Monday, November 30, 2009

Something I Missed

So, back when I was working for San Jose City Councilman Kansen Chu I worked on and wrote an initial draft of legislation to ban plastic bags in the City of San Jose. I worked with the excellent city staff on language, stake holder meetings and in drumming up support. The submitting of the legislation to committee made front page news, they even quoted a speech I wrote for the Councilman. I was most impressed by the fact that our story beat out the Mayor's state of the city address. After that day the 18th floor of the City Hall knew me as "the plastic bag man."

During the stake holder meetings we actually met with members of the Grocer's Associations and the American Chemical Council and attempted to explain to them (something I was instructed not to do but couldn't contain myself) that if they wanted to maintain their revenue from "plastic bags" that they should stop investing in petroleum and recycled based plastics and look into bio-plastics. I told them that this was not going to be a localized incident and that it would end up being a national movement to rid our waste-stream of this stuff.

I stopped paying attention to it after I left that office and found out that it was being held in committee. Not 45 minutes ago I found out that not only did it come out committee but it was passed. My baby had gone through. They even were able to get some paper bags on the ban. To the detractors I say that they have but one reasonable argument. While I have to agree that the Minority or Lower Income families are affected more by this than some other groups initially. We had tried to start a program to rectify this. While I was with Kansen Chu's office I also co-headed the "green bag give away" program that gave away over 500 reusable bags to (mainly) lower income community centers. It was hugely successful and got great response. One constituent actually called in and said it was "the best use of taxpayer funds" that she could think of. I worked with Stufflebean and other city staff to try and get this program going and wanted to try and turn it into a continuing program but I have heard little of it since leaving.

I am very happy to see that this band was passed and that it also included a success measuring program and outreach efforts.

It is unfortunate that Councilmember Chu's name fails to be mentioned in any of the articles I found on the subject. In fact, in looking at Council minutes he doesn't even seem to be anything more than an AYE vote.

There is actually a story here about some version of an epiphany that Kansen apparently had (though during my time with his office I never heard this story). I can tell you this, from what I recall the plastic bag ban came from an effort on my part and on the part of city staff after Kansen and then Chief of Staff Chen said to me "any projects you want to take on?". An interesting anecdote though.

I am happy to see it go through, being the largest municipality in the nation to push this through should make it a bit easier for some of the other ones across the nation, who knows, may even reach federal levels.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Copenhagen 2: Lies, Cheats and Hopes

With the Copenhagen talks inching closer and closer, there have been several points that I think need to be discussed.

First let me start by mentioning this amazing radio show I stumbled upon called "EARTHBEAT" that is fresh and amazing. The stories actually are intriguing, informative and engaging. You can listen to podcasts of their broadcasts and read summaries of their broadcasts. They also plan to have daily dispatches from the Copenhagen talks with "the most important movers and shakers of the climate movement." They have a great podcast named Mike Tidwell about Rush Limbaugh, population control/emissions control and the 350 rally.

The 350 rally is brought about through the efforts of the 350 organization; an international campaign dedicated to building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis--the solutions that science and justice demand. Their goal is to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, the designated "safe" level for human existence on the planet. The rally was the largest environmental rally on earth, ever. Thousands of cell-rallies in around160 countries, all of them urging world leaders to commit to a climate treaty. An amazing accomplishment.

I next want to mention something a friend was kind enough to tell me about; this so called "Climate Gate." To begin, let me just say that if all the facts indeed are straight as presented I will say that the scientists at fault do not represent the entire scientific community. In fact, there have already been many sites to debunk this concept that these e-mails "prove" climate change is a lie."

In reading one of the excerpts of these so called damning e-mails through a lay-person's eyes it can be construed as interesting at best;

"I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e., from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline."

When looked at from a statistician's eyes it can be seen that what he is referring to is a display method that show the significance of the data. As seen here from a Wired Magazine article;

The comment refers to Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. Mann told Wired the "Nature trick" refers to a solution for displaying data that he and others used in a paper they published to get around a problem in the way that temperature data is traditionally displayed.

