Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cooperation We've Never Seen Before

From the NYTimes: “We have achieved a level of tangible, global economic cooperation that we’ve never seen before,” President Obama said shortly after the summit meeting of 20 leading economies concluded here. “Our financial system will be far different and more secure than the one that failed so dramatically last year.”
Just as he did to make progress on ending nuclear weapons, President Obama got this to work by holding the U.S. to the same standards as other nations. "The ideas are not new, and there is no enforcement mechanism to penalize countries if they stick to their old habits. But for the first time ever, each country agreed to submit its policies to a “peer review” from the other governments as well as to monitoring by the International Monetary Fund.
That in itself would be a big change, given how prickly national leaders have often been toward outside criticism of their policies. American officials, who pushed for the plan during weeks of negotiations before the summit meeting, argued that governments were so shocked by the economic crisis that they were willing to rethink what was in their self-interest.
“I’m quite impressed,” said Eswar S. Prasad, an economist at Cornell University who had initially been skeptical about the proposed “framework” for stable growth. “A commitment by the U.S. to take the process seriously is a potential game-changer that would give the framework some credibility.”
“The announcement today is more than symbolic,” said Robert M. Kimmitt, who served as deputy Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush. “The fact that leaders are turning to the strategic challenge and doing it in a coordinated way at the level of the Group of 20 is significant.” See the Times story for more details.
The Times also has a good story on why Pittsburgh was selected for the G 20, by a fellow exile, Kate Phillips.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Gee, 20?

No, it's not the Enterprise D--it's the convention center room where the G 20 leaders will beam in and meet in Pittsburgh today. The preliminary events in Pittsburgh yesterday in the post below. Photo from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Perils in Pittsburgh

On the positive side, as the G 20 meetings were about to start, p.r. savvy local officials could continue telling the world the good news about Pittsburgh, that it had changed from the Smoky City, or "hell with the roof off." Of course that basically happened more than six Super Bowls, 3 Stanley Cups and several World Series championships ago. But apparently the world is a slow learner. Even Mr. Daily Kos thought Pittsburgh was a "hellhole" before the recent Netroots convention there. I assume he knows that Chicago is no longer in the grip of Al Capone.

To be fair, it may be surprising that Pittsburgh has successfully diversified from steel, while still being solidly grounded enough not to go crazy in the real estate bubble, so the city weathered the Great Recession better than, say, Detroit. But that process has been going on since the 1970s, when I was watching it from a lot closer.

On the less positive side, the news coming out of Pittsburgh on Thursday was about police using tear gas and rubber bullets on demonstrators. (It now seems they used a kind of tear gas, but not rubber bullets.) The police in Pittsburgh have been known to be thugish, so it's possible they played into the scenario of the provocateurs who show up at every international meeting with a G in front of it. But the Post-Gazette account suggests that the combined forces that included state troopers from Ohio may have screwed up at times, but didn't go wild.

The peculiar form of corporate capitalism enabled by government force called globalism should face indictment--check out The Shock Doctrine. But these demonstrations are a mixed bag at best. That's especially clear when it happens close to home. I read the wire service and especially the Pittsburgh Post Gazette accounts (a newspaper I wrote for) and noted that the first trouble, during the day on Thursday, happened very close to where Margaret's son and grand daughter live.

There was more trouble in the evening, in the area around the University of Pittsburgh and up towards Carnegie Mellon. The traveling anarchist contingent managed to break some windows of corporate businesses, one of which was the Subway sandwich shop on Craig Street. By a kind of amazing coincidence, I happened to eat there on my visit to Pittsburgh in June, after doing an interview at CMU. There were three employees in the shop and though I don't remember precisely their nationalities, I was struck by how "multicultural" it was behind the counter--I seem to recall the young woman was Middle Eastern, and each of the two guys were from completely different cultures--except they were all part of the Ipod, cell phone culture. Things are complicated in this dizzy world of ours.

