Friday, December 25, 2009

Post Copenhagen: Wait, what happened

























It is the holiday season and I thought that Copenhagen would be a huge present to the world's ecological and green-citizens. The gift instead ended up being the equivalent of socks or $5 from your grandmother; you know a lot of effort was put into it and you can appreciate it, but it is still a bit of a disappointment, even if you were kind of expecting the socks.

The high hopes for a binding and effective agreement coming out of this meeting were short lived as a result of the walkouts, quick infighting and quickly dissolving accords. Eventually it looked as if absolutely nothing would come out of the conference.

During the Copenhagen talks, The Daily Show has poked fun at the ridiculousness of the proceedings, like the 1,200 Limos that were called out for the event to shuttle these VIP's which is reminiscent of the NY Climate Talk Chopper fiasco, but the final agreement was the ultimate punchline.

A colleague of mine and I were discussing it and she mentioned the fact that she was at the conference, I mentioned my jealousy at her being there, "Don't be," she told me, "it was super stressful and cold." For some reason that sums it for me. The result of the conference ended up being a three page "nothing agreement" that included nothing of substance. Yet the UN reps were more than ready to be struck with awe by it;
As a result, the two-week conference ended with a decision to simply “take note" of the political agreement, which did not go through the consensus-style UN process and had pushed aside prepared texts from years of climate negotiations. Despite the controversy, however, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer praised the pact as “an impressive accord" and the final press release from the secretariat did not mention the decision taken on the deal.
The one area of contention that really aggravated me was the issue of transparency regarding reaching goals. While I am unsure that anyone can actually substantiate the claims that China deliberately sabotaged the talks, it is not surprising to see China's behavior in their "promises" before the event. The President himself, during a speech earlier in the conference stressed the necessity of transparency;
Second, we must have a mechanism to review whether we are keeping our commitments, and exchange this information in a transparent manner. These measures need not be intrusive, or infringe upon sovereignty. They must, however, ensure that an accord is credible, and that we're living up to our obligations. Without such accountability, any agreement would be empty words on a page.
Yet a matter of a day or two later, when the three page accord was announced in a press conference centering around the president, he seemed to forget the importance of that issue. In fact, it seems like he was happy with the outcome, in fact he stated “this important breakthrough lays the foundation for international action in the years to come.” What he seems to forget is that anything laid on a shaky foundation has a tendency to fall to ruins.

I am rather saddened by the fact that certain countries are upset by monitoring and transparency aspects, esp. when this new tracking technology was unveiled at Copenhagen. This rainforest tracking technology would be lent out to countries and governments and could eventually be the ecological equivalent of the SETI@home program. Having this information easily available would allow for an overall tracking system that would allow for easier goal setting and behavior modification.

There are some amazing quotes that analyze the Summit and the Accords that I would just like to show here. From Margaret Swink of Grist;
the most depressing fail for the forests out of Copenhagen is the lack of binding targets to reduce fossil fuel emissions and start to halt climate change. If global temperatures rise above 2 degrees Celsius, most scientists predict that tropical forests will be profoundly affected, experiencing extreme droughts, increased forest fires and other catastrophic weather events. Even if a separate deal to reduce deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries had been agreed upon, the lack of commitment to deep fossil fuel emissions in a legally binding climate change agreement would continue to threaten the world’s forests.
Another summary to the final accord;
The final deal at the Copenhagen climate summit, which was convened to develop a comprehensive international response to the threat of global warming, came down to a behind-closed-doors conversation among some of the most powerful people in the world about the difference between two terms: "examination and assessment" and "international consultations and analysis."
A Blogger that goes by the name The Archdruid Report sums up the entirety of the proceedings and the two main players rather nicely;
The United States and China, who head the main power blocs in the negotiations and also generate more CO2 than anyone else, minted a toothless accord that furthers nobody’s interests but theirs, and proceeded to tell the rest of the world to like it or lump it. A few climate activists are still gamely trying to find grounds for hope in the accord; others are shrilly accusing Barack Obama of betraying the messianic expectations they projected onto him; and a certain amount of stunned silence, in response to the failure of climate activism to have the slightest effect on the proceedings, is also being heard.
Now, when exactly and why the summit failed are points of contention, but most agree that the issue of transparency is a pivotal one. There are also those that blame China for the breakdown of the talks. Part of the reason for this was their strong stance against the issue of monitoring. In fact it seems that; "now that Copenhagen is widely seen as a failure, and China as the main culprit, China’s propaganda workers are in overdrive trying to spin the story in China’s favor."

