print extracts from this article for your own personal and non-commercial use only.

28 April 2005

28.04.05. Cities and towns need sustainable development (Dhaka)

Editor’s note: Where can we look for lessons and guides in the struggle to sustainable cities? What about the following commentary coming in today from Dhaka, a city of 10, 11, 12 million people half of whom living in slums and shanties, most of whom living “off the economy” and with average income on the order of a dollar a day. To get around in their city most people today simply walk or take rickshaws (bicycle taxies). But both these forms of transport, sustainable thought they may be, are coming under pressure from many directions. In order to put the “transportation policy paradox’ into contact, we suggest that in parallel with the following you have a look at the challenging synopsis prepared by a joint task force including representatives of the Work for a Better Bangladesh project (www.wbbtrust.org), the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (www.itdp.org), and the World Carfree Network (www.worldcarfree.net) – “Dhaka's Rickshaws Under Threat: Stop the World Bank's War on the Poor” (http://worldcarfree.net/dhaka/). But here is what our friends from Dhaka want us to understand - that whatever we do in the area of transportation must be deeply understood in its full context:

“Around the world, environmentalists say that a strong civil society and grassroots initiatives are considered important for lasting solutions to poverty and environmental degradation. Urban transformation cannot take place without changing the old incentive systems. Local innovations can never achieve scale without cross-sectoral partnerships involving government, business, NGOs, academia, media, and grassroots groups. A climate conducive to experimentation, mutual learning, and collaboration needed to be created. The sustainable city of the 21st Century must have social justice, political participation, economic vitality, and ecological regeneration. Only with all these social elements our cities can be truly sustainable.”


Cities and towns need sustainable development

Syed Ishtiaque Reza, financialexpress.com, 4/28/2005

CITY planners on many occasions said that Dhaka is becoming unlivable because of its chaotic growth. Overpopulation, poor civic amenities and environmental degradation are cited as the main problems of the city.

The inevitable process of urbanisation has brought with it environmental degradation affecting the quality of life and striking at the root of sustainable development of cities and towns. This is more pronounced in the developing countries like Bangladesh.

In such a context, the World Environment Day 2005 will be observed June 5. The slogan of the day this year is "Green Cities: Plan for the Planet". Robust urbanism has resulted in migration of people from villages to cities. Now half of the world population of six billion lives in cities and by 2030 the share will go up to 60 per cent. So it is clear that society's future will largely depend on how urban environmental problems will be addressed.

Cities today are the breeding grounds of pollution, poverty, disease and despair and, with careful planning, they can be turned into flagships of sustainable development. This sort of observation is heard from the United Nations and other international bodies. In fact, this is not only a warning, but also a declaration of faith in the ability of nations to turn the expansion of urban centres into an effort that would benefit all.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) believes that providing improved sanitation to the slums will protect freshwater resources and the sea into which all rivers flow, besides helping save the lives of many of the thousands of children who die every day from preventable diseases associated with the lack of safe water and poor hygiene.
The challenges presented by growing urbanisation are daunting. But it is also felt that these challenges are not unbeatable. In towns and cities, cars, trucks and industries are causing climate change. These emissions can be drastically cut by a combination of clean energy technologies coupled with enlightened city planning.

The degree of urbanisation in Bangladesh has been one of the fastest in the world. The rise of urban population is staggering. The number of towns has risen while Dhaka itself turned into a mega city with more than 10 million people. Yet there seems a sort of complacency everywhere about the consequence of such fast urbanisation.

The adverse impact of unregulated growth in urban population on urban infrastructure and services is evident in worsening water quality, excessive air and noise pollution and the problems of disposal of solid wastes and hazardous wastes. In official documents most of the urban households are provided with water supply. But, in reality, the water supply system is very poor and irregular.

There is also inequity in distribution. Within cities, poor citizens face the worst environmental consequences. In low-income settlements, services such as water, sewage, drainage and garbage collection are often non-existent. The poorer sections, the slum-dwellers, are the worst sufferers. There is also contamination of water supply owing to poor maintenance and mixing with drainage and sewerage water. Water supply is an important function for a city as sanitation plays a crucial role in public health. The poor sanitary conditions, particularly in slums, lead to outbreaks of cholera and gastroenteritis. It is well known that water-borne diseases are a major cause of mortality.

