Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Day We Became One Planet

The New York Times:

LE BOURGET, France — With the sudden bang of a gavel Saturday night, representatives of 195 countries reached a landmark climate accord that will, for the first time, commit nearly every country to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions to help stave off the most drastic effects of climate change.

Delegates who have been negotiating intensely in this Paris suburb for two weeks gathered for the final plenary session, where Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France asked for opposition to the deal and, hearing none, declared it approved.

With that, the delegates achieved what had been unreachable for two decades: a consensus on the need to shift from carbon-based fuels and a road map for the 195 nations to do so.

Though the deal did not achieve all that environmentalists, scientists and some countries had hoped for, it set the table for more efforts to slow the slide toward an unlivable planet.

It was an extraordinary effort at global diplomacy. Supporters argued that no less than the future of the planet was at stake...

The Washington Post:

LE BOURGET, France — Negotiators from 196 countries approved a landmark climate accord on Saturday that seeks to dramatically reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for a dangerous warming of the planet.

The agreement, adopted after 13 days of intense bargaining in a Paris suburb, puts the world’s nations on a course that could fundamentally change the way energy is produced and consumed, gradually reducing reliance on fossil fuels in favor of cleaner forms of energy.

“History will remember this day,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after the pact was gaveled through to thunderous applause. “The Paris agreement on climate change is a monumental success for the planet and its people.”

The deal was struck in a rare show of near-universal accord, as poor and wealthy nations from across the political and geographic spectrum expressed support for measures that require all to take steps to battle climate change. The agreement binds together pledges by individual nations to cut or limit emissions from fossil-fuel burning, within a framework of rules that provide for monitoring and verification as well as financial and technical assistance for developing countries."

The world is not saved yet.  There are many trials yet to come, and future generations will each cope with a world undergoing great change, much of it tragic diminishment. If the numbers play out as anticipated, much more will need to be done to address the causes as well as anticipating and dealing with effects. There are likely to be shocks and surprises ahead.  Those who say this pact is not enough are largely correct. There will be corrections, changes in speed needed.   But it is now Spaceship Earth, and it is turning onto a new course.

Notice how many times these stories and quotes within them refer to the planet.  This is more than an international accord--it is a planetary accord.  For the first time in human history, we are one planet, one planetary civilization, determined to save our planetary home.

In the Times' film clip of the final moments when the deal was officially struck, it had a revenge of the nerds feeling, for it was hammered out by people who deal with the nuances and technical aspects of diplomacy and science.  This is their triumph.

Both the Times and the Post stories are excellent, and worth reading in full.  The Post story links to the actual text of the agreement, and the Times has the first of what will likely be many articles around explaining the agreement. The Times continues:

Yet amid the spirit of success that dominated the final hours of the talks, Mr. Arias Cañete reminded delegates that the accord was the start of the real work. “Today, we celebrate,” he said. “Tomorrow, we have to act. This is what the world expects of us.”

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Meanwhile in Paris: 24 Hours to Save the World?

On Thursday a revised draft of the climate agreement was announced, with some outstanding issues apparently resolved but others still in contention.  There are hopes of a final draft in the next 24 hours, as the conference is scheduled to end on Friday.  But, the NY Times/Associated Press warns, UN conferences rarely end on time.  Update Thurs pm: According to the BBC, agreement is now expected to be presented on Saturday. President Obama and China's president spoke by phone to encourage resolution of remaining issues.

One of the issues still to be worked out is verification.  Though President Obama (who has been personally involved in negotiations from Washington) publicly supports some legally binding provisions, negotiators accept that this is unlikely--not because of intransigence by India or China or Russia or Australia.  But by outright hostility from the US Republican party, with the power to block any provision that Congress would have to pass or ratify, as reported by the New Republic earlier in the week:

"We understand the concerns they have because of the political situation in the Congress and the Senate, and the position of the Republican Party,” Arias Cañete, who is the European Commissioner for Climate and Energy, told reporters. “You cannot make an important agreement in climate change if the second-biggest emitter of the world is not on board. We have to find a solution.”

(Republicans are still at it, with Tail Gunner Ted Cruz spouting the worst kind of debater obfuscations and psuedo-science in the guise of a congressional hearing.)

The draft was held up because of such concerns (among others), the first official delay in the conference.  But now it's out there and the Paris conference enters its final and decisive phase, with most parties expressing optimism on an agreement.

Perhaps the most dramatic related event of the week happened in China, which called its first "red alert" over dangerous smog, closing schools and workplaces. Air pollution, mostly from coal-fueled power plants, has become a major concern.
Addressing climate crisis causes with clean energy is an example of how such efforts simply make life and health better, all on their own.

But air pollution is not China's only climate crisis-related clear and present danger.  Its shrinking glaciers threaten water supplies not only within China but elsewhere in Asia.

The Paris talks have inspired many stories on the climate crisis and the issues and problems it raises, as well as efforts to deal with its causes and effects.  The Guardian has a good article focusing on local efforts in these areas, which is where most of the actual action has been.

 I've noted this here before.  Local, state and regional officials are closer to realities than the reps who go to Washington to spend most of their time raising money so they can stay in Washington.  When Paris comes up with a treaty, local efforts will make it easier to meet.  But as the Guardian piece indicates, state and local governments etc. must be part of the treaty process.

