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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries tagged "Climate"

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Is Obama Taking Climate Voters for Granted?

November 5, 2012 ·

Obama Climate Courtship - Is he taking climate voters for granted? - Photo by Newscom

My relationship with President Obama has been getting a bit strained lately. I really like Obama, and I know he likes me, too. But I feel like he’s taking me for granted… as a climate voter.

I know it sounds like something out of an afterschool special, but back in 2008 it looked like we were headed somewhere significant. Obama the presidential candidate said he cared about the environment. He wooed me with his talk about rebuilding the U.S. economy with a combination of renewable energy and clean manufacturing, and vowed to be a global leader in the international fight to halt climate change. He won me over as a green voter and a progressive. Obama was my guy.

But ever since Super Tuesday, when Republicans cast their ballots for Governor Mitt Romney as presidential favorite, Obama’s been acting funny. The more Romney veered from his climate protecting past — and the more supporters cheered when he did — the further Obama distanced himself from me and my friends.

By the time debate season rolled around six months later he was pretending he didn’t even know me. And I didn’t feel like I knew him either.

Obama and Romney were almost indistinguishable on climate and energy policy, practically going to the mat to prove who loved dirty coal more than the other guy. Romney’s energy platform rested on expanding extreme energy like deepwater oil drilling, toxic natural gas fracking, and tar sands production. Obama said he wanted to do all that, too, and throw in some wind and solar.  It was the first time since the 1980s that neither the right or left candidate talked about climate change.

Where was my guy?

Some of my friends said I shouldn’t be so hard on him. They hinted that it might even be my fault that Obama’s been acting like he doesn’t know me. He told us when he won the election four years ago that he wanted to fight for clean energy and community resilience, but that we needed to make him do it.

Many of us tried. We rallied our friends and families — and members of congress — behind a comprehensive climate bill, shut down dirty power plants in major cities like his home town of Chicago, and got arrested outside his front door demanding that he reject permits for the Keystone XL pipeline to pump in tar sand oil from Canada. Environmentalists and climate change activists waited patiently during health care reform, the financial crisis, bank bailouts, immigration discussions, and fights over taxes. And we’re still waiting.

I admit, we weren’t perfect. We didn’t build enough public pressure to keep king coal and big oil from turning the American Clean Energy and Security Act into Swiss cheese, for example, but Obama didn’t exactly walk boldly into the political space that we did make for him either.

And now he wants my vote again.

Call me a sucker, but I know Obama really cares about me. I’m convinced he believes the science of climate change, knows that we have to reduce America’s greenhouse gas pollution (just look at the new vehicle standards and coal power plant rules put in place during his first term) and wants to do right by people in the United States who care about climate. I also know that he’s trying to play to the middle of the road in a country where a third of the population still doubts the existence of global warming.

So the choice seems to be between Governor Romney, who’s promising to lead the nation as a climate denier, and President Obama, who’s been doing his best impression of one. 

I may be a glutton for punishment, but I will cast my vote for Obama tomorrow because from inside the beltway the political optics signal a concrete difference for the state of the environment if we have a second Obama administration or four years of Romney.

Still, I’m not going to let Obama hold my hand in public until he starts acting like the man who courted the climate community before the last election.

Durban Diary: Dispatch from the Ground

December 6, 2011 ·

As UN climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, go into their final week, IPS got a quick update from Janet Redman, co-director of IPS’s Sustainable Energy & Economy Network, who is in Durban at talks.

Janet spoke to us from the corner of a crowded conference room at the summit about the current state of the negotiations:

Interviewer: It’s recently been announced that 2010 saw the most dramatic upswing in greenhouse gas output on record. How are folks in Durban reacting to this?

People not pollutersJanet Redman: Greenhouse gas emissions rose between 2009 and 2010 by a record-breaking 6 percent in one year. There’s a real sense of urgency here in Durban because of the news that emissions are growing at such an alarming rate.

But unfortunately that sense of urgency is not translating to action by the biggest historical polluters here.