A huge number of urban households, especially slums, are without latrines or connections to septic tanks or sewerage. For them, low-cost sanitation can be a better solution. This is useful not only for the majority of urban centres but also for places where the costly option of underground drainage is not feasible.

There should be sufficient awareness among policymakers and administrators about the importance and urgency of taking up measures to improve the management of urban waste water and solid waste. It is recognised that there is no proper system of collection, transportation, treatment and disposal of solid waste in most cities and towns. This has become a cause for concern.
Air pollution in cities has been on the increase due to increased number of vehicles and consequent increase in the emission of pollutants. To reduce vehicular pollution, emission standards are being prescribed by donors and international environment bodies.

Inadequate housing stock and increase in the number of slums have added to environmental concerns in urban areas. The shortage of housing in urban areas resulted in providing some amount of civic amenities in a non-coordinated fashion.

Admittedly, tackling the innumerable problems of urbanisation requires effective urban governance, which is beset by problems such as fragmentation of responsibility, incomplete devolution of functions and funds to the elected urban local bodies, unwillingness to progress towards municipal autonomy, adherence to outmoded methods of property tax and reluctance to levy user charges. The central government (the secretariat based ministries) lacks faith in the capability of urban local bodies to meet their obligations as institutions of local self-governance.

Urban environmental, social and economic sustainability is essential for the country's sustainability. Concentrating human population in cities is an environmental necessity to create resource efficiencies. Alleviating urban poverty is essential to ensure urban environmental regeneration. The urban poor tend to occupy the most ecologically fragile and service-deprived areas of our cities. Without alternative locations to settle and sufficient income, their survival will increasingly be eroded against environmental needs.

Around the world, environmentalists say that a strong civil society and grassroots initiatives are considered important for lasting solutions to poverty and environmental degradation. Urban transformation cannot take place without changing the old incentive systems. Local innovations can never achieve scale without cross-sectoral partnerships involving government, business, NGOs, academia, media, and grassroots groups. A climate conducive to experimentation, mutual learning, and collaboration needed to be created. The sustainable city of the 21st Century must have social justice, political participation, economic vitality, and ecological regeneration. Only with all these social elements our cities can be truly sustainable.

27 April 2005

27.04.05. The global transport challenge.John Whitelegg

Editor’s note: Our old friend and long time defender of sustainable transport and social justice, John Whitelegg, also a member of our International Advisory Council and Founder and Editor of the important independent Journal of World Transport Policy and Practice, has for some years been busy mining the interface between the more technical aspects of our subject, and the politics of change. This article appeared in today’s openDemocracy’s online debate.

The global transport challenge

John Whitelegg, 26 - 4 – 2005, openDemocracy’s online debate

The world’s transport system wastes lives, health, and money – and is choking the planet. Citizens need to take control, says John Whitelegg

There is a world transport crisis. 3,000 people are killed every day in road-traffic accidents, air pollution from vehicles is bathing most if not all cities in a chemical soup and deaths from respiratory diseases exceed deaths in traffic accidents.

This would be a high price to pay for a perfectly functioning transport system that delivers people and goods speedily and efficiently but this is not the case. All countries and cities spend a lot of money for a transport “solution” that has failed. In a rare example of global unity and shared experience car commuters in Los Angeles are stuck in traffic jams in the same way as they are in Bangkok, Delhi, Beijing and Rio.

Our highway-based transport systems purchased at huge expense are failing miserably to deliver anything. We have created a very expensive way of organising transport in cities, one that is grossly inefficient and one that exacts a terrible penalty in deaths, injuries and lifetime disability.

This penalty is an affront to human rights. Traffic conditions make it very difficult indeed for children and the elderly to cross roads. Women with childcare duties find public transport difficult to use and the poor who rely on walking and cycling are exposed to more danger than the car occupant. Large sums of money are spent in Delhi and Kolkata on expanding roads, highways and flyovers that can only benefit the richer members of the urban elite. The poor are left to suffer with inadequate pedestrian pavements and polluted air.