But not to worry--Uncle Jerry and California are on the case.

Winter is Icumen In

               November 2015. BK photo

The first series of winter storms is blowing through the North Coast.  We had some decent rain in November and early December, but this is officially the start of the rainy season: the first power outage.  (The second came as I was finishing this post.)

today--Dec. 10, 2015
The first was last night hereabouts, though there were and are other outages around today.  Wind and colder air stirring up modest lightning and thunder along with the rain. A tangentially winter-related cause (Caltrans preparing 101 for the oncoming storms ripped through an underground fiber optic cable) also deprived we ATT customers of Internet and cell phone service for most of Wednesday (although Mike got through on the landline, sounding better than ever.)  So for an hour or so last night I wore a biker's light (like a miner's light) strapped on my baseball cap to read like a print on paper thing, what do you call that again?

The most disturbing thing about the Internet outage was trying to find a news report on the radio with an estimate at least of when service might resume.  At 10 p.m. (or more precisely between 9:55 and 10:05) I could find not a single local news broadcast on either FM or AM band.  AM had a lot of talk radio (sports, religion, right wing blather) and the only news on FM was from the BBC!  On at least three notches on the "dial."  So in a real emergency here, when only battery-powered radio is an information link, we're screwed.

What's especially interesting about these storms--which have been hitting Washington and Oregon much harder than us--is that they are not yet El Nino caused, according to this LA Times report.  El Nino, which is apparently still growing in strength, won't directly influence our weather for several weeks yet.

What has happened is that the early winter precip pattern has returned to pre-drought functioning.  The ridge of high pressure that built up in recent winters hasn't formed this year.  It was one factor blunting storms last December.  Although we've been getting one good month of rain each winter (at least that's what I recall) we haven't had the "rainy season" pattern of old.

one of the new rain barrels today
But with the climate crisis effects, nothing is "back to normal" anymore, and the storms in particular are unpredictable by past experience.  As Seattle and Portland could tell you after the earlier storms that wreaked destruction there, including flooding and landslides.

Here, the old duck boots have already come in handy, the Gore-Tex rain jacket and pants, the contents of the backpack in an extra layer of plastic.  If the rains become as relentless as they were in our first winters here--the last big El Nino--then I might have to hunt out my old full length black poncho, for a rainy season Darth Vader look.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Leading From Within

"The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it. We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us. Our success won’t depend on tough talk, or abandoning our values, or giving into fear. That’s what groups like ISIL are hoping for. Instead, we will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless, and by drawing upon every aspect of American power."

“Let’s make sure we never forget what make us exceptional. Let’s not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear.”

President Obama
Address to the Nation
(The White House transcript isn't working at the moment--here it is at Buzzfeed.)

Can we repel a threat without becoming a mirror image of our enemy?  It isn't done very often.  But President Obama is determined that it will be, this time.

President Obama's strategy to "destroy ISIL" is not a political position--it is an operational strategy that has the support of those who carry it out--both U.S. agencies and crucial international partners:

This is our strategy to destroy ISIL. It is designed and supported by our military commanders and counterterrorism experts, together with 65 countries that have joined an American-led coalition. And we constantly examine our strategy to determine when additional steps are needed to get the job done.

As the sitting President since 2009, Obama's success consists largely of what hasn't happened--all the plots and plans that were stopped, that Americans know nothing about.  They know only what terrorists were able to do.  Even the announced disruptions and terrorist leaders killed disappear from memory when any kind of attack is somewhat successful.

President Obama also called out Congress, urging them to deny guns to individuals on the terrorist no-fly list, to end access to assault weapons (which the New York Times again called for in a front page editorial) and to authorize use of force against ISIL--which many will be surprised that Congress has failed to do.  That's because Congressional Republicans are more interested in partisan politics than actual national security.  They complain that Obama isn't doing enough, and they oppose anything he proposes to do.  In part because of the factors outlined in the previous paragraph, they sometimes get away with it.

He refused the usual political expediency of invasion--the political response to fear, and to the opportunism of those who profit by the blood of others.

President Obama spent a fair amount of time in the address countering the danger of xenophobia and prejudice against Muslims that the GOPer leaders are trying to foment.  Fortunately, the first poll after San Bernadino showed no immediate jump in prejudice against Muslim Americans.  And the shout by a witness to the perpetrator of the more recent terrorist knife attack in London has become an international rallying cry : You ain't no Muslim bruv!

But ISIL isn't the only terrorist threat, as President Obama recognized.  There are the many Americans slaughtered by gunfire, by a lone gunman with semi-automatic weapons whose motives are personal, if they can be called motives.  And there are domestic terrorists with assault weapons and other weapons.  As the New York Times noted:

Indeed, the death toll from jihadist terrorism in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — 45 people — is about the same as the 48 killed in terrorist attacks motivated by white supremacist and other right-wing extremist ideologies, according to New America, a research organization in Washington.

No spies or law enforcement agencies can prevent the kind of attack that happened in San Bernadino, if these weapons of mass destruction are easily available, and tracking large purchases or investigating them is difficult if not impossible because that's the way the NRA and its lackeys want it to be.