Friday, March 27, 2009

"[Friendship] is for aid and comfort through all the relations and passages of life and death. It is fit for serene days, and graceful gifts, and country rambles, but also for rough roads and hard fare, shipwreck, poverty, and persecution. It keeps company with the sallies of the wit and the trances of religion. We are to dignify to each other the daily needs and offices of man's life, and embellish it by courage, wisdom, and unity." Ralph Waldo Emerson. Photo: Trinidad Head, CA. Oddly, a different passage from this same essay was posted today on the actual Emerson for the Day site.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

100 Months and Counting

Again and yet again, behind the crisis of the moment, new signs of the meta-crisis to come, struggling to gain its necessary place in public and political consciousness. And each time, it insists that we measure how we handle and evaluate the crisis of the moment by its onrushing reality, and its possible dimensions.

The Climate Crisis is already here, as fully in evidence in Forecast, the new book by Steven Farris. The San Francisco Bay got its own forecast--it may rise five feet by the end of the century, threatening a half million people and $100 billion in property.

But this is just the leading edge of what is potentially much, much more pervasively catastrophic, as we continue to pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, with chemical effects explained in another new book (CO2 Rising.)

And there is news about the effects on the planet. In Denmark this month, "Hundreds of leading scientists warned Thursday that global warming is accelerating beyond the worst predictions and threatening to trigger "irreversible" climate shifts on the planet," according to the SF Chronicle. "Saying there's no excuse for inaction, the nearly 2,000 climate researchers meeting in Copenhagen urged policy-makers to "vigorously" implement the economic and technological tools available to cut emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases."

Other researchers suggest that the world won't even have to warm as much as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts to cause catastrophic consequences--while other scientists have been saying that the Panel's predictions are proving to be too conservative. Prince Charles told an international business audience in Rio that according to scientists advising him, the world has only 100 months to confront the Climate Crisis before the damage becomes irreversible.

Yet even with the economic crisis dominating headlines, President Obama and his administration are taking steps to reverse U.S. intransigence in international efforts, and in taking actual U.S. action.

On preparations for the next round of international Climate Crisis treaty negotiations, the New York Times noted "But within weeks of taking office, President Obama has radically shifted the global equation, placing the United States at the forefront of the international climate effort and raising hopes that an effective international accord might be possible. Mr. Obama’s chief climate negotiator, Todd Stern, said last week that the United States would be involved in the negotiation of a new treaty — to be signed in Copenhagen in December — “in a robust way.”

The perception that the United States is now serious has set off a flurry of diplomacy around the globe, the Times continued. “The lesson of Kyoto is that if the U.S. isn’t taking it seriously there is no reason for anyone else to,” said Bill McKibben, who runs the environmental organization
The UN secretary general is organizing a high-level meeting on climate and energy. Teams from Britain and Denmark have visited the White House to discuss climate issues. In China, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made climate a central focus of her visit and proposed a partnership between the United States and China. And a special envoy from China is coming soon."

But key to international action is the U.S. not simply advocating but itself acting nationally. So there are a number of initiatives begun and in the works. Most prominent is the carbon cap-and-trade plan President Obama announced in his unofficial state of the union address. He's followed that up at a roundtable of CEOs to persuade them that the cost of doing nothing will be far greater than the cost of addressing the Climate Crisis. And as he told them, "the science is overwhelming." There are many economists who agree.

Other actions being worked on include a national standard for limiting greenhouse gas emissions from cars, and possible EPA regulations of emissions from all sources beginning with an official finding that these emissions are a threat to public health and welfare.

Though President Obama mostly only refers to the Climate Crisis in his speeches and comments to the general public, he does so in the context of his energy policy: growing a green energy economy. And this in many ways is where the rubber meets the road, for green energy mostly has the effect of lessening greenhouse gases, and developing and implementing these technologies is action addressing this crisis. The President also often talks about science and innovation--and this is very important, because there has been a lot of promising research on a lot of green energy systems that just needs to be encouraged with the possibility of getting to market. But as the President noted in one of his town hall meetings in California last week, the U.S. has fallen behind other nations in some of these technologies.

It also helps that key administration officials are just as committed--including the new head of his Energy Commission, who considers addressing the Climate Crisis "a big priority." Still, a focused sense of urgency may well be necessary to keep addressing this crisis from being overrun by false choices on yet another crisis of the moment.