Donald Appleyard, in his famous book Livable Streets (1981), described how people living on streets with light traffic had more friends and acquaintances than people in cities with heavy traffic. They lived in more sociable, friendly and community-based environments.

Citizens know this instinctively and seek out high-quality environments away from the noise, dirt and danger of cars and lorries. The problem is that this privilege is usually only available to the rich, which is why 90% of the people killed in road-traffic accidents are likely to be poor, cyclists, pedestrians or bus users in developing countries. Transport has become a socially polarised experience with poor people living in poor-quality environments whilst richer people drive past them, cocooned in their cars on the way to a rich variety of destinations inaccessible to the poor.

The need to lead

Meanwhile, cars and lorries account for about 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions and are amongst the fastest growing sources of these gases. This presents politicians with problems. Most politicians would accept that climate change and all its attendant dangers are at or near the top of the list of things that they think are important – but they dare not “touch” transport.

Most cities, regions and countries want more roads. Beijing would like another five-ring road to add to its existing five-ring roads. Most cities would dearly like an international airport, or a bigger one if they already have one. The World Bank funds new roads in India and China. This locks all cities into higher levels of fossil-fuel dependency and higher levels of greenhouse gas production at the same time as prime ministers make speeches about reducing greenhouse gases. No wonder ordinary citizens are confused about what they should do.

It need not be like this. The former mayor of Bogotá in Colombia, Enrique Penelosa, showed the world that a relatively poor city in a relatively poor country can set the highest standards for transport. He declared car-free days, established a highly reliable and cheap to use bus system (TransMillenio) and built a 17-kilometre bike and pedestrian route to connect poor parts of the city with the downtown area. This stands in stark contrast to most African, Indian and Chinese cities that are investing heavily in new roads and doing nothing for the poor and those who live in polluted conditions.

The Bogotá experience is not an isolated one. Curitiba, Brazil has pioneered an outstandingly successful bus “rapid transit system” and done this, like Bogotá, at much lower cost than a metro rail system and with much wider geographical benefits to the region. London has reduced congestion by 30% with its congestion pricing and Copenhagen has achieved some of the highest bicycle use of any city in the world.

The message in global transport patterns is clear. There are no technical, economic or organisational problems in finding solutions but there is an enormous difficulty in achieving political will. Where real progress has been made this has occurred because of strong leadership by key politicians. This presents us all with good news and bad news.

The good news is that there are very few, if any, barriers to innovative and successful transport projects aimed at creating liveable and sustainable cities. They are not expensive to achieve and they present few, if any, technological problems. The significant barrier everywhere is political will. The London congestion charge would not have gone ahead were it not for the unusual drive, ambition and single-mindedness of the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.

Werner Broeg in Munich has carried out research around the world on politicians and he has found that in most cases politicians have established views about traffic and transport characterised by a belief that everyone wants to drive, that the car is the most desirable mode of transport and that anything perceived of as anti-car will result in loss of political office.

Another road is possible

Broeg’s work shows that politicians routinely underestimate the appetite of the electorate for radical change. Citizens would like to see more public transport, walking and cycling and would like to see more convivial and sociable use of public space. Citizens are willing to reduce car trips given the right information, incentives and support. In York, England a project aimed at reducing car trips produced a 16% reduction in these trips in a six-month period in its target group.

All this points to the need for a change in worldview underwritten by citizen action. It is possible to create highly desirable city living spaces, to eliminate deaths and injuries on the roads and to reduce obesity and greenhouse gases – and to do this at much lower cost than building roads, which makes the problems worse. The way forward is citizen action and the generation of enlightened politicians. We are still in the foothills of understanding how to move in this direction.

This article appears as part of openDemocracy’s online debate on the politics of climate change. The debate was developed in partnership with the British Council as part of their ZeroCarbonCity initiative - a two year global campaign to raise awareness and stimulate debate around the challenges of climate change.

Copyright ©John Whitelegg 2005. Published by openDemocracy Ltd. You may download and print extracts from this article for your own personal and non-commercial use only. If you are a library, university, teaching institution, business or media organisation, you must acquire an Academic License or Organisational License from openDemocracy, or seek permission directly from the author, before making copies, circulating or reproducing this article for teaching or commercial.