In particular, what’s happened this week is a blame game that’s now shifted to the big developing countries. Developing economies still have incredibly high rates of poverty, even in countries that are considered “emerging economies” such as India and China. The EU and the U.S. are pegging the potential failure to reach a climate deal here in Durban on those two countries.

But we don’t need a new deal – or what some are calling a new mandate. What we really need out of this next week is to see countries agree to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, and to see a completion of the Bali action plan, which was a set of commitments and obligations that developing countries said they would take on with the support of developed countries and a commitment by the United States to take actions comparable to those of other wealthy northern countries. This was the compromise world leaders struck because the U.S. said it would never, ever sign the Kyoto Protocol.

The big news is that if developed countries are willing to agree to fulfill their own obligations that already exist in the convention and in this Bali action plan, then developing countries are considering negotiating internationally-binding activities that could take effect in 2020. That’s a pretty big deal. So basically, China’s already doing more than the U.S. is on renewable energy, but they’re even saying, we’re willing to take on binding commitments in the near future, as long as you show us good faith that you’re willing to do what you said you would do in Bali in 2007.

Interviewer: It sounds like there’s a lot of discussion on just renewing what’s already been agreed upon. Do you think that renewing or approving these already-negotiated terms would be enough?

JR: Well, in some sense it’s a first step toward a bigger change. One of the things that we’re hearing here is a call for a new mandate. I think that’s a real mistake because there are two existing mandates right now.

Again, the Kyoto Protocol is one mandate, and the Bali action plan is another mandate. The convention has set that up very clearly, so the idea of asking for a new mandate here in Durban actually undermines existing commitments that are science-based that have been agreed to already in the past 20 years since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was established.

So I think having movement on agreements would be enough to set the negotiations on a really positive track for subsequent periods after the second period of the Kyoto Protocol, but also on a positive track in terms of implementing the convention which of course is what this is all about.

Interviewer: There’s been discussion on possible threats to climate financing for developing countries. Are there any further observations that you’d like to share about that?

JR: Last week we were really concerned about the U.S. obstructing talks on opening the doors of the Green Climate Fund. As of earlier today, it looks like almost every country is satisfied with moving forward on the Fund, and building the Board that will put more meat on the bones of the GCF over the next year.

What’s still incredibly frightening is the blatant cooptation of the Green Climate Fund by the private sector, with unabashed support from the U.S. and the UK. If the financial sector and multinational corporations have direct access to the Fund and can bypass sovereign national governments, then we have a real potential for serious problems with democratic control, transparency, the application of social and environmental safeguards and basic standards, and the Fund’s effectiveness in achieving climate goals.

Finally, even if we get the Fund here in Durban it may be nothing more than an empty shell. The U.S. is still blocking a conversation on long term finance – both the scale that should be delivered on and the sources of where that money should come from. A text released last night did mention innovative sources of finance, but an outcome here in Durban needs to be much more specific about how countries will make that real. One thing they can do right now is commit to a work plan for implementing some of the leading proposals, such as a financial transaction tax.  

Interviewer: Thanks very much for taking the time to talk to me, Janet!

JR: Thank you!

Military vs. Climate Security: The 2011 Budgets Compared

October 26, 2010 ·

Report CoverSince 2008 the Institute for Policy Studies has been measuring the balance of federal spending on the military and on climate change.  Here are the results for FY 2011:

Spending on climate change has more than doubled, from $7 billion in 2008 to $18 billion for 2011.  Military spending has increased more, though at a slower rate, climbing from $696 billion in 2008 to $739 for 2011.

The result: the gap between spending on the military and on climate has been cut in half.  In 2008 the U.S. spent $94 on the military for every dollar spent on climate.  In 2011 the ratio will be $41 to $1.

