What a difference a year makes for climate change activism.
Twelve months ago, thousands of young campaigners worldwide converged on Copenhagen to pitch protests against the global political failure to tackle global warming.
They disrupted summit meetings with non-violent civil disobedience to air demands of climate justice. Scores were arrested. Naomi Klein, the writer and activist, at the time that it felt as though "progressive tectonic plates are shifting."
Indonesia plans to class large areas of its remaining natural forests as "degraded" land in order to cut them down and receive nearly $1bn of climate aid for replanting them with palm trees and biofuel crops, according to Greenpeace International.
According to internal government documents from the forestry, agriculture and energy departments in Jakarta, the areas of land earmarked for industrial plantation expansion in the next 20 years include 37 million hectares of existing natural forest – 50% of the country's orangutan habitat and 80% of its carbon-rich peatland. More than 60 million hectares – an area nearly five times the size of England – could be converted to palm oil and biofuel production in the next 20 years, say the papers.
"The land is roughly equivalent to all the currently undeveloped land in Indonesia," says the report. "The government plans for a trebling of pulp and paper production by 2015 and a doubling of palm oil production by 2020."
The result, says the environmental group in a report released in Jakarta today, would be to massively expand Indonesia's palm, paper and biofuel industries in the name of "rehabilitating" land, while at the same time allowing its powerful forestry industry to carry on business as usual and to collect international carbon funds.
WASHINGTON—Barely a week ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid assured West Virginia governor-cum-senator Joe Manchin that any attempt to control greenhouse gases via a cap-and-trade system is dead and six feet under.
Grassroots and left-leaning environmental organizations, however, claim the Nevada Democrat showed up nearly a year late to the funeral of the much-maligned, market-based measure. A majority of them aren’t mourning the evident demise of poor ol’ cap and trade.
For the most part, they abhorred the book-length version of legislation that Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey of Massachusetts cobbled together and the House eventually passed as the American Clean Energy and Security Act in June 2009. And they cringed at the versions of its evil twin that reared themselves afterward in the Senate.
While they united against compromised legislation, these more progressive green advocates aren’t unified on a single way forward on how to curb heat-trapping emissions—and if SolveClimate News's interviews of these groups is any indication, consensus will be hard to come by.
In 2009, U.S. lawmakers hoping to pass comprehensive climate legislation added tens of billions of dollars in federal subsidies for “clean coal” in the hope of striking a political deal to give coal a competitive future. The bill never made it through Congress.
Now a report released last week touting the bright future of natural gas points to the uphill battle coal may face holding on to its current share of the U.S. energy mix. A gas glut that has kept prices low to continue for another five years.
In the report, Deutsche Bank AG analysts predict natural gas—which creates about half as much carbon dioxide as coal—would comprise 35 percent of America's electric power generation by 2030, an increase from the current 23 percent. At the same time, they predict coal's share of the power grid would drop from 47 percent to 22 percent, with clean coal accounting for just one percent of the diminished total.
The promise of making motor fuel out of pond scum is inching closer to reality as the algae industry and its supporters plow forward with technology demonstrations and demand tax credits that are needed to cut costs.
The head of the 170-member , Mary Rosenthal, predicts the fledgling fuel source could be cost competitive with oil in seven years.
"We're hoping to be to be at parity with fossil fuel-based petroleum in the year 2017 or 2018, with the idea that we will be at several billions of gallons," Rosenthal told SolveClimate News in a phone interview.
Some are more optimistic.
The that struck the normally arid desert of , north-west India, in August has multiplied the worries of local farmers, already struggling with water shortages and harsh climatic conditions. Flashfloods and mudslides killed 233 people and damaged 14.2 square kilometres of agricultural land.
Tucked high up in the western Himalayas, Ladakh is a sparsely populated, rugged desert where people struggle to turn barren and parched soil into cultivable land. The soil of Ladakh is not fertile and absorbs little water. Average rainfall is only 50 to 70 millimetres a year.
In these adverse conditions, farming is an unenviable task, but diligent farmers, with support from NGOs, have created an irrigation network covering 50 square kilometres of agricultural land in Ladakh. This allows them to live off the land, against the odds.
But nothing prepared farmers for August’s weather events.
WASHINGTON—Bill McKibben might be an optimist.
But he isn’t delusional enough to think that what he’s billing as the first planetary art show centered on climate change will cause world leaders to suddenly hug, then break into a verse or two of Kumbaya while signing a treaty that slices greenhouse gas pollutants to scientifically recommended levels.
He’s cognizant that the march toward meaningful, binding action on taming carbon dioxide is a painfully sluggish slog.
“Every movement that has ever been successful has appealed to people’s emotions and reason,” the founder of the advocacy organization 350.org tells SolveClimate News in an interview from his Vermont home. “It is necessary if we’re ever going to get anything done in Washington or anywhere else. We need to build support to force recalcitrant actors to act.”
Record-breaking—and dangerous—heat waves have lately become a staple of summer. In Moscow last July and August during a tragedy that grabbed global attention, average mortality doubled, to 700 people a day. In Kuwait the temperature soared to 122 degrees. Temperatures in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia all hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit and set new daily highs as the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association the warmest such period on record.
In China, intense heat actually caused a plague of locusts.
But while such events grab the headlines, even normal heat waves—the ones that make us run for air-conditioned homes and movie theaters—are dangerous. In fact, say two Yale University scientists, all heat waves pose public health risks more dangerous than most anyone has realized.
China has roared into clean technology markets to lead the global race to make green energy. Its manufacturing dominance has distressed many in the U. S. government, but not enough to upend longstanding energy priorities that favor fossil fuels.
Now some observers are warning that as Beijing clings to more coal to construct its new economy, America may become a key provider of the fuel source—at its own economic peril.
"What's China going to do with [U.S.] coal?" said K.C. Golden, policy director of , a Seattle-based nonprofit group. "They're going to burn it to make the steel that we don't make anymore. They’re going to manufacture the things we don't make anymore."
"Is this a good jobs strategy to become the resource colony for the development of the Asian economy?" he asked.
On Nov. 9, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that Halliburton had refused to give the agency a complete list of the chemicals it uses for gas drilling, resulting in a subpoena for the energy giant. But the battle to keep much of this information confidential is one that Halliburton is winning in Pennsylvania.
Halliburton did not respond to requests for comment on this article, but a company spokeswoman that the EPA had approached Halliburton with "unreasonable demands" and that the company was working to supply the agency with the information it needs to complete its study of the relationship between water contamination and the controversial drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Of the nine companies the EPA asked to supply the information, only Halliburton -- the largest North American provider of hydraulic fracturing services -- refused.