25 April 2005

25.04.05. Climate of Denial, Bill McKibben

Editor's Note: In the spirit of equal time, we hand the podium to Bill McKibben.

Climate of Denial
Republished from Mother Jones

One morning in Kyoto, we won a round in the battle against global warming. Then special interests snatched the truth away.

It was around eight in the morning in the vast convention hall in Kyoto. The negotiations over a worldwide treaty to limit global warming gases, which were supposed to have ended the evening before, had gone on through the night. Drifts of paper—treaty drafts, industry talking points, environmentalist press releases—overflowed every wastebasket. Delegates in suits and ties were passed out on couches, noisily mouth breathing. And polite squadrons of workers were shooing people out of the hall so that some trade show—tool and die makers, I think—could set up its displays.

Finally, from behind the closed doors, word emerged that we had a treaty. The greens all cheered, halfheartedly—since it wasn’t as though the agreement would go anywhere near far enough to arrest global warming—but firm in their conviction that the tide on the issue had finally turned. After a decade of resistance, the oil companies and the car companies and all the other deniers of global warming had seen their power matched.

Or so it seemed. I was standing next to a top industry lobbyist, a man who had spent the last week engineering opposition to the treaty, huddling with Exxon lawyers and Saudi delegates, detailing the Venezuelans to change this word, the Kuwaitis to soften that number. Right now he looked just plain tired. “I can’t wait to get back to Washington,” he said. “In Washington we’ll get this under control again.”

At the time I thought he was blowing smoke, putting on a game face, whistling past the graveyard of corporate control. I almost felt sorry for him; it seemed to me (as sleep-deprived as everyone else) that we were on the brink of a new world.

As it turned out, we both were right. The rest of the developed world took Kyoto seriously; in the eight years since then, the Europeans and the Japanese have begun to lay the foundation for rapid and genuine progress toward the initial treaty goal of cutting carbon emissions to a level 5 to 10 percent below what it was in 1990. You can see the results of that long Kyoto night in the ranks of windmills rising along the coast of the North Sea, in the solar panels sprouting on German rooftops, and in the remarkable political unanimity in most of the world on the need for rapid change. Tony Blair’s science adviser has repeatedly called global warming a greater threat than terrorism, but that hasn’t been enough for Britain’s Conservatives; the Tory leader (the equivalent of, say, Tom DeLay) rose last summer to excoriate Blair for moving too slowly on carbon reductions.

In Washington, however, the lobbyists did get things “under control.” Eight years after Kyoto, Big Oil and Big Coal remain in complete and unchallenged power. Around the country, according to industry analysts, 68 new coal-fired power plants are in various stages of planning. Detroit makes cars that burn more fuel, on average, than at any time in the last two decades. The president doesn’t mention the global warming issue, and the leaders of the opposition don’t, either: John Kerry didn’t exactly run on solving the climate crisis. The high-water mark for legislative action came in 2003, when John McCain actually managed to persuade 43 senators to support a bill calling for at least some carbon reductions, albeit much lower than even the modest Kyoto levels. But given that it takes 60 votes to beat a filibuster and 66 to override a veto, and given that the GOP has since added four hard-right senators to its total, it’s safe to say that nothing will be happening inside the Beltway anytime soon.

IT WAS NEVER going to be easy. Controlling global warming is not like the other battles (dirty water, smog) that environmentalists have taken on, and mostly won, over the years. Carbon dioxide, a.k.a. CO2, or just “carbon” for short, is not a conventional pollutant. It’s tasteless, colorless, odorless. Unlike carbon monoxide, which is what kills you if you leave your car running in the garage, CO2 doesn’t do anything to the human body directly. It does its damage in the lower atmosphere by holding in heat that would otherwise escape out to space. And even more unfortunate, there’s no easy way to get rid of it, no catalytic converter you can stick on your tailpipe, no scrubber you can fit to your smokestack. To reduce the amount of CO2 pouring into the atmosphere means dramatically reducing the amount of fossil fuel being consumed. Which means changing the underpinning of the planet’s entire economy and altering our most ingrained personal habits. Even under the best scenarios, this will involve something more like a revolution than a technical fix.

