Thursday, December 31, 2009
To understand the significance of what happened at Copenhagen one needs to stop thinking of the negotiations as a linear process and start focusing on the negotiating positions of the US and China -- the two largest contributors to global emissions, neither of which is bound by the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol. On December 17, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlined the details of a US proposal aimed at 'breaking the impasse' in the existing negotiations. That proposal had two key provisions: 1) support for an initiative to mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020 for developing countries to help them mitigate the impacts of climate change and 2) pressuring developing countries to agree to emissions cuts along with the industrialized world for the first time. The Chinese response is succinctly summarized in Mark Lynas' article "How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room" which documents how "China wrecked the talks, intentionally humiliated Barack Obama, and insisted on an awful "deal" so western leaders would walk away carrying the blame."
In short, the negotiations broke down over a dispute between the two largest emitters on the nature of the path forward. But understanding that dispute requires a bit of history. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change divides the nations of the world into two categories: developed countries (Annex I countries in Kyoto Protocol jargon) and developing countries. This division reflects a philosophy that emerged from a decade of discussion between the global North and global South which culminated in the Brundtland Report (Our Common Future). The Brundtland Report popularized the term 'sustainable development' as a mechanism for squaring the equity circle that divided the North and the South: development would still be possible, but that development must be sustainable. This, in practice, was interpreted as meaning that the developing world (which was already enjoying the benefits of development and was disproportionately responsible for the existence of global environmental problems) should go first in remediating those problems. This is the logic for the structure of the Kyoto Protocol. Developed countries (Annex I countries) were expected to commit to binding targets while the developing countries were not covered by the protocols and were not expected to make any emissions reductions prior to 2012 when Kyoto expired. While not part of the formal Kyoto agreement, the general expectation was that a) the Annex I countries would fulfill their commitment and b) the next major agreement (i.e., the Copenhagen agreement) would broaden the number of countries included in Annex I to include some of the developing countries that were not covered by Kyoto.
Viewed in the context of this history, the US proposal aimed to divide the developing world into two camps: a) China and other rapidly developing countries (who would be expected to commit to emissions cuts) and b) the rest of the developing world (which would receive a large amount of aid and not be expected to make emission cuts). The Chinese response was designed to maintain their status as a developing country not expected to make emissions reductions.
In both cases, these countries are responding to internal political pressures. The Obama administration knows that it has no chance of getting an international agreement ratified by the Senate unless it covers China. The politics of this have been clear for over a decade. In 1997, by a vote of 95 to 0, the Senate passed the Byrd-Hagel resolution, which stated that the Senate would not ratify Kyoto if developing countries were not required to participate on the same timetable. Thus, the Obama administration was attempting to divide and conquer the developing countries in a strategic move aimed at getting an agreement that could be ratified by the US Senate.
From the Chinese point of view, it is unreasonable to expect China and other developing nations to commit to emission reductions at this point when the US has not formally agreed to emissions reductions (i.e., to 'go first' as expected by the UNFCC process) and many of the Annex I signatories have failed to meet their Kyoto commitments. In contrast to some, however, I don't think the Chinese are global warming deniers. They are well aware of the climate change models and the significant implications they have for China -- particularly in relation to agriculture and the melting of the Himalayas. They are just bargaining hard -- primarily so they can continue to generate power by whatever means possible in order to maintain the economic growth that is necessary to stave off internal social unrest.
That, in a nutshell, is the problem: the two largest global emitters are not covered by the current agreement. The US wants the next agreement to cover both. China wants it to cover only the US. Copenhagen didn't make any appreciable progress towards resolving the problem. It did, however, bring a fundamental problem that has been hidden in the depths of negotiation out into the open. Unfortunately, comparatively few people seem to have noticed.
(Individuals interested in the Chinese government perspective on their role in the Copenhagen talks can get that information here.)
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Today's post highlights a recent talk by Richard Alley, author of The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future and Chair of the National Research Council's report on Abrupt Climate Change. We'll close out this segment on climate change with our take on the events at Copenhagen. Stay tuned.