The solution allows for better viewing and understanding of the data, Mann said, and pointed to a post on the RealClimate blog that his colleagues have made to explain the reference. That post also indicates that the hacker first tried to post the trove of stolen data to the RealClimate blog on Tuesday.

I truly feel that this is a "nothing" controversy, I also feel that as long as the data itself wasn't altered and just the visual reference that nothing illicit really happened. In a few weeks this should blow over and the focus again will return to Copenhagen and the crucial moment we are in.

With both the U.S. and China being indispensable to these Climate Change talks and even China, one of the largest polluters on earth, calling for real solutions we can expect interesting things. Both China and America have already made a power plays in announcing their own climate solution goals before Copenhagen and this has only fueled concerns over the actual role of Copenhagen. Leaders in the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation have declared that they believe no real solution will be reached at Copenhagen.

The actions of the President are also concerning. Obama's plan to attend and speak for American concerns has encouraged many nations of the success of the project, yet even more recent announcements are drawing concern. There is talk of postponing the conference into a two-stage multi-year process the concerning aspect is that Obama is backing this idea. Perhaps he is right, perhaps we do need more time to get things together, a slower yet more involved process. Or, perhaps slowing down the process will kill it.

I am, however, ever hopeful that these talks will lead to three key elements; an internationally agreed upon emissions cut line, an agreed upon tracking mechanism and a plan to assist developing and fragile nations to circumvent the pollutions path we walked.

Even if nothing is reached at these talks the fact that they occur will still be progress. The problem remains that it may be too slow to be useful. For now all we can do is wait and see.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Copenhagen: Green Center 2009

A lot of fuss has been made recently about the actions of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as of late. He has lobbied China's top officials and even the United States Congress in an attempt to bring them in as players to a Global Climate Change Conference. It seems that he was successful and Obama will be attending this most recent meeting of the U.N.'s Climate Change Conference.

There have been 5 big conferences in the post Kyoto-years that the United Nations has set. These conferences are places where member nations can meet, exchange knowledge and information and set goals for the future. The next one is going to be taking place in Copenhagen between December 7th and December 18th. Some of you may be wondering, “didn't we just have a conference?” referring to the conference in the United States in April that included leaders from 16 major economies. This was just a preparatory conference that was held for many reasons but the first and foremost was that Statesmen could get an idea of what to expect in December. Based on the reactions to certain propositions, the representatives could come back knowing how to prepare of the oncoming discussion and the real international conference.

These Conferences are part of the Post-Kyoto negotiations which attempt to address global warming through limiting greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale. Through talks and conversations and some basic steps that can lead to treaties such as the Kyoto agreement these leaders meet to basically determine the global course towards a solution for the Climate Change problem. These talks are beginning to heighten in importance, not only because of the impending doom of a global climate cataclysm but more because the Kyoto Protocol is set to expire after 2012, at the end of Obama's 1st (and hopefully not last) term. With the end of the Kyoto Protocol comes the opportunity to set a new and more forceful international Climate Change agreement. The standards that were set by the Kyoto Agreements, which are now considered a meager settlement, can be replaced by even higher standards to protect tomorrow. The Kyoto Protocol extended standards of reducing greenhouse emissions by 5.2% from the 1990 level. The only country in the world that was a part of process yet had no intention of ratifying the Protocol was the United States.

There has been significant worry about two major world powers in the upcoming Copenhagen conference; China and the United States of America. To really understand why there is a threat of Failure of the Kyoto Accords and what they intended to do we must look back to 2007.

On the 30th of November 2007 a communique was published calling for a legally binding and comprehensive framework to combat climate change. This communique was directed at the United Nations from business leaders of 150 global companies. This document can be found here; It is short, sweet and to the point. This document actually led to the “Bali Road Map” which was a two-year process to finalizing a binding agreement in 2009 in Denmark.

In other words, this upcoming conference will be the end point. The agreement reached there will be set before the nations of the world to (hopefully) have them come together and take the first steps towards a Climate Change solution on a global scale. This is why there has been so much pressure to get the leaders of China and America to attend. If it wasn't bad enough that many developing nations feel that most standards are unfair and most post industrial nations seem to be intractable, the United States and China have both been going through major changes - making it hard to determine how to influence them. What resonates with these two powers can set the tone of the rest of the process. This conference will be the next milestone to set this next period in the War on Climate Change; possibly even a new international binding agreement on emission and pollution standards. By getting China and America; the two largest CO2 emitters in the world (China overtook US in 07) to this conference and getting this publicity, it can force both of these countries to act instead of ignore.

