Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Public Land of Future Generations

English: A road at the Kallahti nature conserv...
Kallahti nature conservation area, Finland (Wikipedia)
by Zoltan Kun, European Wilderness Society: http://wilderness-society.org/the-public-land-of-future-generations/
What do you think of appointing future generations as owners of protected public land. Is this legally possible? Probably not, but let’s explain and play with the idea further.

The concept is simple: as soon as public land (a.k.a. state-owned or crown land in kingdoms) is designated for protecting biodiversity, the land-owner will not be the state (that is led by politicians), the king or the queen, but the un-born future generations.

Why? As these people are not reachable, the land would be locked for conservation. The famous quote of ‘We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children’ would suddenly get a true meaning.

We would become visitors of the land that belongs to our children, grand-children, grand-grand children, but we would not be able to change its ultimate land use: nature conservation!

The idea came from the land purchase concept of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. More than 25 years ago when the environment movement was in its infancy, Manfred Mann bought 10 acres of wild and desolate hillside near Builth Wells. The pop star then proceeded to give it all away, offering fans who bought a copy of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band LP, The Good Earth, a square foot parcel of land along with their 10 new music tracks.

Their idea was that - as the land ownership was so much divided (and no-one really know who bought the LP) - no-one will be able to build upon this land and it will be kept just as it is for ever - a gift to future generations. Brilliant idea!

Let us take a step further buy saying that the unborn generations as owner will be ensured that protected public land remains protected for their health and wealth.

Finally this concept should be accompanied with purchasing land for wilderness preservation in Europe. We must put public and private funding into purchasing land for future generations in order to increase wilderness cover in Europe.

Buying land with the purpose of giving it to future generations is not an old-fashioned way of nature conservation in Europe, but the the best way to guarantee wilderness preservation in Europe (however, this deserve another post on our website).

Friday, June 19, 2015

Frustrated Republicans Argue Pope Should Leave Science To Scientists Who Deny Climate Change

by The Onion: http://www.theonion.com/article/frustrated-republicans-argue-pope-should-leave-sci-50701

In response to a 184-page papal encyclical that urges immediate action to address the environmental and social consequences of global warming, a coalition of frustrated Republican leaders issued statements on Thursday arguing that Pope Francis should leave scientific matters to scientists who deny climate change.

“Frankly, it’s not really anyone’s place to make declarations about climate science or global temperature changes unless they’re a scientific expert who has spent years rejecting the concept of climate change,” said former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who added that the pope had neither studied climate science nor ever been among the 3% of researchers who stand in opposition to the overwhelmingly dominant position held by the scientific community on climate change, so he had no business speaking on the subject.

“Personally, I would never trust anyone as an authority on climate change unless they had done years of research and published papers claiming there isn’t enough conclusive evidence yet. The pope should just stick to theology and let the several dozen scientists who support the scientifically disproven point of view on global warming do the talking.”

Bush also told reporters that Pope Francis was unqualified to issue policy recommendations of any kind unless he had personally accepted money from the fossil fuel industry.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

With Encyclical, Pope Francis Elevates Environmental Justice

In Brazil in 2013 (Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil, CC BY-SA)
by Lisa Sideris, Indiana University, Bloomington, The Conversation: http://theconversation.com/with-encyclical-pope-francis-elevates-environmental-justice-42871

When the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose Francis as his papal name, he signaled to the world a dual commitment to sustainability and the global poor.

His namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, was a man of poverty and peace who loved nature and animals, and is said to have preached his sermons to birds.

Ostentatious only in displays of humility, Francis implores Catholic priests and nuns to choose “humble” automobiles and consider foregoing the latest smartphone. Tempted to buy the fancy model? Francis suggests you “think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world.” His day-to-day vehicle is a modest Ford Focus, his wristwatch a plastic Swatch.

The pope’s attention to climate change, a likely focal point of his long-awaited encyclical on the environment due to appear June 18, highlights the plight of the poor and the moral dimensions of environmental issues.

It also comes as a welcome counterbalance to the fixation on global-scale human influence on the environment that, for better and for worse, has come to define the Anthropocene - the name attached to the age of human dominance over the planet.

Can we, perhaps guided by the moral authority of the pope, align the global ethos of the Anthropocene with claims of justice for the poor?

Justice for the poor

The pope’s priorities - social justice and care for the Earth - are what we might expect from a Jesuit pope who opts for a Franciscan name. His discerning intellect and missionary zeal - both products of the intensive, almost military style of spiritual formation characteristic of the Society of Jesus - are tempered by lighthearted simplicity and impatience with rigidity of doctrine or custom.

Francis has quickly become one of the more quotable popes. In interviews, he often exudes modesty and good humor (he doesn’t “mind” being pope, he says, but wishes he could duck out for a pizza without being recognized).
Francis was known for taking the subway in Argentina before becoming pope and has encouraged clergy to live modestly. nicofoxfiles/flickr, CC BY-ND

With his usual unassuming style, Francis has also shaken things up by disclaiming any right to judge the sinfulness of homosexuality, while pronouncing acts of deforestation a grave modern sin.

The media has at times distorted these disarming pronouncements: Francis has since affirmed the Catholic catechism’s teachings on marriage and homosexuality, though he believes the Church is too preoccupied with matters of sex and reproduction. And, sorry to say, it is not quite true that he proclaimed a heaven for dogs. But on the subject of environmental sins, he appears, for the most part, serious and unwavering.

Climate change is the anticipated focus of Francis’ long-awaited papal encyclical on ecology because it merges his vocal concern for the poor and marginalized with condemnation of environmental exploitation. The world’s poor, who contribute the least to climate change, are disproportionately impacted by worsening droughts, rising seas, mega storms and famine, and they are least able to evade its destructive reach.

Jesuits have a long tradition of outreach to global refugees and other forcibly displaced people. Now a new, desperate class of migrants is emerging: climate refugees, people who are forced to leave their homes because of the effects of climate change.

Global disparity and climate concern

Francis is not the first pope to take up defense of the environment. Benedict XVI was hailed as the “Green Pope” for sustainability initiatives which included a carbon-neutral Vatican City gleaming with solar panels. John Paul II urged responsible stewardship for creation.
Pope Francis visits the Typhoon Yolanda victims in one of the areas in the Philippines earlier this year. Benhur Arcayan - Malacanang Photo Bureau

But no previous pope has issued an entire encyclical - an official papal letter - on environmental concerns, nor has any pope so closely represented the interests of the Global South as the Argentine Bergoglio does.

When Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in 2013, killing over 6,000 people and leaving four million homeless, Francis used the language of the Anthropocene, lamenting that humans have “in a sense taken over nature” with devastating effects. And yet, his reluctance to judge notwithstanding, Francis remains aware that different countries are not equally culpable for climate change.

