Friday, December 04, 2015

Meanwhile Back in Paris (Political Update)

Five-Thirty-Eight Science has a neat little listicule about the Paris conference, highlighting a significant change that came to light on the first day: the new support for climate crisis response by Russian president Putin.  Previously only joking about it, he now calls it a serious threat to humanity.

Also at the start of the conference, China released its report on the expected effects of global heating on that vast nation.  It's pretty grim.  That China even conducted an environmental assessment is revolutionary, but that the leadership made it public to the world at the Paris conference began is highly significant.

While even Putin has seen the heat, and even China is facing up to the realities, Republicans in the U.S. remain not only intransigent but active politically in opposing any climate crisis response.  Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks invoked the "thought police" that keep sensible GOPers from voicing their acceptance of climate science.  Jonathan Chiat riffs on this column, saying it's actually worse than that, and supports his oft-repeated analysis that in the R party today "the kooks are the Establishment."  The political consequences are clear: "if you're voting Republican next year, you're either getting somebody who is a member of the climate thought police or is afraid to disagree with them."

Paul Krugman takes much the same line in a Friday column. It begins:

Future historians — if there are any future historians — will almost surely say that the most important thing happening in the world during December 2015 was the climate talks in Paris. True, nothing agreed to in Paris will be enough, by itself, to solve the problem of global warming. But the talks could mark a turning point, the beginning of the kind of international action needed to avert catastrophe.

Then again, they might not; we may be doomed. And if we are, you know who will be responsible: the Republican Party."

Krugman agrees with Chiat that a vote for GOPers in the next election is a vote against addressing the climate crisis, but worries that the media won't report it that way, that in the usual attempt to appear even-handed, the media will fuzz it and even bend facts to make the issue seem more even.

 "But I hope I’m wrong, and I’d urge everyone outside the climate-denial bubble to frankly acknowledge the awesome, terrifying reality. We’re looking at a party that has turned its back on science at a time when doing so puts the very future of civilization at risk. That’s the truth, and it needs to be faced head-on."

The Times also editorializes against the latest GOPer congressional attempt to harass climate scientists and leave the false impression that they are hiding something in their analysis that shows there was no pause in global heating.  The data that led to that conclusion is public.

A different kind of politics continues in Paris, where activists struggle to maintain a presence within restraints due to the terrorist attacks.  A highly creative and subversive series of skillfully contrived and very pointed fake ads showed up in billboards and kiosks in Paris, indistinguishable from the actual ads at first glance. Mashable reproduced several, that attack the hypocrisy of corporations, governments and individual leaders affecting the climate crisis.  Getting deeds to match words is important, and these activists are keeping feet to the fire.

Meanwhile Back in Paris...

The heads of state have all gone home, and it's the negotiators working without the headlines.  The New York Times reports that drafts of the agreement in process will begin to circulate soon. with one difficulty that sounds familiar:

Sewell Chan who is reporting on the climate talks in Le Bourget, France, says there is a language barrier that has nothing to do with the 195 different countries participating in the negotiations. “The barrier is between the technocrats and everyone else,” he said, adding that the alphabet soup of acronyms used by officials might as well require a special United Nations decoder ring.

Like the reliance on acronyms, technocratic language can be full of shortcuts for the initiated, as well as a status thing--if you can understand it, you must be a member of the club.  But when language is imprecise, it can mean different things to different people, and technocratic language is often paradoxically imprecise.

Like "mitigation" and "adaptation." Either can mean the other, and sometimes, they do.


Reeling Again in the Land of Guns

People at a Christmas party, others who happened to be nearby, their families and friends, the lives cut down and the lives that go on with huge wounds in them, and the waves of awful consequences that ripple outward from the shooting slaughter in San Bernadino...

The inexplicable motives of the shooters, still being unraveled.  Nearly every intimation I've had about this situation seems to be proving out, but it's still too fluid to say anything worthwhile about it.

Two thoughts persist: how this is likely to play into the prejudices against Muslims--especially when it appears that this couple was accepted without prejudice in their immediate community.  And thoughts of a six month old child left behind, how could anyone do that, what is that child's life going to be like.

And the others left behind.  And left aghast.