Some concerns exist about what Obama will or wont do. Even if he is able to agree to this not-yet-existing treaty, he will still have to bring it back to the U.S. to have it officially ratified by Congress. However the steps have been taken and I am filled with what this administration has attempted to fill all of America with; hope. But one cannot eat and breathe “hope”we must have real actions and movement. So with baited breath I watch what will happen. Hopefully it wont be all rhetoric and posturing and real progress can be made. There are still those that wonder what Obama can really do in any case.

What I am wondering is, can't Obama, if he is willing, push his own agenda? What ever happened to setting industry standards? When Carter and Regan and Johnson were President, each administration attempted to establish standards on industries for environmental/economic reasons (obviously Reagan was more influenced by economic incentives but still it is an example). A major example is the standards set on the auto industry alternate intensely between political years. During Carter's term there were emission and millage standards that the Reagan administration found too harsh so they were slashed. Our current President has been looking westward towards us over here in California, who have been attempting to pass stricter standards for a while. The White House's decision came shortly after the announcement that thirteen states and D.C. are planning to adopt similar standards. These standards set the “new national fleet mileage rule for cars and light trucks of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016...” So if the precedent exists that an executive order can determine industry standards then why not simply set them for other industries? For example; let it be a fact that mining companies, currently one of the highest producer of pollutants in the United States, have to reduce their pollutants released into the system by 25% by 2020 (this would be the minimum total reduction requirement on “rich countries” by the Bali Communique'. There had been significant push back by American business since the 1997 Kyoto Accords were first published, this being the main reason for the US still failing to ratify it. Lobbyists even today, are attempt to fight against Climate Change Legislation. While I will admit, that businesses will get hit for these new standards, I will also say that is the situation we are in. The industries must attempt to meet these new standards or fail and allow new blood to enter the market and take the reigns.

If we look at what is happening with National Motor Industry standards we can learn a lesson; state and regional programs can turn into National ones even if they at first glance seem rather harsh. Regional entities, municipalities and even neighborhoods need to come together to do their part to shrink their global footprint.

There is an excellent quote from a December 10,2008 interview between an Australian reporter and their Minister for Climate Change and Water, Penny Wong; “...the point about these negotiations and the need for an effective global agreement is this: it is not a single issue negotiation. We need truly global action and there are a whole range of matters in terms of developed and developing country action; in relation to adaptation; in relation to reducing emissions; and a whole range of other matters which need to be resolved and negotiated.”

I agree with this fully, that the solution to Climate Change is a global one, but it is up to Regionalities and Municipalites to try and sidestep the red-tape that Nations and even States can be tripped up by. With local action and local innovation regarding solutions, we can impact higher strata of government, thus moving forward, instead of dragging behind to be left in the global warming aftermath. The only problem is that it takes an act of Congress to actually accept a “Treaty” though Obama could always just call it an “Executive Agreement” and curtail some the legal issues. This, however, would cause the agreement to be as impotent as our approach to the Kyoto Accords.

One thing I must say is that I am amazingly (or if I allow the influence of my time in Boston to creep in I should say “wicked”) impressed by Senator John Kerry. He has garnered attention from his recent work in Afghanistan and if that weren't impressive enough I am significantly impressed with his desire for real climate change. He has taken the position of being in the forefront of the Senate in regards to the Copenhagen Conference even going so far as to “complete a framework of an elusive US climate change deal in time for next month's high-stakes summit in Copenhagen, vowing not to let the world down.” I am pleased and curious to see this would be Presidential contender facing off in such an issue and I look forward to the interesting aspects of the months ahead. I think that with Kerry in the Senate, we need to find a good Jockey in the House and have Al Gore come in with the populist move to actually get whatever comes out of Copenhagen ratified in the US.

Fingers Crossed.