You would think the Europeans would have had a harder time making reductions; after all, they were already fairly energy-efficient, thanks to decades of high taxes on coal and oil. Their low-hanging fruit had long since been plucked. For the United States, there were loads of relatively easy fixes. We could have quickly reduced our emissions by trimming the number of SUVs on the road, for instance, while the French were already in Peugeots. However, in certain ways, America was more firmly locked into coal and oil than our European peers: sprawling suburbs, oversized houses, abandoned rail lines. We had the single hardest habit to break, which was thinking of energy as something cheap. This staggering inertia meant that even when our leaders had some interest in controlling energy use, they faced a real challenge. Al Gore wrote a book insisting that the future of civilization itself depended on battling global warming; during his eight years as vice president, Americans increased their carbon emissions by 15 percent.

What makes the battle harder still is the tangibility gap between benefits and costs. Everyone is, in the long run, better off if the planet doesn’t burn to a crisp. But in any given year the payoff for shifting away from fossil fuel is incremental and essentially invisible. The costs, however, are concentrated: If you own a coal mine, an oil well, or an assembly line churning out gas-guzzlers, you have a very strong incentive for making sure no one starts charging you for emitting carbon.

At the very least, the “energy sector” needed to stall for time, so that its investments in oil fields and the like could keep on earning for their theoretical lifetimes. The strategy turned out to be simple: Cloud the issue as much as possible so that voters, already none too eager to embrace higher gas prices, would have no real reason to move climate change to the top of their agendas. I mean, if the scientists aren’t absolutely certain, well, why not just wait until they get it sorted out?

The tactic worked brilliantly; throughout the 1990s, even as other nations took action, the fossil fuel industry’s Global Climate Coalition managed to make American journalists treat the accelerating warming as a he-said-she-said story. True, a vast scientific consensus was forming that climate change threatens the earth more profoundly than anything since the dawn of civilization, but in an Associated Press dispatch the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change didn’t look all that much more impressive than, say, Patrick Michaels of the Cato Institute or S. Fred Singer, former chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Michaels and Singer weren’t really doing new research, just tossing jabs at those who were, but that didn’t matter. Their task was not to build a new climate model; it was to provide cover for politicians who were only too happy to duck the issue. Their task was to keep things under control.

It was all incredibly crude. But it was also incredibly effective. For now and for the foreseeable future, the climate skeptics have carried the day. They’ve understood the shape of American politics far better than environmentalists. They know that it doesn’t matter how many scientists are arrayed against you as long as you can intimidate newspapers into giving you equal time. They understand, too, that playing defense is all they need to do: Given the inertia inherent in the economy, it’s more than sufficient to simply instill doubt.

IN SHORT, the deniers have done their job, and done it better than the environmen- talists have done theirs. They’ve delayed action for 15 years now, and their power seems to grow with each year. How, even as the science grew ever firmer and the evidence mounted ever higher, did the climate deniers manage to muddy the issue? It’s one of the mightiest political feats of our time, accomplished by a small group of clever and committed people. It’s worthwhile trying to understand how they work, not least because some of the same tactics are now being used in debates over other issues, like Social Security. And because the fight over global warming won’t end here. Try as they might, even with all three branches of government under their control, conservative Republicans can’t repeal the laws of chemistry and physics.

Bill McKibben is a contributing writer to Mother Jones and the author of several books, including his most recent, Wandering Home: A Long Walk Across America’s Most Hopeful Landscapes, Vermont’s Champlain Valley and New York’s Adirondacks.

24 April 2005

24.04.05. Market forces could prove the environment's best friend

Editor’s note: Here we are again. This time from The Economist. And who indeed can argue with their basic thesis, other than to suggest that while this is very much part of the solution and a necessary step in the right direction, it ain’t the whole story. What seems to be lacking from their analysis is the necessary sense of urgency. And if in life we may here and there be satisfied to sit back and Wait for Godot, we cannot in this case afford simply to sit back and Wait for the Market.