And though the response of Democrats emphasizing gun control while the situation was still evolving seemed premature and tin-eared to me, there's no question that this is related to the easy availability of lethal firepower.

At least four of the guns were purchased legally, and one report I saw said from the same dealer--an outfit called Annie's Get Your Gun, a family-friendly gun dealer.  Only in America.  Literally.

It's family friendly guns that wound up in the hands of toddlers--more than 50 of whom this year have shot somebody with it, a grandparent, sibling or more often themselves.

A journalist cobbled together the numbers, just as various organizations have tried to follow the number of mass shootings (pretty much one per day) in the U.S., because the Republican Congress has forbidden any federal health agency from collecting statistics and studying the problem, and the NRA has intimidated everybody else.

Fear and illusion (basically that real gun violence is like gun violence on TV) have already led to a huge Black Friday surge in gun purchases, probably in response to the Paris attack, and so guns become even easier for domestic terrorists to obtain.  As well as toddlers, and drunks.

The logic of gun control was clear to me from watching westerns (as it was clear to the characters in those westerns), in an era when the only guns present in American homes were hunting rifles and b-b guns, if that.  More guns equal more death, as the rest of the western world knows.  But we don't know anything the rabid right thought police won't let us know.  Talk about terrorists.

Update: The US Senate voted against denying guns to people on the terrorist watch list.  Really.  Columnist Gail Collins suggests the GOP is more afraid of the NRA than al queda.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Turning Point/ "Let's Get to Work"

The New York Times heralded the day:

"The largest gathering of world leaders in history on Monday began a multinational effort toward forging what many called the planet’s last, best hope to stave off the worst consequences of climate change.

“Never have the stakes of an international meeting been so high, since what is at stake is the future of the planet, the future of life,” President Fran├žois Hollande of France told a packed United Nations plenary session at a convention center in this suburb north of Paris."

President Obama was one of the first speakers:

"Nearly 200 nations have assembled here this week -- a declaration that for all the challenges we face, the growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other. What should give us hope that this is a turning point, that this is the moment we finally determined we would save our planet, is the fact that our nations share a sense of urgency about this challenge and a growing realization that it is within our power to do something about it."

"...I’ve come here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and the second-largest emitter, to say that the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it."

"...One of the enemies that we'll be fighting at this conference is cynicism, the notion we can't do anything about climate change. Our progress should give us hope during these two weeks -- hope that is rooted in collective action."

"...For I believe, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that there is such a thing as being too late. And when it comes to climate change, that hour is almost upon us. But if we act here, if we act now, if we place our own short-term interests behind the air that our young people will breathe, and the food that they will eat, and the water that they will drink, and the hopes and dreams that sustain their lives, then we won't be too late for them.

And, my fellow leaders, accepting this challenge will not reward us with moments of victory that are clear or quick. Our progress will be measured differently -- in the suffering that is averted, and a planet that's preserved. And that’s what’s always made this so hard. Our generation may not even live to see the full realization of what we do here. But the knowledge that the next generation will be better off for what we do here -- can we imagine a more worthy reward than that? Passing that on to our children and our grandchildren, so that when they look back and they see what we did here in Paris, they can take pride in our achievement.

Let that be the common purpose here in Paris. A world that is worthy of our children. A world that is marked not by conflict, but by cooperation; and not by human suffering, but by human progress. A world that’s safer, and more prosperous, and more secure, and more free than the one that we inherited.

Let’s get to work."

A new poll shows that a solid two-thirds of Americans surveyed support the US joining an international treaty to address the climate crisis.  Three-quarters agree that the climate crisis is underway. More than 60% support limiting power plant greenhouse gases emissions.

Other leaders were just as blunt, indicating urgency in the most extreme terms. British PM Cameron referred to "the Earth in peril." Pope Francis said, "Every year the problems are getting worse. We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word I would say that we are at the limits of suicide."

One of the major innovations of the day came from the Prime Minister of India, who announced the formation of an international Solar Alliance of over 120 countries, to rapidly expand solar power around the world, particularly in countries not yet fully industrialized.  This is the much needed "leapfrog" approach for rapidly growing countries like India, where expanding dirty energy would be catastrophic.