Public Religion Research Initiative

Francis’ encyclical is timely for many reasons. A recent survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and the American Academy of Religion examined Americans’ concerns about climate change and the impact of religious beliefs.

It found that only 23% of white Americans are very concerned about climate change, while 46% of Hispanic Americans express the same concern. White Catholics are also less likely than Hispanic Catholics to say that climate change is caused by humans, and far more Hispanic Catholics than whites report that their church leaders address climate change.

Francis, more than any previous pope, may be able to align church teaching on the environment with the actual experiences of poorer Catholics around the world. If so, environmental justice could become the centerpiece, and lasting legacy, of his papacy.

Thinking as a species?

An irony of the Anthropocene is that claims for environmental justice may actually be muted by contemporary discussions of climate change.

The Anthropocene is the name for a new epoch where humans are dominating and disrupting grand cycles of biology, chemistry and geology. Humans are acting as a geophysical force on the planet, transforming it in dramatic ways previously seen only in tectonic shifts or dinosaur-decimating asteroids.

The Anthropocene requires a shift in thinking, a dramatic scaling up of our imaginations. To appreciate our planetary impact, it is necessary to think in terms of deep geological time and re-conceive of ourselves as a species, a collective agency or force that is initiating change in the earth system itself.

A species-level perspective on humans is fruitful for envisioning global thinking and unified responses to global environmental problems.

The Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Program takes this approach to what it means to be human in the Age of the Human: the “narrative of our collective humanity” and our status as single species united by common evolutionary origin can inspire a sense of “communal purpose” in responding to the environmental challenges of the Anthropocene.

But this species-eye view of humanity as a geological agent can work against the cause of climate justice. A dramatically scaled-up vision of human agency as a geological force may suggest an undifferentiated, homogenized humanity.

These lenses can make it more difficult to discern very real differences between the global rich and poor, disparities made worse by climate disruption that disproportionately harms those least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions.

Hopes are high that the pope’s encyclical creates momentum and will for the enactment of a United Nations climate change accord in Paris this December. The accord, if successful, would commit every nation to tougher restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions, with the goal of limiting increases in global temperatures.

Francis’ attunement to the differential claims of the poor and the disproportionate impacts of climate disruption may help ensure that the response to climate change, whatever form it takes, is not only global but truly just.
The Conversation

Lisa Sideris is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Phillip Toyne Cared for Land-Carers, Black and White

nosha/Flickr, CC BY-SA
by Andrew Campbell, Charles Darwin University, The Conversation: http://theconversation.com/phillip-toyne-cared-for-land-carers-black-and-white-43235

Phillip Toyne died on Saturday morning after a long illness with cancer, leaving an indelible legacy of influence and achievement.

Along with Rick Farley, former leader of the National Farmers' Federation, Phillip Toyne was the best strategist I’ve known. We worked together in the early days of landcare. More of that later.

Toyne had a big vision, tempered with acute political insight. Politics may be the art of the possible, but Phillip had a gift in helping people to enlarge their sense of what’s possible, and then to map a path to get there.

Each of Phillip Toyne’s four careers - working with Aboriginal people in central Australia, environmental activism in Melbourne, environmental policy in Canberra and corporate consultancy and philanthropy in Gundaroo - would represent a substantial lifetime’s achievement for most people. Taken as a whole, it is a remarkable contribution.

The rich tapestry of Phillip Toyne’s life work was woven together by two continuous threads: improving our stewardship of Australia’s unique environment, and securing the rights of Indigenous Australians, particularly with respect to their land.

Timeline of four influential careers

After graduating with a law degree and then a Diploma in Education, Phillip Toyne worked in central Australia from 1973-86, first as a teacher in the one-teacher Aboriginal school at Haasts Bluff, and then as a solicitor and barrister in Alice Springs. He was the first lawyer for the Pitjantjatjara people and worked with Premier Don Dunstan to craft the South Australian Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act 1981.

Among many legal representations on behalf of Indigenous people, he lobbied the Hawke government and negotiated the transfer of Uluru National Park back to its traditional owners. He co-authored the first Uluru National Park plan of joint management between the Commonwealth and Traditional Owners.

In 1986, Phillip Toyne moved with his first wife Frances Coughlan to Melbourne to take up the position of Executive Director of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), which he occupied for six years.

Under Toyne’s astute and politically savvy leadership, the ACF and the wider conservation movement enjoyed growing membership and mainstream political influence, and many effective campaigns and significant wins, including World Heritage Listing for the Wet Tropics and expansion of the Tasmanian and Kakadu World Heritage Areas.

Phillip moved to Canberra in 1993 with Frannie and their son Jamie to take on a new role as a Visiting Fellow in the Centre for Environmental Law and Policy at the Australian National University.

He taught a postgraduate course in environmental law, and co-wrote and produced an eight-part radio program for ABC Radio National called The Reluctant Nation: Environment, Law and Politics in Australia, also published as a book by the ABC in 1994.

After working closely with governments of all stripes at the ACF, Toyne became a Deputy Secretary in the Commonwealth Department of the Environment from 1994-97. His tenure straddled the Keating and Howard governments, and he was involved in early negotiations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

He worked closely with then Environment Minister Senator Robert Hill to overhaul Commonwealth environment legislation (resulting in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1996) and to establish the Natural Heritage Trust (NHT), funded by the part sale of Telstra.

With hindsight, Robert Hill was a remarkably effective environment minister, working with states and territories and cleverly deploying a mix of carrots (NHT funds) and sticks (the EPBC act) to deliver environmental wins in a difficult political environment.

Both lawyers, Toyne and Hill worked well together, and with experienced departmental Secretary Roger Beale and a talented ministerial office they initiated a period of sustained growth in influence and resources for the Commonwealth environment portfolio.

Life outside public service

His substantial policy achievements notwithstanding, it was obvious to Phillip and others that he was not a natural fit for the public service. So he moved into his next career, founding the sustainability consultancy firm Eco Futures with his second wife Molly Harriss-Olson (founding Executive Director of President Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development) and their two sons Atticus and Aaron.

They had a delightful home office on five acres on the upper reaches of the Yass River at Gundaroo and enjoyed life in a rural community. One of their more notable projects was the National Business Leaders Forum (NBLF) on Sustainable Development.

Through the NBLF, Phillip expanded his already extensive network of contacts in the corporate sector and was invited to become a director on a number of boards including the innovative forestry company Neville Smith Timber Products and the Australian Agricultural Company (AACo), Australia’s oldest company and largest private landholder.

He relished the role, introducing sustainability and Indigenous engagement strategies into a large vertically-integrated agribusiness with extensive holdings across northern Australia.