And hey kids, welcome to tear gas. We could tell you some stories...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Work We Must Do Together

If this news escaped you, I wouldn't be surprised, since the daily blather passed it by quickly. But on Wednesday, President Obama addressed the UN General Assembly for the first time. He told the assembly "it is my deeply held belief that in the year 2009 -- more than at any point in human history -- the interests of nations and peoples are shared.... In this hall, we come from many places, but we share a common future. No longer do we have the luxury of indulging our differences to the exclusion of the work that we must do together." After noting the steps he's taken to return the U.S. to the community of nations, he outlined the "Four Pillars" he believes are "fundamental to the future that we want for our children": "non-proliferation and disarmament; the promotion of peace and security; the preservation of our planet; and a global economy that advances opportunity for all people."
On Thursday, President Obama became the first U.S. President to chair a session of the Security Council, and it passed a resolution to strengthen commitment to stop nuclear proliferation and to reduce existing nuclear weapons until there are no more. The resolution passed with broad support, in large part because President Obama agreed that the U.S. was no exception--it had to accept limitations on nukes, a common sense stand that the previous Bush administration refused to take.
After the vote, President Obama pointed out that "this very institution was founded at the dawn of the atomic age, in part because man's capacity to kill had to be contained. And although we averted a nuclear nightmare during the Cold War, we now face proliferation of a scope and complexity that demands new strategies and new approaches...Once more, the United Nations has a pivotal role to play in preventing this crisis. The historic resolution we just adopted enshrines our shared commitment to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. And it brings Security Council agreement on a broad framework for action to reduce nuclear dangers as we work toward that goal. "
Perhaps to those for whom nuclear weapons are just words, the latest outrageous statements by the arrogantly clueless were better candy. But for those of us who grew up with the threat of nuclear death at any moment, and especially those of us who watched the courageous attempt of President Kennedy to bring sanity back into the equation, this was an important day.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Lacking a cooperative social intelligence and good-will, our most refined technics [technology] promises no more for society's improvement than an electric bulb would promise to a monkey in the midst of a jungle."

Lewis Mumford
Technics and Civilization

photo: latest Saturn photo from Cassini spacecraft--it shows some surprising features, like ripples in the rings "as tall as the Rocky Mountains."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Truth Is Out There

So: a one day Climate Summit at the UN on Tuesday. New hope or more of the same?

In the UK, where the Climate Crisis is covered more consistently and prominently, the BBC led its story: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says a one-day climate change summit in New York has given fresh impetus to efforts to tackle global warming. He says the momentum has shifted in favour of reaching a deal at December's crucial climate meeting in Copenhagen."

Also in the UK, the Guardian led on a positive note with China: The world inched closer to an elusive deal to combat climate change yesterday, when China, the world's biggest polluter, made its most substantial commitment yet to curb its carbon emissions and invest in clean energy."

But in the US, the New York Times (which also published a CC denial piece filled with bad science, according to Climate Progress) had a much more dour approach: World leaders gathered here for a global summit meeting on climate change made modest proposals on Tuesday for combating the problem, underscoring the way domestic political battles still trump what United Nations officials had hoped would be a sense of global urgency."

When you get right down to the nitty gritty, the reports in the Guardian and the NY Times aren't that far apart, but the difference in tone says volumes. Even though what China has actually proposed falls short of what climate experts say is needed at minimum, there is good news in that China (and India) are officially recognizing the problem and the urgency. That alone makes it a bit easier for the US and Europe to move forward, since one common objection has been that their efforts would be useless without China and India. But the US in particular should be squirming as well, because if China actually commits to greenhouse gas reduction and especially clean energy, then the economic as well as environmental leadership of the 21st century goes to them.

President Obama is trying to keep the US in the game. "The threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing. Our generation's response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it - boldly, swiftly, and together - we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe," he said. After acknowledging that the US has been lax until now, he added: "But this is a new day. It is a new era. And I am proud to say that the United States has done more to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution in the last eight months than at any other time in our history."