This follows the pledges by major nations of $20 billion for green energy research, and the Bill Gates initiative of private companies, also to fund research into cutting edge clean energy technologies.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

14 Days to Save the World

Half a million people reportedly participated in global demonstrations of support for climate action over the weekend.  Meanwhile some 40,000 participants begin to gather for the climate conference in Paris.   This includes 147 heads of state who come to Paris at the beginning of the conference.

The terrorist attacks on Paris has not deterred these leaders, and some believe that the attacks have even spurred attendance and added to the likelihood of an international agreement:

While many leaders including Presidents Obama and Xi Jinping were always set to attend this conference, the recent violent attacks in Paris have encouraged others to come in an expression of solidarity with the French people...Delegates are in little doubt that the shadow cast over the city by the attacks will enhance the chances of agreement.

Some will link the climate crisis as a cause of terrorism, others as a greater threat than terrorism, this report suggests.  Another reason for optimism about an agreement is how committed the US is, and specifically President Obama:

[UK environmental leader] Tom Burke for one believes that going against the flow will be particularly difficult this time round. "I think one of the reasons people will find it hard to hold out at the end will be because of the level of political capital that Obama has invested in climate change, making it clear it is a primary legacy issue for him," he said.

Both the Washington Post and New York Times printed major articles linking President Obama to the issue and the conference.  Obama's Legacy at Stake in Paris Talks on Climate Change, is the Times story headline:

WASHINGTON — At a joint news conference here Tuesday with President Fran├žois Hollande of France, President Obama veered from his focus on the terrorist attacks in Paris to bring up the huge international gathering beginning in the French capital on Monday to hammer out a global response to climate change.

“What a powerful rebuke to the terrorists it will be when the world stands as one and shows that we will not be deterred from building a better future for our children,” Mr. Obama said of the climate conference.

The segue brought mockery, even castigation, from the political right, but it was a reminder of the importance Mr. Obama places on climate change in shaping his legacy. During his 2012 re-election campaign, he barely mentioned global warming, but the issue has become a hallmark of his second term.

And on Sunday night he arrives in Paris, hoping to make climate policy the signature environmental achievement of his, and perhaps any, presidency.

He comes to Paris with a moral authority that no other president has had on the issue of climate change,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University who noted that Mr. Obama’s domestic climate efforts already stand alone in American history. “No other president has had a climate change policy. It makes him unique.”
Paris Summit Already A Win for Obama the Post headline begins.  It reviews his past efforts on the issue:

With the economy in turmoil, he persuaded ailing auto companies to back tougher fuel efficiency standards. He turned a portion of the economic stimulus bill in 2009 into the largest clean energy bill ever. And he has introduced the Clean Power Plan to limit greenhouse-gas emissions from industrial and power plants. 

The story notes that Obama has been preparing the groundwork for this conference for more than a year, orchestrating commitments from important countries including China, and with his own actions and words, helping to create a momentum for a Paris agreement.  Of the 190 countries represented in Paris, 180 have already pledged cuts in carbon pollution.

But as every story notes, and as everyone acknowledges, even if the strongest agreement proposed so far is approved, it won't alone be enough to "save the world"--though it could be a powerful start, a change of direction.

So this week in Paris will also focus on the next steps, such as this initiative, according to the Washington Post:

As world leaders converge on Paris for historic climate talks, a coalition of governments and private investors is preparing to launch a major research initiative that seeks to pour billions of dollars into an urgent search for solutions to global warming.

President Obama and Microsoft founder Bill Gates are expected to stand with counterparts from 20 countries on Monday in announcing the unprecedented effort, which is aimed at spurring rapid advances in research and development for clean energy, U.S. officials confirmed Sunday.

...The 19 countries that signed up for the initiative include the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases and collectively represent more than 80 percent of current global spending on energy research...

The private initiative headed by Gates consists of 28 investors from 10 countries. The list of participants includes such U.S. heavyweights as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeffrey P. Bezos, as well as major international investors such as China’s Jack Ma, executive chairman of the Alibaba Group, and Britain’s Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group.

The group, with a collective net worth of more than $350 billion, will provide capital for early, high-risk research on the most promising technologies, participants said.

The New York Times is providing an active update of stories on the activities in Paris.