Among Phillip’s most rewarding roles of the past 20 years was his association with Bush Heritage Australia of which he was President from 2001-2009. Bush Heritage uses private donations to buy special areas of land with high conservation values, and manages those lands for conservation. It was set up by Dr Bob Brown in 1990, and now manages 35 reserves covering millions of hectares, aided by more than 20,000 supporters.

Bush Heritage enabled Phillip to bring together his love of Australia’s wild places with his commitment to the genuine engagement of Traditional Owners, which he and CEO Doug Humann hard-wired into the Bush Heritage business model. In 2013, Phillip Toyne joined Bob Brown in being made an honorary life member.

The birth of national landcare

Phillip Toyne has been a close friend for almost thirty years. We first met in 1987 when as head of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) he visited the Potter Farmland Plan project in Western Victoria.

With A$1 million in funding from the Ian Potter Foundation, we were attempting to show using demonstration farms that with good planning, conservation and production can be complementary activities in farmed landscapes. Phillip was taken with what he saw on the ground and what he learned from participating farmers.

Andrew Campbell and Phillip Toyne in 1991 at the launch of ‘Planning for Sustainable Farming’ Andrew Campbell

Coincidentally, Rick Farley, then Executive Director of the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF), visited that same week and responded similarly. Both asked how this work could be scaled up nationally.

I suggested that they should be working together. But they had already started talking with each other about a national alliance, and had begun what became an unlikely, close and highly influential friendship.

The Victorian LandCare program initiated by Joan Kirner and Heather Mitchell of the Victorian Farmers’ Federation provided a model for bipartisanship and community engagement. The Potter project illustrated the value of whole farm planning to integrate conservation and production.

Toyne and Farley asked me to work with them in developing a proposal for a national program of community-based land conservation based on farm and catchment planning, to take to Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Our proposal was also informed by a workshop held in the then brand new Parliament House in Canberra prior to its launch, attended by leaders of pioneering community land care groups in Australia.

Bob Hawke (supported by Resources Minister Peter Cook and Primary Industries Minister John Kerin and the Shadow Minister for Primary Industries Bruce Lloyd) agreed to fund a national program and a A$340m Decade of Landcare. In the new position of National Landcare Facilitator, I reported to Toyne, Farley and the Minister over the next four years and more than 200 tours to all parts of the continent.

It was exhilarating to track the rapid growth of Landcare - voluntary groups caring for their land, bringing together farmers and conservationists, traditional farmers and hobby farmers, women and men, young and old, rural and urban, on practical actions in local communities.

Phillip was justifiably proud that his friendship and partnership with Rick Farley catalysed the ACF-NFF alliance and the national development of Landcare (also mentioned in his Order of Australia (AO) citation in 2012).

I later worked with Phillip in the environment department in Canberra, establishing the Natural Heritage Trust and the Bushcare program, and working to dramatically reduce land clearing and reverse the decline in the extent and quality of native vegetation in Australia.

We initiated new incentives for conservation on private lands (a boon for organisations like Bush Heritage) and helped to establish Australia’s distinctive regional model of natural resource management, building on the foundations of Landcare.

We had stayed in touch ever since, conspiring only last week on how best to facilitate large-scale expansion of Indigenous savanna burning programs funded by multinational resources companies across northern Australia.

Phillip Toyne had a formidable bullshit detector and did not suffer fools gladly. He was not over-endowed with patience, especially earlier in his career, and his critiques could be bracing to say the least. But he was generous to a fault and his insights, advice and mentoring helped many people in their own careers.

As he came to terms with his cancer, a softer, more reflective and philosophical side of his big-hearted nature came to the fore, making it easier for those around him to deal with his obvious pain and discomfort.

Bob Brown called him “a magnificent Australian” and former independent MP Tony Windsor summed it up beautifully:

"Australia has lost a visionary in Phillip Toyne - my thoughts are with his family. He cared for those who cared for the land, black and white".

The Conversation
Andrew Campbell is Director, Research Institute for Environment and Livelihoods at Charles Darwin University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Abbott Government Continues ‘Jaw-Boning’ of Wind Farm Sector

Renewable Energy
Renewable Energy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by , Renew Economy: http://reneweconomy.com.au/2015/abbott-government-continues-jaw-boning-of-wind-farm-sector-23747

In currency and interest rate markets, it’s known as “jaw-boning” - the technique used by officials to simply talk about action, usually on currency and credit marks, to get the market to pay attention.

It has been used to influence outcomes in combating the credit crisis of nearly a decade ago, and more recently by Australian Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stephens on the level of the local currency.

And it has also been used - to devastating impact - by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in trying to prevent investment in wind farms in Australia.

The wind industry has not been short of policy support. A target for 41,000GWh actually remains in place, at least until a Senate vote expected early this week. But Abbott and his government ministers have managed for the past two years to talk investors out of putting money into wind farms, first by signaling a review to the legislation, then by appointing a climate sceptic and pro-nuclear businessman to lead it.

Then it took eight months to strike an agreement with Labor over a reduced target, and now - just as the new legislation for a 33,000GWh target appears set to be put in place, frustrating Abbott’s stated desire for a much deeper cut - the government has gone back to jaw-boning the sector again.

This time by complaining about its aesthetics, expressing concern about health impacts, and expressing a desire to reduce the target if it could. It is only one vote in the Senate away from being able to do that.

It seems a deliberate strategy to talk down the sector. One wonders what an international investor or financier is to make of Australia’s position and its “commitment to renewable energy”, knowing that the PM is one vote short of being able to turn legislation on this “visually awful” and potentially unhealthy technology.

After Abbott’s extraordinary intervention late last week, where he complained about the noise of wind farms, despite only ever being near a single turbine on Rottnest Island, it was the turn of environment minister Greg Hunt to comment on the fate of the renewable energy industry.

If the wind sector was hoping for support from the minister whose portfolio directly covers the renewable energy target, then it will have been disappointed.

First of all, Hunt refused to be drawn on his view of wind farms, either because he doesn’t have one, or because he has decided it is not politick of him to express one in the current environment.

In several radio interviews and doorstops on Friday, Hunt was repeatedly asked about Abbott’s comments, but said only that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”; that he (Hunt) had a “neutral view”, and pointed - obliquely - to the fact that Abbott “likes Picasso” and Hunt prefers Dali.

Then he gave succor to the protests of the minority of people who are actively protesting against wind farms: “I’m a little less fussed about this, but for some people, it really matters to them and so we have to absolutely respect what happens to people in their own lives and their own backyards ,” Hunt told Radio 2UE on Friday.

“So they’re entitled to be heard and sometimes people deride those who actually have to live in an area where suddenly something has been built.”

Hunt’s reluctance to express an opinion is perhaps not surprising, given that he has spent most of the last two years saying that the RET was being reviewed because it would have been hard to meet, and that the proposed amendment was in fact an increase, only for Abbott to say the real reason was because the government didn’t like them, and thought they were harmful, and that the new target was a cut, not an increase.