Market forces could prove the environment's best friend-if only greens could learn to love them

"THE environmental movement's foundational concepts, its method for framing legislative proposals, and its very institutions are outmoded. Today environmentalism is just another special interest." Those damning words come not from any industry lobby or right-wing think-tank. They are drawn from "The Death of Environmentalism", an influential essay published recently by two greens with impeccable credentials. They claim that environmental groups are politically adrift and dreadfully out of touch.

They are right. In America, greens have suffered a string of defeats on high-profile issues. They are losing the battle to prevent oil drilling in Alaska's wild lands, and have failed to spark the public's imagination over global warming. Even the stridently ungreen George Bush has failed to galvanise the environmental movement. The solution, argue many elders of the sect, is to step back from day-to-day politics and policies and "energise" ordinary punters with talk of global-warming calamities and a radical "vision of the future commensurate with the magnitude of the crisis".

Europe's green groups, while politically stronger, are also starting to lose their way intellectually. Consider, for example, their invocation of the woolly "precautionary principle" to demonise any complex technology (next-generation nuclear plants, say, or genetically modified crops) that they do not like the look of. A more sensible green analysis of nuclear power would weigh its (very high) economic costs and (fairly low) safety risks against the important benefit of generating electricity with no greenhouse-gas emissions.

Small victories and bigger defeats

The coming into force of the UN's Kyoto protocol on climate change might seem a victory for Europe's greens, but it actually masks a larger failure. The most promising aspect of the treaty-its innovative use of market-based instruments such as carbon-emissions trading-was resisted tooth and nail by Europe's greens. With courageous exceptions, American green groups also remain deeply suspicious of market forces.

If environmental groups continue to reject pragmatic solutions and instead drift toward Utopian (or dystopian) visions of the future, they will lose the battle of ideas. And that would be a pity, for the world would benefit from having a thoughtful green movement. It would also be ironic, because far-reaching advances are already under way in the management of the world's natural resources-changes that add up to a different kind of green revolution. This could yet save the greens (as well as doing the planet a world of good).

"Mandate, regulate, litigate." That has been the green mantra. And it explains the world's top-down, command-and-control approach to environmental policymaking. Slowly, this is changing. Yesterday's failed hopes, today's heavy costs and tomorrow's demanding ambitions have been driving public policy quietly towards market-based approaches. One example lies in the assignment of property rights over "commons", such as fisheries, that are abused because they belong at once to everyone and no one. Where tradable fishing quotas have been issued, the result has been a drop in over-fishing. Emissions trading is also taking off. America led the way with its sulphur-dioxide trading scheme, and today the EU is pioneering carbon-dioxide trading with the (albeit still controversial) goal of slowing down climate change.

These, however, are obvious targets. What is really intriguing are efforts to value previously ignored "ecological services", both basic ones such as water filtration and flood prevention, and luxuries such as preserving wildlife. At the same time, advances in environmental science are making those valuation studies more accurate. Market mechanisms can then be employed to achieve these goals at the lowest cost. Today, countries from Panama to Papua New Guinea are investigating ways to price nature in this way (see article).

Rachel Carson meets Adam Smith

If this new green revolution is to succeed, however, three things must happen. The most important is that prices must be set correctly. The best way to do this is through liquid markets, as in the case of emissions trading. Here, politics merely sets the goal. How that goal is achieved is up to the traders.

A proper price, however, requires proper information. So the second goal must be to provide it. The tendency to regard the environment as a "free good" must be tempered with an understanding of what it does for humanity and how. Thanks to the recent Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the World Bank's annual "Little Green Data Book" (released this week), that is happening. More work is needed, but thanks to technologies such as satellite observation, computing and the internet, green accounting is getting cheaper and easier.

Which leads naturally to the third goal, the embrace of cost-benefit analysis. At this, greens roll their eyes, complaining that it reduces nature to dollars and cents. In one sense, they are right. Some things in nature are irreplaceable-literally priceless. Even so, it is essential to consider trade-offs when analysing almost all green problems. The marginal cost of removing the last 5% of a given pollutant is often far higher than removing the first 5% or even 50%: for public policy to ignore such facts would be inexcusable.

If governments invest seriously in green data acquisition and co-ordination, they will no longer be flying blind. And by advocating data-based, analytically rigorous policies rather than pious appeals to "save the planet", the green movement could overcome the scepticism of the ordinary voter. It might even move from the fringes of politics to the middle ground where most voters reside.