It makes sense that China who has a history steeped in isolationism and being the victim of colonization would be sensitive to the concept of foreign oversight. As a Wall Street Journal Article states;
Verifying compliance with a climate treaty is likely to be "orders of magnitude more difficult" than verifying other international agreements, such as arms-control treaties, says Kenneth Lieberthal, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

For China, he adds, "the main concern is sovereignty, and a desire not to allow others to dictate what they see, and the conditions on which they see it."
But China must realize that this is a world issue and necessitate world collaboration and that this is an effort hold countries accountable.

Though this Accord is pretty much a parody, it is interesting to see who was on board and not on for the Copenhagen Accord but it is not surprising that Cuba is not because of Castro's comments on Copenhagen.
He called the summit "a fallacy, a farce" and said Washington used back-room deals and strong-arm tactics to foist on the world a deal that he labeled "undemocratic" and "suicidal" because it urges — but does not require — major polluters to make deeper emissions cuts.
What world leaders seem to forget is that the ramifications of the failures at Copenhagen affect not just politics and progress on a national scale, but even states and municipalities as well. California itself had a massive delegation at Copenhagen during the "trainwreck period" and many commented on the fears regarding the future of the climate-progressive state;

"People who are trying to use AB32 (California Global Warming Solutions Act) in next year's election will use any negative result out of Copenhagen," said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, the powerful agency that is drawing up the web of regulations that will enforce the bill. "They already believe they've caught something they can use to get people to the polls."

Copenhagen made me wonder if it would be more effective to take government entities slightly out of the picture and put the emphasis on NGOs. With NGOs you have more mulit-national flexibility and the ability to break down goals regionally instead of socio-politically. Perhaps that will be the more effective method. Whatever the solution is, it should come a little bit sooner than later based on the fact that apparently the "Earth (is) on track for (an) epic die-off" according to scientists.

So what does this leave us with? A ton of money spent, no real binding agreement, the finger of blame pointed everywhere, a bunch of beaten up protesters, and to wait for next year’s December meeting of the UNFCCC in Mexico City.

I will leave you with a sweet "Dr. Suess"esk version of the proceedings please watching/listen to this amazing video;

Friday, December 11, 2009

Obama, Copenhagen, and Tracking Systems

The other day Obama accepted his Nobel Peace Prize and while there, "Norwegians were incensed over what they view as his shabby response to the prize by cutting short his visit." Instead of analyzing it myself I am going to let two people speak for me;

Darrell Irwin of the Star News, writes a very flowery and interesting piece about Obama comparing him to the likes of Archbishop Tutu, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

Before Obama's presidency ideals mattered and, in Oslo, the president announced that actions mattered. He stated that "meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago." It is apparent that our intensified war in Afghanistan, a response to the 9/11 attacks, have replaced peace as an ideal with action. Today, Obama's tone resembles more Teddy Roosevelt and less Jimmy Carter.

On Democracy Now, the new head of Greenpeace was interviewed regarding the Nobel Acceptance Speech;

"I think the speech spent too much of time on justifying war, too little time looking at the root causes of war, and, in fact, the one—just only one passing reference to climate change and, in fact, this big summit taking place here." -the new head of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo

He goes on to explain, rather well, the connection between Climate Change and conflict. As the Climate changes and resources such as potable water and livable spaces become scarcer conflicts rise. Kumi also goes on to express further disappointment at the lack of discussing Copenhagen and the roll America is to take there.

So lets talk Copenhagen, first, Climate Debt.

Climate Debt is the concept that Developed Nations (First World) owe a first world and developed countries "owe the world" for the pollutions created during their development and that these debts should be used to assist the development of third world nations.

At Copenhagen they are gathering reparations from nations in payment for this "Debt" to assist current developing nations in curtailing the climate problems.

Later on the show, Amy Goodman, brings shows Todd Stern who is the Climate Change Envoy, this is what he had to say about it.

    TODD STERN: I actually completely reject the notion of a debt or reparations or anything of the like. I mean, let’s just be mindful of the fact that for most of the 200 years that—since the Industrial Revolution, people were blissfully ignorant of the fact that emissions caused a greenhouse effect. This is a relatively recent phenomenon. So I think that’s the wrong way to look at this. We absolutely recognize our historic role in putting the emissions in the atmosphere up there that are—you know, that are there now. But the sense of guilt or culpability or reparations, I just—I categorically reject that.