On those supposed health impacts referred to by Abbott in his interview with radio host Alan Jones on Thursday, Hunt suggested that, despite the findings of medical authorities in Australia, the US, Canada, and Europe, the jury was still out on the issue.
At a doorstop interview on Friday, he was asked.
Minister, do you agree with the Prime Minister that wind farms are causing health problems in the community?
Oh look, there’s a Senate assessment and I won’t try to pre-empt that. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
This is extraordinary, given that the current Senate inquiry is being manned by anti-wind politicians - from both the Coalition and the cross-benches - who say they have already made up their mind about the medical impacts of wind farms. Hunt also made note that the National Health and Medical Research Council is commissioning an assessment “so the last thing that I would want to do is pre-empt that.”

So, do wind farms have a future in Australia’s energy mix?

Hunt dodged the question again, pointing instead to the future of solar. “Look, they (wind farms) are a part of the Renewable Energy Target but I think you’ll find that solar is becoming increasingly competitive. The whole purpose of this target is to achieve a certain renewable energy outcome for Australia - 23.5% by 2020 - and then to let the different forms of renewable energy compete, and solar’s becoming more competitive each day.”

That’s an interesting assessment, indicating no long-term potential for wind. Indeed, it points to RenewEconomy’s report on Thursday that the government is looking for ways to push solar over wind farms.

It may be that the big hope for the wind industry remains in state-based renewables targets. The Greens have announced they will seek the removal of 7C of the RET act in the Senate debate, although they are unlikely to have the numbers.

7C restricts the ability of the states to have their own tradable renewable energy certificate schemes, as Victoria did when the Howard government brought the then renewable energy target to a halt. “While Tony Abbott tries to hold up renewable energy for the benefit of his mining donors, states are moving on, like the rest of the world, and embracing clean energy jobs,” Greens climate and energy spokesperson Larissa Waters said.

“We need to ensure that Tony Abbott’s vendetta against renewables does not impact on clean energy vision and ambition in states and territories. That’s why we will move an amendment to ensure Tony Abbott’s hatred of clean energy can’t stop the states from encouraging higher renewable energy generation within their state borders.”

Friday, June 12, 2015

10 Things We Learned About Tony Abbott’s War On Renewables

power-plant-coal-tatamund-indiaby , Renew Economy: http://reneweconomy.com.au/2015/10-things-we-learned-about-tony-abbotts-war-on-renewables-99415

Ever since the Coalition election victory in September 2013, and indeed beforehand, RenewEconomy has been accused of making a harsh assessment on its approach to climate and clean energy policies.

Wind energy the biggest loser as Abbott sweeps to power, we wrote the day after this ultra-conservative Coalition came to power.

And we continued with headlines such as Australia’s wind turbine syndrome, why Abbott hates the RET; Abbott’s Achilles Heel - is it ideology or ignorance?: and Tony Abbott’s energy rules: It’s goodies versus baddies.

Harsh? Turns out we were probably not harsh enough. Our lingering suspicion that the Abbott government’s policy positioning and actions have been designed with one thing in mind - to cripple the clean energy industry in Australia - have been proven to be true … by the Prime Minister himself.

On Thursday, as we and many others reported, Abbott not only said that he did not like the look of wind turbines (he thinks they are awful), he believes they may be harmful to human health, and it has always been his government’s intention to stop their roll-out. He would, if he could, dump the RET entirely. He may only be one Senate vote away from being able to do just that.

In saying this, Abbott blew away what little credibility remained of the Coalition’s clean energy policies, contradicting just about everything his government has said about the sector in the lead up to the election, and since.

The tragedy for the wind industry is its problems will be ongoing. Given the precarious nature of the Senate, uncertainty will linger, the sector, international companies in particular, will know its $10 billion investment is not welcome, and Coalition Senators will continue calling for greater regulation from a government that promises to de-regulate.

So, what have we learned from the latest offering from the Abbott government, at the alter of 2GB’s Alan Jones? Here’s 10 things.

The Coalition will kill the RET for good, if it gets the chance

The intentions of the Abbott government are clear: If they could get it past the Senate, they would kill the RET. And the Senate numbers, and the anti-wind rump on the cross-bench, suggest he is just one vote away from being able to do that. Before he became PM, Tony Abbott had praised the RET as an initiative of the Howard government. Knowing what we now know, he told Jones, it was probably not the best way to go. But what exactly is it that he now knows? The impact on coal-fired generation? 

The lingering uncertainty could make investment more difficult and expensive

The wind industry has been crippled, not by the lack of legislation, but by the uncertainty surrounding its future. Abbott, the self-titled infrastructure PM, is effectively telling international investors that he is not interested in their $10 billion proposed infrastructure investment. No wonder some of the biggest international financiers, such as Banco Santander, have effectively packed their bags and left. The impact could be felt in risk assessment by banks, and higher costs of finance. That, in turn, will make wind farms more expensive than they need be. 

Give Abbott credit, he’s very good at strangling industries he doesn’t like

Whatever else you might say about Abbott’s antipathy to wind farms, he has been devastatingly effective in bringing the industry to a halt. Investment in large-scale renewables in Australia has been virtually zero over the last 18 months, punctuated by only a few projects (Nyngan and Broken Hill solar, plus Moree) supported by institutions that Abbott has tried to repeal, and the 90% renewable energy plan pushed by the ACT government. 

Nearly everything the Coalition says about renewables is untrue

As we pointed out in the story Abbott government’s 10 biggest whoppers about renewable energy, the Coalition government has been making stuff up as they go along, including the idea that they are “supporters of renewable energy”. They lied about the commitment to renewables promised by Abbott and his senior ministers before the poll. They made up stuff about the impact on energy prices (disproved by its own review led by climate skeptic and nuclear advocate Dick Warburton), and then about the inability to reach the target, and the likely payment of penalty prices. Contrary to Hunt and Macfarlane’s claim that the revised 33,000GWh target is an increase in renewables, Abbott makes clear it is a cut (from 41,000GWh) and deliberately so.

Abbott is guided by dodgy websites

Last year, Abbott was caught out dog whistling to climate deniers when he described emissions trading as a “so-called market, in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no-one”, an expression he and/or his advisors borrowed from some dubious websites. Talking with 2GB’s Jones, Abbott constantly referred to the wind turbines he wanted to stop as “these things” (eight times in fact) - an uncanny reference to a particularly venal and nasty website called Stop These Things, which is run by anonymous opponents of the wind industry. The group organised a poorly attended wind farm rally in Canberra last year which was MC’d by Jones, and attended by some Coalition members. Is this really where the Abbott government sources its information? It is certainly not based on personal experience, because he has only ever visited one turbine, a single one on Rottnest Island. Maybe Abbott just relies on the input of his closest advisers, Maurice (global warming is a UN hoax) Newman, and Dick (I’m not a skeptic I just don’t believe the science) Warburton? It’s quite possibly the most misinformed government in Australian history.