Whether the big environmental groups join or not, the next green revolution is already under way. Rachel Carson, the crusading journalist who inspired greens in the 1950s and 60s, is joining hands with Adam Smith, the hero of free-marketeers. The world may yet leapfrog from the dark ages of clumsy, costly, command-and-control regulations to an enlightened age of informed, innovative, incentive-based greenery.

Source: The Economist

23 April 2005

23.04.05. "Death of Environmentalism", Commentary by Nicholas Kristof

Editor's note: Nicholas Kristof is giving us part of our problematique for Kyoto Cities. This is what we have to work with, for better or worse. And this is, I would propose, a pretty strong argument for the kinds of more ambitious, results-oriented, non-research (in the old sense), non hand-wringing approaches which we are trying to advance with all our cooperative efforts here. Click the title here and have a look at the full piece from the Breakthrough Institute.

Nicholas Kristof on "I have a Nightmare"

New York Times, March 12, 2005

When environmentalists are writing tracts like "The Death of Environmentalism," you know the movement is in deep trouble.

That essay by two young environmentalists has been whirling around the Internet since last fall, provoking a civil war among tree-huggers for its assertion that "modern environmentalism, with all of its unexamined assumptions, outdated concepts and exhausted strategies, must die so that something new can live." Sadly, the authors, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, are right.

The U.S. environmental movement is unable to win on even its very top priorities, even though it has the advantage of mostly being right. Oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge may be approved soon, and there's been no progress whatsoever in the U.S. on what may be the single most important issue to Earth in the long run: climate change.

The fundamental problem, as I see it, is that environmental groups are too often alarmists. They have an awful track record, so they've lost credibility with the public. Some do great work, but others can be the left's equivalents of the neocons: brimming with moral clarity and ideological zeal, but empty of nuance. (Industry has also hyped risks with wildly exaggerated warnings that environmental protections will entail a terrible economic cost.)

"The Death of Environmentalism" resonated with me. I was once an environmental groupie, and I still share the movement's broad aims, but I'm now skeptical of the movement's "I Have a Nightmare" speeches.

In the 1970's, the environmental movement was convinced that the Alaska oil pipeline would devastate the Central Arctic caribou herd. Since then, it has quintupled.

When I first began to worry about climate change, global cooling and nuclear winter seemed the main risks. As Newsweek said in 1975: "Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend ... but they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century."

This record should teach environmentalists some humility. The problems are real, but so is the uncertainty. Environmentalists were right about DDT's threat to bald eagles, for example, but blocking all spraying in the third world has led to hundreds of thousands of malaria deaths.

Likewise, environmentalists were right to warn about population pressures, but they overestimated wildly. Paul Ehrlich warned in "The Population Bomb" that "the battle to feed humanity is over. ...Hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death." On my bookshelf is an even earlier book, "Too Many Asians," with a photo of a mass of Indians on the cover. The book warns that the threat from relentlessly multiplying Asians is "even more grave than that of nuclear warfare."

Jared Diamond, author of the fascinating new book "Collapse," which shows how some civilizations in effect committed suicide by plundering their environments, says false alarms aren't a bad thing. Professor Diamond argues that if we accept false alarms for fires, then why not for the health of our planet? But environmental alarms have been screeching for so long that, like car alarms, they are now just an irritating background noise.

At one level, we're all environmentalists now. The Pew Research Center found that more than three-quarters of Americans agree that "this country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment." Yet support for the environment is coupled with a suspicion of environmental groups. "The Death of Environmentalism" notes that a poll

in 2000 found that 41 percent of Americans considered environmental activists to be "extremists." There are many sensible environmentalists, of course, but overzealous ones have tarred the entire field.

The loss of credibility is tragic because reasonable environmentalists - without alarmism or exaggerations - are urgently needed.

Given the uncertainties and trade-offs, priority should go to avoiding environmental damage that is irreversible, like extinctions, climate change and loss of wilderness. And irreversible changes are precisely what are at stake with the Bush administration's plans to drill in the Arctic wildlife refuge, to allow roads in virgin wilderness and to do essentially nothing on global warming. That's an agenda that will disgrace us before our grandchildren.

