Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Get To Work on the Climate Crisis

Update: President Obama's speech on the climate crisis is now scheduled for Tuesday, June 25.

President Obama spoke at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, joining with Chancellor Merkel in marking an anniversary of President Kennedy's famous Berlin speech in 1963.  "His pledge of solidarity -- “Ich bin ein Berliner” -- echoes through the ages," Obama noted, then added:  "But that’s not all that he said that day. Less remembered is the challenge that he issued to the crowd before him: “Let me ask you,” he said to those Berliners, “let me ask you to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today” and “beyond the freedom of merely this city.” Look, he said, “to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.”

Obama's speech made news first of all for what he said about reducing nuclear weapons, which was one of the signal issues of JFK's last years as President, and the realm of one of his most significant accomplishments, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.  "After a comprehensive review, I’ve determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third. And I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures."

Obama spoke of other problems that exist in Europe as they do in America, particularly income inequality and poverty (another issue that the Kennedys often asserted as priority).  But President Obama identified the greatest and now most urgent global problem, especially for the young and future generations, in a way that President Kennedy might have as well.

"With a global middle class consuming more energy every day, this must now be an effort of all nations, not just some. For the grim alternative affects all nations -- more severe storms, more famine and floods, new waves of refugees, coastlines that vanish, oceans that rise. This is the future we must avert. This is the global threat of our time. And for the sake of future generations, our generation must move toward a global compact to confront a changing climate before it is too late. That is our job. That is our task. We have to get to work."

But a global compact is not all that's needed.  To even lead towards one, the United States must show how serious it is.  In this speech President Obama also said: "In the United States, we have recently doubled our renewable energy from clean sources like wind and solar power. We’re doubling fuel efficiency on our cars. Our dangerous carbon emissions have come down. But we know we have to do more -- and we will do more." 

In that regard, stories have been appearing for the past few days about President Obama getting set to announce new initiatives to confront the climate crisis.  The New York Times reported Wednesday:

Heather Zichal, the White House coordinator for energy and climate change, said Wednesday that the president would announce climate policy initiatives in coming weeks. Another official said a presidential address outlining the new policy, which will also include new initiatives on renewable power and energy efficiency, could come as early as next week. Ms. Zichal said none of the initiatives being considered by the administration required legislative action or new financing from Congress. 

The Times story led with a "senior officials" suggesting that President Obama will propose new regulations limiting CO2 emissions from existing power plants.  Other stories note that the EPA still hasn't issued final regulations on new power plants, which could also be part of a package.

Some are speculating however that these announcements may come as counterweight to final approval of the tar sands oil pipeline.  A decision on that is expected to be announced within the next month.  

But for the moment the significance might well be the focus that President Obama can bring to the absolute necessity of strong, multiple and intentional efforts to cut and end global heating emissions and other steps to address both the causes and effects of the climate crisis.  A Bloomberg report from a few days earlier cites a Palo Alto gathering where President Obama is quoted as saying:  "We’re not going to be able to make those changes solely through a bunch of individual decisions,” he said at a June 6 event hosted by Flipboard Chief Executive Officer Mike McCue. “Government is going to have a role to play.” 

When President Kennedy outlined his agenda in his Inaugural he warned that it would not be accomplished in a hundred days, "or a thousand days, or in the lifetime of this administration--But let us begin."  In the speech that reignited negotiations with the Soviet Union for a limited nuclear test ban treaty (which he made in that same summer of 1963), he spoke of future dangers--like nuclear proliferation--and of future hopes.  The years of treaties and nuclear weapons control and reduction have all sprung from that speech.  He began.

That treaty broke the ice of the Cold War and allowed limiting and someday eliminating nuclear weapons to become a legitimate political goal, a topic for open and serious discussion in which advocates were no longer marginalized, and a vision of the future. We can only hope we're going to see history repeat itself when President Obama next talks about the climate crisis.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

sporting views

Survived the first of the Pirates-Giants series, which the home team (Pittsburgh) won two of three.  Both teams go on, wounded but always entertaining.