Abbott has run these campaigns before

As a former minister of health, you’d expect Abbott to have a greater respect for medical evidence. But Abbott has form. Here is Abbott on mobile phone towers way back in 1985, promising to “change the rules” to prevent Telstra building “these things” wherever the company liked.

Big utilities should be worried

The country’s big utilities have been enthusiastic co-conspirators in Abbott’s campaign against the renewable energy target, but now they might not find his intervention very helpful. The utilities’ contempt for renewables was driven by their desire to protect profits from their fossil fuel investments, as well as their disdain for new technologies. Now, however, they have suddenly realised just what impact rooftop solar, and soon battery storage, will have on their businesses, and the options they present for their customers. Uniquely among industries, these technologies give consumers the ability to tell utilities they no longer want to be a part of their network, or their billing system. That has created an about-face in tactics and strategy where the utilities are trying desperately to be their customers’ best friend, and to prove their green credentials. Abbott’s defence of the interests of big coal is not helpful. The consumers’ beef is not with utilities, in particular, but the abuse of centralised power in general. And now they have the means to act.
bnef people power

wind farms popular 

Abbott is out of step with the general population

As an enunciated electoral position, it is not entirely clear whether Abbott’s views on wind farms and renewable energy in general are a vote-winner. This poll (right) shows how various forms of energy are received. With 1.4 million households with rooftop solar PV, and two million if solar hot water is included, this is a potential issue at the next poll. The next big movement, though, is not just individual households, but community power. On Thursday 70 people turned up in Lismore for an information session on the first big solar arrays to be jointly funded by the community and a council. It is, says project proponent Adam Blakester, just one of nearly 60 projects in the making, and the precursor for hundreds more. As the graph above illustrates, households and small business (represented in grey) have taken over as the biggest investors in renewable energy.

Abbott still says coal good for humanity

Abbott has a different view on community expectations. Just a few weeks before his audience with Jones, he was in the north Queensland city of Townsville exhorting the region’s business community to develop a plan for a coal-fired power station, one that could be paid for through the $5 billion subsidised loan facility set aside in the recent federal budget, the so-called Dirty Energy Finance Corporation. As one wag put it, if his policy were romantic novel, it would be 50 Shades of Grit.

Labor really has to get its act together

Despite the compromise on the 33,000GWh renewable energy target, there is now daylight between the Conservative position on renewable energy and Labor’s - which is to increase the renewable target should it get elected (no certain thing, given Bill Shorten’s performances of late). But Labor needs to get its messaging, and its transitional policies clear on this. As seen by the closure of Alinta’s two coal-fired generators in South Australia, jobs are at risk and union pressure, which has neutralised Labor’s climate and clean energy policies in the past, means that Labor needs to plan a clear path for workers to transition to the new industries. Perhaps they should borrow a few ideas from the Labor government in the ACT.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Shell’s Arctic Drilling is the Real Threat to the World, Not Kayaktivists: Oil Firm has Created a ‘Safety Zone’ to Keep Protesters Out of its Drilling Sites

(Photo: Backbone Campaign/flickr/cc)
Shell has one or two rivals for the title of Planet’s Most Irresponsible Company, but it’s definitely the most ironic.

The grand irony, of course, is that, having watched the Arctic melt as global temperatures rose, Shell was first in line to drill the newly melted waters for yet more oil which would raise the temperature some more.

But lately, the planetary-scale irony was compounded by one of a more local variety, contained in the phrase safety zone.

Here’s the backstory: In May, Shell convinced a federal judge in Alaska to enjoin Greenpeace from protesting too closely to Shell’s Arctic drilling vessels. This restricted area, or safety zone, was set at 500 yards (457 metres) while these vessels transit in Seattle’s Puget Sound.

Then, last month, 500 kayaks congregated around one of Shell’s giant Arctic drilling rigs as it sat in Puget Sound, a David-and-Goliath picture that flew across the web. And a couple of brave souls peacefully suspended themselves from another one of its drilling vessels, as others had done a month earlier.

No one was hurt. But Shell didn’t like any of this, so the company, in a not-so-subtle attempt to intimidate opposing voices, decided to send out a copy of the Greenpeace injunction to 350.org and others who oppose its Arctic drilling plans.

Of course no court as yet has drawn a safety zone around the Arctic, even though a January study published in the journal Nature made it clear that if we open up the stores of gas and oil in the far north we won’t be able to protect the climate from dramatic change. Instead, Barack Obama invited Shell to drill.

The president argued on Twitter last week that he couldn’t stop all drilling the Arctic, but that’s way too easy. True, he can’t keep the Russians and Canadians from drilling in their territory, but in the US the decision was entirely up to him. He didn’t have to give the people who chanted “drill baby drill” at the GOP convention in 2008 what they wanted.

And there is something else too. The need for coordinated international action to stop climate change is exactly we have been having United Nations summits on the topic every year since 1990 - with a very important agreement set to be signed in Paris this December. Obama could be pushing right now to get a ban on Arctic drilling locked into that agreement - but draft texts make no mention of such a sensible plan.

In the meantime, there is no safety zone for wildlife and indigenous people when something goes wrong (and something will go wrong - if a pipeline can break under the beach in benign Santa Barbara, it’s only a matter of time before the Chukchi Sea wreaks some kind of havoc on Shell’s platforms).

But even if Shell never spilled a drop, all the carbon it’s bringing up will eventually be spilled into the atmosphere - an atmosphere that’s already way past its safety zone, as CO2 emissions have spiked from 280 parts per million in the Holocene to more than 400 ppm today.

You can see the effects already, even from Seattle: Washington is suffering through what the governor called an unprecedented drought, and last summer battled to contain the biggest wildfire in its history.

Shell has a long history of this kind of irresponsibility - this is the same company who worked hand in glove with the Nigerian military dictatorship that killed Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other leaders for daring to stand up to Shell; there are drinking water wells in the Niger Delta where chemicals like benzene can be found at 900 times their safe levels.

It is a company that announced in 2009 it would no longer invest in solar or wind power because it thought it could make more money from oil. It is, in the words of the former chief climate envoy for the UK, John Ashton, a “narcissistic, paranoid, and psychopathic” organisation.

In fact, in a world serious about protecting its people and its climate, there would be a safety zone several miles outside the edge of Earth’s atmosphere where Shell was not allowed, and a sign directing it to wreck Venus instead.

But, as usual, the rich and powerful are using the legal system to further exploit the planet. The language in the injunction is richly ironic: Shell was able to obtain “relief” because the threat it faced was “actual and imminent, not conjectural or theoretical.”