I understand the argument that the sins of the father do not always or should not always fall to the son, but we must recognize that we are one world. And if we can buffer the effects of National Development then livelihood of all humans will be so much the better. We need to get past the concept of isolationist because the Climate is affected by global

By bolstering developing nations in a safe way, we prevent a horrible situation in the future. Perhaps it is a question of marketing; if the funds that were being collected for investment in green growth in developing nations was called "investing in the safe future of our climate"
would it be more attractive than "reparations" perhaps it would be more palatable.

Also if there was a something with a little more bite and openness to it. If we knew EXACTLY how this money would be spent and what would happen if it wasn't, then I would take it more seriously.

Finally, really quick, I want to mention two cool things; 1. A little more on Gosat (the CO2 tracking satelite) and 2. the google deforestation map.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Update

So, last night (this morning) at approximately 3 am I gave a call to action to call your legislators regarding the Recycling Funds and SB 402 and today I took my own advice and called Assemblymember Jim Beall's Office. I had a great conversation with a leg. aide who was in charge of environmental issues regarding my concerns and requested support of a reintroduction or a gut and amend action.

We began to talk a little bit about our disappointment with the veto letter and he joked; "At least there was no hidden profanity in it." I laughed.

For those who don't know, back in October a controversial veto letter to Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco had an acrostic spelling out a four lettered profanity starting with the letter F followed by "you." In other words, reading down the page, the first letter of each line read out "F--- you." There were articles about it and speculation on the reasons (perhaps as retaliation for a heckling the Gov. at an event and screaming out "kiss my gay ass") but the more hilarious rip on the governor comes from "news"/talkshow host Steven Colbert in his "Alpha Dog of the Week" segment.

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As if the "girlie man" comments or the fact that he has created debacle after debacle weren't enough, this action furthers the belief that California Politics is a joke. Way to gov Gov'nator. Way to go.

California Recycling Program Broke

A disturbing trend throughout California is emerging, recycling centers will shut down due to the state of California cutting funding to more than 2,400 recycling centers. Currently 90 centers have closed statewide, but more are expected to close causing job loss in an important sector that is growing in other aspects; the green economy. Workers at these centers, administrators and processors will begin to lose jobs at a higher rate as more centers shut down. The recycling program that was once the pride of California since its introduction in 1986 is bankrupt due to inefficient handling of the program's funds and other factors.

Two major things occurred to cause this bankruptcy; the State saw that the program was running a surplus and continuously borrowed against it, and, when the program was starting to lose large amounts of money through this borrow and spend practice the program began to succeed in its original purpose.

The Beverage Container Recycling Fund (BCRF) has a revenue of $1.2 billion per year from the small deposit that is charged for beverage containers and are meant to be reimbursed to the consumer when the container is recycled. The original goal of the program was to hypothetically have all the deposits paid back to the consumer and have a (near) 100% recycling rate of these containers. There is a very informative page on this put up by Californian's Against Waste(CAW) for more background information.

A great article from the Mission Local goes on to describe the program.
California’s bottle bill program, in place since 1986, charges consumers a small deposit for beverage containers, which is reimbursed to them when they recycle. Each year, around $1.2 billion in deposits pass through the Beverage Container Fund. The fund was designed to cycle deposits from manufacturers to consumers to recyclers, theoretically leaving it with a zero balance.
The article goes on to explain that since the recycling rate remained at “50% for decades”(though this figure may not be accurate) the fund generated a huge surplus. This deposit became a fee of inconvenience and generated huge money for the state. The excess money went, through various venues, towards subsidizing the industry and creating a type of dependency on the funds for administrative and operating aspects.

The system was a shining example of a program that not only pushed an industry but attempted to affect behavior change and protect the environment. A 2002 report entitled “Understanding Beverage Container Recovery – A Value Chain Assessment” showed that California's program had been rather successful;
In the study year of 1999, California’s unique redemption system achieved a redemption rate of 69percent and targeted 79 percent of container types, for an overall recovery rate of 54.5 (373 containers per capita). California’s program was greatly expanded in 2000 and the percentage of containers redeemed has initially declined. It should be watched closely as it continues to adjust to this expansion.
The report went on to show that California was recycling beverage containers at dramatically higher volumes than in states without deposit laws. It even called California's system unique and the most cost-effective in the nation. The word must have reached the legislature because they saw this fund as a piggy bank to borrow from. The state legislature borrowed around $415 million from the BCRF from 2003-2009.