I'm not watching the actual games but I am noting the NBA finals--I never thought I'd ever root for the San Antonio Spurs, but they are playing the Heat and now it's all up to a game 7.  It's sort of amazing that the Spurs are still built around the stars that were playing when the Lakers were beating them en route to championships.  Anyway, they came within a shot of winning the 6th game and the series, and keeping LeBron out of the Michael Jordan greatness conversation.  Though the game 5 winner usually wins the 7th, the depressing prospect is that the Heat will finish it.  The Spurs need a big lead in the fourth, because they just don't have a finisher.  On the other hand I'm surprised it's going 7, so I could be happily wrong--not happily exactly, more like grimly satisfied.

Meanwhile there's the sporting event above to report on--the congressional baseball game, won by the Dems 22-0. 

Postscript: On Wednesday afternoon the SF Giants won their second come from behind game in a row against San Diego--they would have won the entire series except for a miraculous catch in the 12th inning Monday night.  They're at home, and with today's game, they've sold out their 200th consecutive game at AT&T Park (as it's called now), the longest active streak in the majors. And this sellout was an afternoon game in the middle of the week.  San Francisco's way too laid back image is obsolete.

Monday, June 17, 2013

That's Why They Call It Global

Last week Colorado was hit with a sudden and surprisingly ferocious series of wildfires.  CNN reported:

Over several hellish days, the Black Forest Fire singed more than 15,000 acres north of Colorado Springs. What's left behind, in some areas, "looks like a nuclear bomb went off," according to El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa.

In the first few days after the first broke out, for still unexplained reasons, crews had zero containment on the Black Forest Fire as it ravaged woods and neighborhoods. County spokesman Dave Rose told CNN it appeared to be the most destructive in the history of Colorado -- a state that's all too familiar with devastating wildfires.

By Saturday and Sunday, the Black Forest Fire was mostly contained, but several other large wildfires broke out elsewhere in Colorado.

The Colorado fire and its exceptional nature are no longer exceptional in huge swaths of the United States.  The droughts and dryness and resulting fires are burning up state funds but also the common fund called federal, which thanks to the wolves in Congress, has less money and fewer resources.  This CBS News report:

Fire season has exploded across the country. So far this year, more than 19,000 wildfires have scorched the equivalent of 700 square miles, forcing thousands out of their homes.

"We've had numerous fires already," said firefighter Miguel Martinez. "I foresee a very busy season for us."

Martinez fights fires in California, where the number of wildfires is up 45 percent this year. The reason: unusually dry weather. Nearly half the country is already experiencing moderate to exceptional drought conditions.

"We've seen a significant change for the worse, in terms of how hot fires burn and how quickly they explode," said Tom Harbour, fire chief for the U.S. Forest Service. But federal firefighters are facing another challenge: a loss $50 million mandated by the budget sequester. That forced the Forest Service to cut 500 firefighters and 50 engines just when they're needed most."

Climate crisis effects like fires that require federal responses mean that climate changes in one locality or state  eventually affect everyone in the country, if only through federal taxes.  Then of course there is the economic activity that is lessened, the crops burned up by droughts, etc.  Global heating is not just an atmospheric phenomenon with different local effects.  It is a fact: those local disruptions and catastrophes ripple very far, and the ripples don't necessarily fade with distance.

For another example, a new study found that the impact of climate crisis on the UK is not limited to rising sea levels and hotter summers: an even greater impact may be the availability of food imports.

"What's interesting is that threats from climate change overseas appear an order of magnitude higher than domestic threats," PWC's Richard Gledhill told BBC News.

"This doesn't just refer to the most vulnerable countries like the small island states... climate events in developed countries could damage the UK economy by impacting on food and other resources. We could also suffer damage to assets from events like the floods in central Europe or Superstorm Sandy; this all feeds back into the UK economy."

Many crucial ways of addressing the climate crisis are local, regional, national.  But at least at this level of human civilization, the truth is we're all in this together, and solutions on dealing both with causes and effects of  the climate crisis are necessarily global.