In Shell’s view, this apparently describes the peril posed by Americans in kayaks. By any honest reading, though, it’s an indictment of this multinational, one that is utterly undeterred by science in its ceaseless, unblinking quest for profit.

Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and co-founder of 350.org. His most recent book is Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

Annie Leonard is the executive director of Greenpeace USA, founder of the Story of Stuff Project, and has spent more than twenty years investigating and organizing on environmental health and justice issues. In addition to the original short film, Story of Stuff,  she also created The Story of Cap & TradeThe Story of Cosmetics, The Story of Bottled Water, and The Story of Electronics.

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist, author, and syndicated columnist. Her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate (Simon & Schuster, 2014), has just been published. Her previous books include the international best-sellers,  The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism and No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies.   To read all her writing visit www.naomiklein.org. Follow her on Twitter: @NaomiAKlein.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

G7 Climate Goal Will 'Send Shivers Down the Spine' of Fossil Fuel Industry: Governments of Canada and Japan Reportedly Block Effort to Reach Zero Emissions

New York City, 21/9/2014 (Chris Yakimov/cc/flickr)

In a communique (pdf) issued on the second and final day of the G7 summit in Bavaria, Germany, leaders from the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, France, Canada, Italy, and Germany reaffirmed the need to limit global warming to 2º Celsius and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 70% of 2010 levels by 2050, which is the amount recommended by the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Climate action proponents say the statement sends a strong message to financial institutions as well as to the fossil fuel industry that 'change is coming.'

While the G7 plan was critiqued for its lack of binding provisions, as well as its dearth of crucial details on how such goals will be achieved, the statement singles out the financial sector for its role in the climate crisis through the subsidization of fossil fuels.

The plan calls for the elimination of "inefficient fossil fuel subsidies," as well as increased investment in renewable energy both domestically and in developing nations, particularly in Africa.

"We commit to doing our part to achieve a low-carbon global economy in the long-term, including developing and deploying innovative technologies striving for a transformation of the energy sectors by 2050, and invite all countries to join us in this endeavor," the communique read.

Ruth Davis, senior associate at E3G who serves as a political advisor to Greenpeace, said the plan will send "shivers down the spines of directors in coal, oil and gas companies."

In a press statement, 350.org executive director May Boeve said: "The G7 is sending a signal that the world must move away from fossil fuels, and investors should take notice. If you’re still holding onto fossil fuel stocks, you’re betting on the past. As today’s announcement makes clear, the future belongs to renewables."

While 350.org notes that decarbonization "should proceed at a faster pace" than the 2050 targets laid out by the G7, even realizing that goal "will require a massive shift of investments away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy."

Further, the G7 pact also reaffirms pledges made in the oft-criticized Copenhagen Accord to mobilize jointly $100 billion, both in public and private investment, for climate finance and "intensify support for vulnerable countries’ own efforts to manage climate change related disaster risk and to build resilience."

At the same time as the G7 meeting, international climate negotiators in Bonn worked to hammer out a draft text ahead of the COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, during which world leaders are expected to put forth a binding climate action agreement.

According to reports, negotiations continued to be held up as rich and poor nations remain deeply divided over how to apportion responsibility for emissions cuts.

As Davis notes, despite the shortcomings of the G7 pledge, the statement itself "is a particularly notable result from a political grouping which some think of as a historic anomaly, and whose members often struggle to find big strategic priorities in common."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had reportedly pushed the group to endorse a pledge to reach zero carbon emissions, but sources close to the talks say that the governments of Canada and Japan had blocked that effort.

"Canada and Japan are the most concerned about this one," a source that had seen the draft document told the Canadian Press. "The two of those countries have been the most difficult on every issue on climate. They don’t want any types of targets in there, so I think they are trying to make it as vague as possible at this point."

Monday, June 8, 2015

Can We Save Our Planet? What the Climate Movement Can Learn From the Nuclear Freeze Campaign

Photo by James Marvin Phelps / Flickr

This article was originally published by  Wagingnonviolence.org.

2014 was the hottest year in recorded history. 2015 is on track to be even hotter - and yet, before the most important international climate talks of the decade, even the most ambitious promises of action will fall short of what science demands.

At the same time, the movement to stop climate change is also making history - last year the United States saw the biggest climate march in history, as well as the growth of a fossil fuel divestment movement (the fastest growing divestment campaign ever), and a steady drumbeat of local victories against the fossil fuel industry.

In short, the climate movement, and humanity, is up against an existential wall: Find ways to organize for decisive action, or face the end of life as we know it. This is scary stuff, but if you think no movement has ever faced apocalyptic challenges before, and won, then it’s time you learned about the Nuclear Freeze campaign.

Following Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, the global anti-nuclear movement also stood up to a global existential crisis - one that was also driven by a wealthy power elite, backed by faulty science and a feckless liberal establishment that failed to mobilize against a massive threat. 

The movement responded with new ideas and unprecedented numbers to help lead the world towards de-escalation and an end to the Cold War.

Under the banner of the Nuclear Freeze, millions of people helped pull the planet from the brink of nuclear war, setting off the most decisive political changes of the past half century.

The freeze provides key lessons for the climate movement today; and as we face up to our own existential challenges, it’s worth reflecting on both the successes and failures of the freeze campaign, as one possible path towards the kind of political action we need.

A short history of the Nuclear Freeze campaign

In 1979, at the third annual meeting of Mobilization for Survival, a scientist and activist named Randall Forsberg introduced an idea that would transform the anti-nuclear weapons movement. She called for a bilateral freeze in new nuclear weapons construction, backed by both the United States and the Soviet Union, as a first step towards complete disarmament.

Shortly afterwards, she drafted a four-page “ Call to Halt the Nuclear Arms Race” and worked with fellow activists to draft a four-year plan of action that would move from broad-based education and organizing into decisive action in Washington, D.C.

Starting in 1980, the idea took hold at the grassroots, with a series of city and state referendum campaigns calling for a Nuclear Freeze, escalating into a massive, nationwide wave of ballot initiatives in November 1982 - the largest ever push in U.S. history, with over a third of the country participating.

The movement also advanced along other roads: In June 1982, they held the largest rally in U.S. history up to that point, with somewhere between 750,000 and 1 million people gathering in New York City’s Central Park, along with countless other endorsements from labor, faith and progressive groups of all stripes. Direct action campaigns against test sites and nuclear labs also brought the message into the heart of the military industrial complex.

The effort continued into electoral and other political waters until around early 1985, pushing peace measures at the ballot box and in the nation’s capital, but never quite returned to the peak of mobilization seen in 1982.

The impact of this organizing was palpable: President Reagan went from calling arms treaties with the Soviets “fatally flawed” in 1980, and declaring the USSR an “evil empire” in a speech dedicated to attacking the freeze initiative in 1983, to saying that the Americans and Soviets have “common interests … to avoid war and reduce the level of arms.”