So it's critical to have a credible, nuanced, highly respected environmental movement. And right now, I'm afraid we don't have one.

E-mail: nicholas@nytimes.com

20 April 2005

20.04.05. Sue for Sustainability (It clears the air.)

Editor's note: Excellent! Indeed one of the tools which we are hoping to mobilize in the context of the Kyoto Initiative are precisely the courts: Sue for Sustainability. It clears the air.

Berlin Faces Lawsuit Demanding Cleaner Air

Germans want to breathe less car exhaust

The EU’s new clean air laws are not being upheld in major German cities. Citizens have now taken legal action against Berlin to reduce pollutants in the air. Other German cities could have to tackle similar cases.

Major German cities are facing a wave of lawsuits for not giving their citizens air clean enough to breathe. Berlin could become the first city to be legally forced to introduce measures to improve air quality.

The German environmental organization Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) began a planned string of legal action on Monday by supporting lawsuits from three Berlin citizens. Similar suits would follow in Munich, Stuttgart and other major cities, DUH said.

The charges are a result of the EU's new clean air laws, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2005. These place limits on the air levels of nitrogen oxides and other pollutants, such as soot particles emitted by diesel vehicles. German cities and municipalities have to control their air quality and take countermeasures if the toxic levels are too high.

DUH director Jürgen Resch criticized that the cities had long been aware of the planned changes and had simply disregarded the directive. "The citizens concerned are taking legal action out of pure self-defense," Resch told journalists in Berlin.

Banning diesel vehicles

In large cities like Berlin, sticking to the new limits is a challenge. They stipulate that so-called particulate matter, the concentration of fine dust in the air, cannot exceed 50 micrograms per cubic meter on more than 35 days of the year. These pollutants have been found to cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Berlin has exceeded these levels by far in previous years.

Resch criticized that municipalities, state and federal governments had been inactive for years in battling these pollutants. Yet the EU directive has been known since 1999. He said DUH supported lawsuits in order to push through measures to clean up the air, such as driving bans for diesel vehicles without particle filters.

"We call on the cities to quickly take action to ban diesel vehicles without a filter from the cities and therefore contribute to a drastic reduction in the levels of fine dust in the air," said Resch.

However, Federal Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin said he thinks it would be more effective to tackle the problem at its source.

"I think it would be better to ensure that we find a replacement for old cars and a re-fitting of diesel vehicles very quickly in order to really reduce the levels of fine dust," said Trittin.

An unsuitable action plan for cleaner air

The three plaintiffs in the Berlin case live on the heavily-traveled Frankfurter Allee in the city's Friedrichshain district. According to the Federal Environmental Agency, this street already surpassed the maximum pollutant levels on 20 days this year. The plaintiffs' attorney, Fabian Löwenberg, said the injunction should force the municipality to take immediate measures.

"The clean air and action plan does not provide for a reduction in fine dust levels in Berlin's city center until 2008," said Löwenberg. "But it foregoes everything that would be suitable to reduce them immediately."

"The clean air and action plan for Berlin in its current form is completely unsuitable to protect people's health in the coming years," he added.

A toll for German cities?

According to DUH, the most effective measure to reduce fine dust particles in the short-term is a driving ban, for example for cars without diesel soot filters. Resch referred to other EU countries, such as Italy, that had introduced rigid measures like car-free days in order to meet the EU stipulations.

Another possibility would be to introduce city tolls, such as those implemented in London. The German traffic association Verkehrsclub Deutschland (VCD) said city tolls are a possibility to make the air in German cities cleaner.

"But the municipalities have to decide for themselves if this would catch on in their city," said VCD transport spokesman Gerd Lottsiepen. "It could be more effective if there were defined areas in which dirty vehicles, that is, those without a filter, could simply not travel."

However, German retailers strongly oppose such bans. "You can't oust cars out of the city centers," said Hubertus Pellengahr, spokesman of the German Retailers' Association HDE. "This will lead to the demise of retail stores and, subsequently, the city."

He said a lively retail industry was crucial for versatile and attractive city centers.