Alley's talk, available here, surveys data covering millions of years in order to clearly, interestingly and entertainingly show how CO2 is a key part of the Earth’s climate regulatory system or -- in Alley's terminology -- how CO2 is the 'biggest control knob.'
Friday, December 18, 2009
Ostrom has spent a lifetime analyzing diverse situations in order to get an empirical answer to the conceptual problem Durkheim and Spencer argued over: what are the factors that increase the likelihood that participants will gain trust in others and reduce the probability of their being taken for a sucker in an interaction. Among the items she's identified are the following:
• Communication among participants
• Reputation of participants is known
• High marginal returns
• Entry and exit capability
• Longer time horizon
• Agreed upon sanctioning mechanisms
An interesting and relatively brief (28 minute) overview of Ostrom's work is available in the lecture she gave on acceptance of her recent Nobel Prize: Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
On the Climate Interactive website they write:
how close do current proposals bring the world to climate goals such as stabilizing CO2 concentrations at 350ppm or limiting temperature increase to 2°C? The challenges of adding up proposals that are framed in multiple ways and the difficulty of determining long-term impacts of any given global greenhouse gas emissions pathway are just as present for citizens as they are for policy makers and political leaders.
With these facts in mind, our team is tracking the proposals under consideration and using the same climate change simulation available to policy-makers to report our estimate of how close ‘current proposals’ come to realizing climate goals. And we are aiming to do it in real-time as the summit unfolds.
Calculations in the Climate Scoreboard are made in C-ROADS, a scientifically reviewed climate simulator built using the system dynamics methodology that is designed to aggregate the proposals of 15 countries and country groups and calculate the climate impacts such as carbon dioxide concentration and temperature. C-ROADS was built by Sustainability Institute, Ventana Systems, and the Sloan School of Management at MIT.
Follow these links to understand more about C-ROADS, explore its site, read the scientific review, read the reference guide, read user quotes, read the “Frequently Asked Questions”, or experiment with the online, CO2-focused, three region version, C-Learn.
To view more Scoreboard results beyond the temperature values shown in the “widget” image, view the table of proposals, download a PowerPoint file with graphs, consult the “Frequently Asked Questions” and view an Excel file that includes a table of references for the proposals, lists our modeling assumptions, and shares C-ROADS output for the proposals.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Darwin's "Origin" launched evolution into theoretical orbit and it continues to influence its course. This magnum opus detailed a tenable solution to the most fundamental problem of human existence,and although this Promethean vision contains a few minor errors, there is one nontrivial error which misguides several crucial developments – not only in the evolving structure of evolutionary theory, but across the entire spectrum of science, including politico-economics. This problem has led theorists to mistakenly favour earth-based inputs over cosmic inputs, to over- emphasize biological evolution, and to under-emphasize stellar evolution. These perceptive, methodological, and logical errors have, in turn, emphasized the significance of the individual “struggle against competitors” over the cooperative “struggle against inclement environments”, and thus fashionable theories relating to Global Warming, The Problem of Sustainable Economic Development, and The Tragedy of the Commons have been erected upon false and sandy foundations and suggest evolutionarily unstable solutions. And to this point, in light of the discoveries presented here, we conclude that largely redirected global threat mitigation efforts will require unprecedented levels of international cooperation if long-term human survival is to be achieved.
Monday, December 14, 2009
What, from a resilience point of view, does the map show?