He even went so far as to say that his dream was “to see the day when nuclear weapons will be banished from the face of the earth.” The movement’s popular success led the president to make new arms control pledges as part of his strategy for victory in the 1984 election.
Photo from Wellcome Images.
“If things get hotter and hotter and arms control remains an issue,” Reagan explained in 1983, “maybe I should go see [Soviet Premier Yuri] Andropov and propose eliminating all nuclear weapons.”

Reagan’s rhetorical and policy softening in 1984 opened the door for Mikhail Gorbachev - a true believer in the severity of the nuclear threat, and an advocate for de-escalation - to rise to power in the Soviet Union in 1985.

Gorbachev’s steps to withdraw missiles and end nuclear testing, supported by global peace and justice movements, created a benevolent cycle with the United States that eventually brought down the Iron Curtain and ended the Cold war.

Although the freeze policy was never formally adopted by the United States or Soviet Union, and the movement didn’t move forward into full abolition of nuclear weapons, the political changes partially initiated by the campaign did functionally realize their short term demand. As a result, global nuclear stockpiles have indeed been declining since 1986, as the two superpowers began to step back from the nuclear brink.

The climate movement has room to grow

While the Nuclear Freeze shows that movements can move mountains - or at least global super powers - it also shows that the climate movement isn’t yet close to doing so. For starters, its size is not at the scale of where it needs to be - not by historical measures, at least.

The largest mobilization of the Nuclear Freeze campaign was the largest march in U.S. history up to that point, and included double the number of people who participated in the People’s Climate March.

The referendum campaigns that reached their peak later in 1982 were historic on a different scale as well: They were on the ballot in 10 states, Washington, D.C., and 37 cities and counties, before going on to win in nine states and all but three cities. The vote covered roughly a third of the U.S. electorate.

This was a movement powered by thousands of local organizations working in loose, but functional, coordination. Even in 1984, which is generally considered after the peak of the Nuclear Freeze campaign, the Freeze Voter PAC (created at the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign conference in St. Louis in 1983) included 20,000 volunteers in 32 states - an electoral push thus far unmatched in the climate movement’s history.

At the same time, this moment also showed how quickly movements can decline. While the Nuclear Freeze campaign thrived in the very early 1980s, press and popular attention rapidly dissipated.

There are many possible reasons that could explain this: from a shift in strategy away from grassroots campaigns towards legislative action (the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign conference moved from St. Louis to Washington, D.C., around this time), to a softening of President Reagan’s nuclear posture, taking the wind out of the movement’s sails.

The real answer is probably a combination of all of the above. From a peak of organizing in 1982-83, participation in the movement significantly declined by the mid-1980s, and mostly dropped off the political radar well before 1990.
Photo from Shutterstock.

Fear is a real motivator and a real risk

What drove the initial outpouring of action? In no small part, it was fear. As Morrisey, lead singer of The Smiths, sang in 1986, “It’s the bomb that will bring us together.”

In the late 1970s, research about the survivability of a nuclear conflict became dramatically clearer, showing that even limited nuclear exchanges could threaten all life on Earth. Also in this period, Physicians for Social Responsibility initiated a widespread education campaign that dramatized the local impacts of nuclear conflict on cities around the country.

These developments, combined with the real impact of Reagan’s escalatory rhetoric, created fertile ground for the freeze campaign, allowing movement voices to appear more reasonable than the technocratic nuclear priesthood that had lost touch with the public’s fears. Only when Reagan began to step back his posturing and present alternative arms control proposals was he able to blunt the power of the movement.

The debate about the use of fear in the climate movement is ongoing, but compared to the debate about nuclear weapons, the mainstream climate movement under-appeals to the fear of climate change.

While it’s clear that apocalyptic, decontextualized appeals to fear are demotivating, grounded assessments of the problem that speak honestly about how scary the problem really is, and are attached to feasible solutions are crucial to mobilizing large numbers of people.

One example of an effective appeal to fear was Bill McKibben’s widely-read 2012 Rolling Stone article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” which succeeded for several reasons: First, it used specific, scientifically grounded numbers to explain approaching thresholds for serious change. Secondly, it also was connected to a new, national organizing effort to divest from fossil fuels, including a 21-city tour that provided critical mass to begin campaigning.

Nevertheless, fear is, by its nature, hard to control and - in the case of the freeze campaign - it provided an opportunity for co-optation of the movement’s rhetoric. Most significantly, President Reagan’s Star Wars program was able to redirect the fear of nuclear exchange into a technocratic, bloated military project - rather than solutions to the root cause of the problem.

The Reagan administration drew on the president’s personal charisma and reflexive trust in the power of the military industrial complex to transform some of the concern generated by the movement, and turn it towards his own ends.

The climate movement faces a similar threat from technical solutions that benefit elites, such as crackpot schemes to geo-engineer climate solutions by further altering the Earth’s weather in the hopes of reversing planetary heating, as well as other unjust ways of managing the climate crisis. Discussions about big problems need to be paired with approachable, but big solutions.
Photo from Wellcome Images.

One simple demand

The Nuclear Freeze proposal turned the complex and treacherous issue of arms control into a simple concept: Stop building more weapons until we figure a way out of the mess. It was a proposal designed to be approachable in its simplicity, and careful in the way it addressed competing popular fears of both nuclear annihilation and perceived Soviet aggression.

The idea of a bilateral freeze - the United States stops building if the Soviet Union does too - handled both of these concerns in a way that made the nuclear problem about growing arms stockpiles, not the specifics of Cold War politics.

Even though the movement against nuclear weapons had existed as long as the weapons themselves, the idea of the bilateral freeze turned arms control much more into the mainstream of American political discussion at a moment of real escalation with the Soviets.

In a certain way, climate change is simple too: We need to stop building fossil fuel infrastructure wherever there are viable renewable or low-carbon alternatives, and do it quickly. Growing the movement in this moment will require bold, bright lines that provide moral directness and opportunities to take giant leaps forward in terms of actual progress to reduce carbon emissions.

The simplicity of the freeze idea was intentional. At their meeting in 1981, the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign made it clear that the path to power was not through access in Washington, but through “recruiting active organizational and public support” - a strategy that required demands that were easy and quick to explain.

Developing such active public support was a wide-ranging process, but the campaign distinguished itself from other contemporary peace movements by its use of the electoral system - first via local and state referendums in 1980-82, and then with initiatives like Freeze Voter in 1984.

The referendum strategy, in particular, was a tool that offered intuitive, broad-based entry points for organizing with clear steps for participants. And it worked: The freeze campaign won an overwhelming number of the referendums it was a part of in 1982.

Combined with demonstrations, education campaigns and other grassroots actions, this strategy allowed the movement to translate public sympathy into demonstrable public support.