According to [name redacted] from [a highly respected waste issue/recycling non-profit];
[The $415 million was] all loans in Budget Acts from the Bottle Bill fund (BCRF) to the General Fund. The general fund pays for everything that is not a special fund program, so schools, prisons, etc. The loans carry the condition that they be paid back with interest, and that they do not interfere with the program, but both aren’t really enforceable because the legislature can (and has) postpone repayment, and a $99 million loan was made in the most recent budget act despite the not-so-secret fact that the fund was in trouble.
After the state continued to borrow against this program, they were warned of the danger to the funds. On June 23, 2009, the Department of Conservation advised that an 85% reduction in costs would be necessary to keep the program going and to maintain the program's functions. The legislature, instead of protecting this fund, borrowed $99 million to help cushion the State's depleting General Fund.

The “loans were supposed to be repaid this year, but the Legislature postponed repayment until 2013, while transferring millions more out of the fund in 2008 and 2009.”

Because the economy has been down and the eco-movement is on the rise, more and more Americans are recycling. In fact; “from 1990 to 2005, the amount of MSW [Municipal Solid Waste] going to U.S. landfills has decreased by 9 million tons and continues to decrease each year.

I would love to see a graph or graphic of the United States Recycling Statistics and patterns by date and regionality. If I had the data and programing capabilities, I would do it myself but it would be a great reference to have available, but enough of the tangent.

The facts that the State was siphoning money from the fund and that more than 85 percent of beverage containers were recycled in the first six months of 2009 meant that the BCRF had less money, about 15% of the actual fund to pay for all of the programs and the State decided to cut funding to centers.

These cuts mean a horrible blow to California Jobs. According to an article in the Sacramento Bee;
The number of supermarket parking-lot recyclers has grown gradually in recent years to about 2,100. But two of the largest operators, Tomra Pacific and NexCycle, announced the shutdown of about 90 centers recently, laying off more than 100 workers.
Another article from the Monterey Herald mentions at risk youth who are employed at these centers;
Scott Dosick, spokesman for the California Association of Local Conservation Corps, said the state's 12 programs typically employ 4,000 youths, but cutbacks this year have eliminated about 500 of those jobs.
(Also see the LA Times article on this for more.)

This is a pressing time in America when jobs are few and investment in the green economy is what many, including myself, believe can save our Nation's future. Now is not the time to be cutting jobs from this field, now is the time to invest in it. I call upon the Legislature to not only rectify this situation but increase investment in the system. I do not believe, as some say, that this proves a "systemic flaw in the state's recycling strategy” I say that the actual legislative process and practices are what caused the bankruptcy of the fund and it is those practices that need to be addressed.

There was a bill that was attempting to provide a remedy to this financial situation, SB 402 by Senator Lois Wolk (bill analysis found here). This bill was supported by many organizations such as Californian's Against Waste and the Sierra Club alike. According to the Californian's Against Waste the bill would;
Balances the Bottle Bill Fund by ending program exemptions and decreasing the 10 cent CRV threshold to 20 ounces from 24 ounces, ending the exemption given to non-bottle-and-can beverage containers, and other measures.
This bill was unfortunately vetoed by the Governor for a long list of “reasons” which CAW responded to quite brilliantly. All in all I am highly disappointed in California for allowing this situation to occur. I had hoped we were more intelligent in our money management but apparently we are not and now one of our best programs is suffering from it, as are those who depend on it to survive.

There is also coalition of recyclers (including Tomra Pacific and NexCycle) suing California over this and over losses in their industry as a result of this debacle. I just hope a real and lasting solution to this problem presents itself or a bill gets gutted and amended to reintroduce the Wolk language.

If you live in California, PLEASE CALL YOUR ASSEMBLYMEMBER OR STATE SENATOR, and ask them to concentrate on this problem.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Climategate and Jon Stewart

It was great to see the recent episode of the Daily Show talk about ClimateGate; his analysis did touch upon the statistical issues, though I am still not entirely sure that they were deliberately altering data for malicious reasons I do agree with this;

But that's the point, if you care about an issue, and want to make it your life's work, don't cut corners. It's disheartening for people inclined towards the scientific method and it's catnip to these guys who are going to end up celebrating tonight, drunk, roaming the Arctic Circle trying to scullf*ck polar bears. Which are quickly disappearing because of rising oceans. Caused now, apparently, by God's tears.
I love how there were articles and blogs galore about this, even the Huffington Post wrote an interesting article about it.

I would have liked to see Tom Friedman talk a little less about Afghanistan and use the pulpit to address the data verses display issue which has spurred this controversy but glad to see it on there in the first place.

If you get a minute, take a look at the comments on this YouTube video for an interesting look at a demographic's view on the topic.

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