Is it, as it appears to be, a depiction of a spreading shock to the system? Or is unemployment, as the economists say, a lagging indicator? In which case we are observing not the shock, but something more akin to an aftershock. In either case, the map shows that the consequences are not uniform. But, in contrast to the previous discussion about appropriate policy, discussions about how to cope with the problem are largely at the national level rather than local or regional.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Saturday, December 12, 2009
“The message of resilience is more radical for policy-makers than that of sustainability. The agenda implied by resilience actually challenges some widely held tenets about stability and resistance to change that are implicit in how sustainability is formulated in environmental and social policy arenas around the world. Promoting resilience means changing, in particular the nature of decision-making to recognise the benefits of autonomy and new forms of governance in promoting social goals, self-organisation, and the capacity to adapt. In a policy world focussed on resilience there is less scope for global blueprints, which are high on central control but low on equity – such blueprints create their own vulnerabilities and render some problems and issues invisible . Promoting resilience is concerned with the knowledge required to facilitate robust governance systems that can cope with environmental changes and social, demographic and democratic transitions.” (Neil Adger)
"Resilience is not about promoting growth or change for its own sake. It is about promoting the ability to absorb shocks and stresses and still maintain the functioning of society and the integrity of the ecological systems. However, resilience also requires communities and societies to have the ability to self-organize and to manage resources and make decisions in a manner that promotes stability. Most important of all, resilience requires societies to have the capacity to adapt to unforeseen circumstances and risks. These objectives give generic guidance on how to promote sustainability at different scales.” (Helen La Trobe)
While Jordan's photography has always focused on environmental matters, the current work packs much more emotional punch. His earlier work, like the image shown below, tended to be cool, rational reflections on the scale of human impact. Packing Peanuts (2009) is a 60x80" depiction of 166,000 packing peanuts, equal to the number of overnight packages shipped by air in the U.S. every hour.
Here is a closer view. Other images can be viewed on his website.
Friday, December 11, 2009
It turns out, as shown by Dario Padovan's in an interesting article The Concept of Social Metabolism in Classical Sociology, that the separation of the natural from the social was not taken for granted by early sociologists. According to Padovan ....
"Among early sociologists the concept of social metabolism was widely adopted. At that time it was used to describe the same process: the exchange and transformation of matter, energy, labor and knowledge carried out between the social system and the environmental system. But it did have various different meanings. For some authors it was one concrete way in which society was embedded in cosmic evolution, which simultaneously offered models to help understand how the social system functioned; for others it was a way of describing the exchange of energy and matter between society and nature, that which permitted the reproduction of the social system and of the social achievement needed for human advancement, for others again, social metabolism was one way in which society could renew its elite. I would say this concept was the product of sociological organicism and when sociology became more rationalist and individualist, it lost this perspective which linked society with its environment."The article goes on to discuss the specific ideas of a variety of early sociologists, both known (Spencer, Comte, Ward, Pareto) and largely forgotten (Lilienfeld, Schaffle), and a few biologists (Haeckel).
Thursday, December 10, 2009
The Environmental Studies Association of Canada will be having its 2010 annual Conference from May 31st to June 1st, at Concordia University in Montreal as part of the CFHSSC Congress 2010. The theme of the conference is ‘Sustainability in a Changing World’. Information on the conference available at the ESAC conference page includes a call for papers (see below), forms for proposing a paper or a panel, and (for students) a travel subsidy form. If you wish to propose a paper or a panel or apply for a travel grant, you need to download the appropriate file and submit it to Dr. Shirley Thompson. The deadline to submit is December 21st, 2009.
This conference aims at exploring a large range of issues that include climate change, food security, natural resources, millennium development goals, environmental health and environmental literacy. We particularly seek to include delegates from different disciplines – political sciences, anthropology, sociology, economics, international development and geography. ESAC expects this conference will stimulate a critical and constructive dialogue among its participants. As such, we encourage you to submit paper and panel proposals relevant to the theme of this conference.
Suggestions for certain themes of interest this year are:
• Gender and the environment
• Climate change
• Environmental health
• Food resources, food security or food sovereignty
• Environmental literacy and environmental education
• Sustainable Livelihoods
• Environmental Management Systems
• Ecoproducts and ecoservices (e.g., ecotourism)
• Waste or Zero waste
• Millenium development goals
• Documentaries, participatory video and photovoice regarding sustainability issues.
Abstract submissions (300 words) should be sent in by December 21st 2009. The abstract should include a description of your object of study, your theoretic frame, your methodology of research, your conclusions and the importance of this area to sustainability. All papers will be evaluated by a ESAC conference committee and acceptance emails will be sent out in early February.
You must be an ESAC member in good standing to present a paper or panel at the conference. All presenters must also register for the congress. Registration begins in March 2010. Travel grants will be available to student ESAC panel participants (see travel grant form). You must fill out and submit the form before the due date to be eligible for a travel grant.