It is possible that the current moment in the climate debate could be ripe in a similar way. The public broadly favors more climate action , but is faced with relatively few meaningful opportunities to act on it. The task of growing the climate movement is in many ways a task of activating these people with opportunities for deeper involvement.

Other lessons learned

An important caveat must be made when discussing the breadth of the freeze campaign’s support. Its demographics - mostly white and more middle class than the public at large - reflected those of the establishment peace movement from which it came.

That lack of diversity not only represents a failure of organizing, but also could have contributed to the movement’s lack of staying power and lasting political potency.

While at least one key freeze organizer I spoke with said explicitly that the climate movement is succeeding in this regard in ways they never did, the experience of the Nuclear Freeze explains just a few of the perils of failing to create a real diverse climate movement. This is a challenge that will take work throughout the life of the climate movement, but it’s at least underway in some key regards.

The freeze campaign thrived on an initial wave of activism that was grounded in local organizing via the referendum strategy. But after organizing shifted (perhaps prematurely) more towards legislative strategies, the next steps for the hundreds of thousands of people involved in the campaign never emerged.

After the freeze became mainstream discourse - supported by hundreds of members of Congress, presidential candidates and millions of voters - the next step towards disarmament remained murky.

Ultimately, the referendum strategy was symbolic: Cities and states did not have any formal power over U.S. or Soviet nuclear arsenals. But symbols matter, and so does democracy.

The overwhelming vote for the freeze in 1982 shifted the political ground out from underneath liberal hawks and the president, allowing more progressive voices to ride the movement’s coattails - to the point where the 1984 Democratic Party platform included a freeze plank. In other words, it turned diffuse public opinion into a concrete count of bodies at the polls.

The referendum vote also asserted the right of people to decide such weighty issues, taking them out of the realm of the military industrial complex and into the light of day. When asked, people wanted a chance to be involved.

The massive and democratic nature of the freeze campaign struck a blow against the social license of the nuclear industrial complex by yanking the implied consent of the majority of the American people from both the military’s leadership and their tactics.

The path forward in an uncertain time

As the divestment movement grows, particularly on college campuses - another effort aimed at the social license of an entrenched and distant power elite - the lessons of the freeze campaign suggest that the climate movement will need to answer many important questions in the coming months and years.

We know how to march, but what comes next? Public opinion has shifted, perhaps decisively, but how do we turn that diffuse energy into a story about the need for action? If we mobilize in 2016 for the election, what comes in 2017? And if we organize towards a single big demand, as the Freeze campaign did in the 80s, how will we translate that into ongoing power?

The climate movement faces an epic, unique struggle, but the challenges it faces as a movement are not as singular as some may think. As the movement ventures onto new ground, it’s worth remembering that others have done what felt like the impossible, in the face of an uncertain future - and triumphed.

The author thanks Freeze campaign activists Leslie Cagan, Randy Kheeler, Joe Lamb, and Ben Senturia for supporting the research of this article.

Duncan Meisel wrote this article for Wagingnonviolence.org. Duncan is a Brooklyn-based climate activist, writer and movement history nerd. He'll debate you over Twitter at @duncanwrites.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Reason Behind Big Oil’s Change of Heart on Global Warming: Six Energy Giants Want a Worldwide Price on Carbon Emissions - But What’s in it For Them?

CEO of Shell Oil
Shell CEO Ben van Beurden (Photo: Benoit Tessier/Reuters)
Emily J. Gertz is TakePart's associate editor for environment and wildlife. full bio
After years of opposing efforts to fight climate change, Europe’s biggest oil and gas corporations have made a stunning about-face. 
In a letter addressed to the head of the United Nations climate agency, the chief executives of Shell, BP, and four other energy giants asked the world’s political leaders to put a price on carbon.

“We need governments across the world to provide us with clear, stable, long-term, ambitious policy frameworks,” reads the letter addressed to Christiana Figueres, who leads the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. “We believe that a price on carbon should be a key element of these frameworks.”

The absence of a global carbon price hinders rational business decision-making, the CEOs said in their letter. “Whatever we do to implement carbon pricing ourselves,” they wrote, “will not be sufficient or commercially sustainable unless national governments introduce carbon pricing even-handedly and eventually enable global linkage between national systems.

“Some economies have not yet taken this step, and this could create uncertainty about investment and disparities in the impact of policy on businesses. It’s an important positive step,” said David Hawkins, director of climate programs at environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council.

“They are basically acknowledging that we need to cut carbon emissions, including from the products that they sell: oil and gas.”

Around 60 percent of global emissions from burning gas, coal, and oil are priced to account for their contribution to climate change or illnesses caused by air pollution, according to Chris Davis of CERES, a nonprofit that advocates for sustainability leadership among businesses and investors.

Those emissions fall under the jurisdiction of a patchwork of regional, national, and international programs, such as Europe and California’s emissions trading markets.

“A carbon price incorporates those environmental and social costs into the cost of the products, such as the electricity,” said Davis. “In economist terms, you're internalizing the externalities: the adverse effects on society caused by the use of these fuels.”

In the U.S., several Eastern states participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which has created a market where energy utilities purchase allowances for their greenhouse gas emissions from low- or no-carbon credit providers.

These market-based approaches, as opposed to regulations that simply set a limit on emissions, are thought to be economically efficient, Davis said, “because the entities that can reduce emissions most inexpensively will do it and sell the excess capacity.”

Setting that price, and setting it high enough to encourage investment in alternatives, is critical to averting the worst effects of global warming, Davis said. “It's the one thing that, if you send the right signals to companies, they're going to make rational economic decisions and cut their fossil fuel use,” as well as invest in new infrastructure and business ventures.

“That's why businesses and investors are lining up behind it. The current uncertainty makes planning pretty hard.”

Both Davis and Hawkins are encouraged by the statement of support for carbon pricing by the six European oil majors. “I don’t think … they want to get away with something,” said Hawkins. “We should give them the benefit of the doubt at the moment. In the coming months we’ll see if they get more specific about what the price ought to be.”

Noticeably absent from the corporate push for a carbon price were U.S. oil behemoths Chevron and ExxonMobil. “If those folks continue to obstruct climate action, they will continue to have an outsized influence on politics in the U.S.,” Hawkins said.

“Republicans and coal-state Democrats have largely come out against” any sort of price on carbon, Davis said. The letter to the U.N. “gives some additional impetus to getting carbon pricing into the international climate agreement. But ultimately it's up to national governments as to what they'll support in the agreement and what they'll do at home.”

So, Why Should You Care? Burning fossil fuels is the main cause of global warming. Scientists have warned that unless nations cut carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2050 and to zero by 2075, rising temperatures, sea levels, and other effects of climate change will become catastrophic.