That's certainly true, but we're far from critical mass--it's still an uphill climb to get the US to really commit to clean energy and addressing the Climate Crisis. The first critical test are Copenhagen and the climate bill now in Congress.

Anyone who cares about the survival of our planet should start praying that Barack Obama gets his way on reforming US healthcare, writes Jonathan Freedland in Worldchanging. The reason is political: this insane health care debate, that (as President Obama said on Letterman Monday night) other advanced nations can barely comprehend since they all have universal healthcare, is taking all the time, energy and attention, while the climate legislation languishes. Moreover, if Obama can't win on healthcare, he is unlikely to prevail on climate. And that's the key to Copenhagen. Freeland continues:

The science is now clear that if we do not manage to keep the increase in the earth's temperature below 2C, we risk facing the effects of catastrophic climate change – with all the flooding, drought, mass migration and human suffering that it would entail. The experts tell us that the only way to stay below that 2C limit is for global emissions to peak in 2015 – and then start falling. In other words, we have set ourselves up at a nice corner table in the last chance saloon. Copenhagen is that last chance. "

While no one really can foretell when the "last chance" will be--or if it has already gone by--it's certainly close to that. And here's another possible last chance: Not for the first time, the fate of the world rests in the hands of US domestic politics, Freedland writes. But if the US doesn't take leadership and China is prepared to do so, it could be the last time. It will be a long time before the US is irrelevant, but it is in danger of moving in that direction.

Failing to truly solve the multiple problems of health care more than signals a steep decline, which probably has already begin. The incredible ignorance demonstrated by the visible opposition (as opposed to the insurance companies who are orchestrating both the public and behind the scenes machinations) is just one clear manifestation. Here's another, according to former President Bill Clinton: "In the last eight years, we went from first to tenth in terms of the percentage of 25 to 34 year olds holding a bachelor's degree. That's the most important unknown statistic out there... We are headed into long-term economic decline if we don't do something about it."

Though once again big money from vested interests is fueling and inciting opposition to not only measures to address the Climate Crisis, but to acknowledging that the crisis exists, that opposition is characterized not by clever and deceptive arguments, but once again by lies and loudly proclaimed ignorance.

And while we roil in this poisonous nonsense, the facts and scientific studies delineate a Climate Crisis that is worse than previously believed. New research indicates that the world will warm 150% faster in just the next five years than the UN climate panel last predicted. Yet another Pentagon report warns that the Climate Crisis will pose significant strategic challenges, including the possibility of resource wars.

One of the largest glaciers in Antarctica is thinning four times faster than it was 10 years ago. But a lot of attention is being drawn to the Arctic. New research there strongly suggests that greenhouse gas pollution from the start of the Industrial Age reversed a cooling trend and started the Arctic warming. Arctic ice continues to thin, melting both from above and below. The effects of global heating, felt most strongly so far in the Arctic Circle, are already being widely felt, disrupting animal and plant life for thousands of miles. This isn't speculation. It's observation.

Once again the fires in California and the obvious drought conditions in Texas and the Southwest are not only accumulating problems, but supporting predictions of what the Climate Crisis would look like. New CC models see drought impact eventually hitting the American Midwest the hardest.

The truth is out there, and so are the blind and the ignorant. The willfully ignorant, blinded by ideology, prejudice and fear.

President Obama did announce some concrete steps on Tuesday, as reported in American Progress: a first ever program to track the amount of greenhouse gas pollution emitted throughout the country and the United States will propose a phase out of fossil fuel subsidies at the G-20 meeting later this week in Pittsburgh, PA. But these, along with green energy initiatives, will probably stall unless the Congress passes some minimal Climate Crisis bill that at least doesn't do the wrong things and does do some things right, and unless the US can help forge a global agreement in Copenhagen.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Emerson for the Day

"Whatever else I may repent of, therefore let it be reckoned neither among my sins nor follies that I once had faith and force enough to form generous hopes of the world's destiny."
--Nathaniel Hawthorne