2) The Sustainability Conference
Those wanting to escape the Canadian winter, you need to act quickly. The SIXTH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ENVIRONMENTAL, CULTURAL, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL SUSTAINABILITY is being held at the University of Cuenca, Cuenca, Ecuador on 5-7 January 2010.
The International Conference on Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability aims to develop a holistic view of sustainability, in which environmental, cultural and economic issues are inseparably interlinked. It works in a multidisciplinary way, across diverse fields and taking varied perspectives in order to address the fundamentals of sustainability.
If you are unable to attend the Conference in person, virtual registrations are also available which allow you to submit a paper for refereeing and possible publication in the Journal.
The deadline for the final round in the call for papers (a title and short abstract) is 15 December 2010. Proposals are reviewed within two weeks of submission. Full details of the Conference, including an online proposal submission form, may be found at the Conference website.
3) RESILIENCE 2011
For those who plan long in advance rather than on the spur of the moment, here is the announcement from the Resilience 2011 Organizing Committee.
We are pleased to invite you to “Resilience 2011 -- Resilience, Innovation and Sustainability: Navigating the Complexities of Global Change.” Following the highly successful Resilience 2008 Conference held in Stockholm last year organized by the Stockholm Resilience Center, ASU has been asked to organize the follow-up conference in 2011. The School of Sustainability, the Global Institute of Sustainability and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at ASU have agreed to meet this challenge.
As a result, we are now inviting you to ‘hold the date’, March 11-16, 2011, for this major international conference, at which we expect colleagues from a wide range of disciplines and all parts of the world. The conference will be held at the Tempe campus of Arizona State University. Please visit resilience2011.org for complete details regarding the conference and check back periodically for updates.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
The 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (bureaucratically known as COP -- for Conference of the Parties -- in recognition of the countries that were 'parties' to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) started today in Copenhagen. While most of the delegates spent the day cooling their heels in line (4 hours to register!), a variety of developments took place that were of interest.
1) Greenpeace activists scaled the roof of Canada's Parliament and unfurled banners. Shots of the event are here, videos here. They are posted in chronological order with the last footage being the first you encounter -- so be sure and go to the last page to view the earliest (and most interesting) footage from the beginning of the action.
2) Canada got noticed in the 'Fossil of the Day' award.
3) The US Environmental Protection Agency issued an 'endangerment finding' that greenhouse gases are a health issue and, hence, the EPA can regulate them administratively -- that is without congressional approval. This is the big club that the Obama administration hopes will spur Congress into action.
For those of you wishing to follow along on the two week journey that the negotiations will involve, Time has a listing of the 5 things to watch for at the conference. There are a number of options for following along and determining whether or not they occur -- from the traditional to the virtual:
A) Real-time updates on Twitter are available here.
B) Lots of the events are being webcast. Check out the list here.
C) The Climate Action Network puts out a daily newsletter.
Monday, December 7, 2009
The newsletter has a blurb for a new book by Thomas Drabek, The Human Side of Disaster, which it describes as follows:
When disaster strikes, people react, and usually, fear levels rise. Temporarily, however, one motivation supersedes all others: survival of self and those nearby, especially loved ones. Based on the author’s years of research and teaching experience, The Human Side of Disaster scientifically evaluates human responses in the face of disasters. This examination informs emergency managers and response teams and teaches them how to anticipate human behaviors in-crisis.
The book begins with four scenarios based on interviews and real events that introduce the human side of disaster. The stories examine how attention to, or lack of, preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation affect outcomes. Each subsequent chapter refers back to the original Experiences chapter and provides insights that can be applied not only to events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods, but also to man-made threats including industrial accidents and acts of terrorism. The author explores how people’s responses can be predicted, the long term effects of disaster on the psyche, and the key issues involved in recovery.
A balanced interpretation of research, results, and experience, the book demonstrates how traditional warning methods and high-tech systems can work together to improve communications, evacuations, and reconstruction efforts. It highlights the role of the human element in any disaster situation and demonstrates how to use that element as part of a planned disaster response.