This is progress, but the gap is still unacceptably large, for these reasons:

  • The hottest decade on record.  The rate of climate change is accelerating, and legislative action to curb emissions is at a standstill.  $18 billion in federal spending will make barely a dent in a huge problem.
  • Security.  The U.S. military has begun to talk about “climate security,” realizing that land and resource conflicts caused by climate change will create security problems unlike any it has ever faced.
  • Economic competitiveness.  China is on track to lead the world in the growth industries of solar and wind power by next year.  It spends twice as much on clean energy technology as does the U.S., and about one-sixth as much on its military, or between $2 and $3 on the military for each dollar on climate.
  • Jobs. A 2009 study conducted at the University of Massachusetts found that each $1 billion invested in clean energy technology will generate approximately 17,100 well-paying jobs, as compared to 11,600 jobs generated by the same amount invested in military technology.

The full report is at: 
http://www.ips-dc.org/reports/military_vs_climate_security_the_2011_budgets_compared

Earthbeat Radio: We Did It!

September 9, 2010 ·

Daphne bag monsterI’m an accidental radio host. Seven years ago, while directing the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network at IPS, I was invited by Pacifica’s Washington, DC, radio station, WPFW, to host an environmental radio show, together with Mike Tidwell. Like me, Mike had a full-time job — he as the executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN). But we both were concerned that the American people just weren’t getting the facts on the climate crisis, which we viewed as the most critical environmental threat of our time. So we agreed to cohost a weekly one-hour broadcast, covering climate change and other environmental issues.

It was rough at first. Though both of us were published writers and former journalists, radio is an entirely different medium. Anything can — and does — go wrong. But bit by bit, we learned the ropes, finally generating enough of a buzz in the DC community to get a small donor to give us an unsolicited donation, followed by a larger donor, followed by a growing number of supporters.  With our funds, we hired a producer.

After our producer started professionalizing the show, one radio station after another starting adding us to their lineup.  Then in 2006, Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” came out, and we felt we could finally start to get beyond the basics — to the politics of the climate crisis. Before we knew it, we had over 50 stations airing our show, reaching over 2 million potential listeners in the US and Canada, and we started dreaming big dreams.

Then the crash of 2008 came along. And our largest donor informed us in May of this year that they could no longer fund our work. Mike decided he really needed to devote his time and energy to keeping CCAN going. And I, too, wondered if it were worth my time and effort to keep the show going. With no additional funding, I decided that at the end of August we would have to go off the air.

As word got out, one person after another began telling me that we couldn’t afford to lose Earthbeat, and offered to send out an appeal to their friends and contacts to keep it going. I was skeptical we could raise our target of $10,000 in a matter of days — in time to stave off job offers our producer would soon be forced to accept. But they drafted beautiful letters and the money started coming in. Before I knew it, we had raised $5,000. Then a major donor wrote and asked me how much we needed to raise to keep going through the end of 2010. I told her we were $5,000 short, and would probably not reach our goal. She wrote me back and said she would provide the remaining funds.

I am so moved by all of this: By our producer, Aries Keck, who has been willing to take a (temporary!) cut in pay, rather than other jobs, in order to keep the show going through the end of 2010.  She believes in the mission of Earthbeat that much.  By our volunteer of almost two years, Gerri Williams, who has shown up week after week, in record snow and heat, to help get the show on the air. By our amazing staff and board at IPS, who have cheered us on. By WPFW’s ongoing support of an idea that seven years ago was a pipe dream. And of course by all of you, who wrote letters of support and checks large and small in this time of economic crisis.

I am energized to be a part of a collective effort that is trying — despite the seemingly insurmountable odds — to turn the tide.

Is the UN the Right Place to Talk About Climate?

June 8, 2010 ·

UN Climate Change conference, Bonn Germany.BONN, GERMANY – When I told my friends that I was heading to Bonn, Germany for a session of the UN climate talks, they bemoaned the general lack of anything interesting to do here. Why not go to a city with verve, like Berlin — or at least one with some culture, like Munich?

But Bonn has at two compelling things going for it.

1)     There is a killer museum honoring the life and work of Ludwig von Beethoven.

2)     The world's governments are gathered here for two weeks deciding how to carve up the atmosphere — one of the greatest remaining global commons.

The meeting here in Bonn is a follow-up to the better-known climate negotiations that took place in Copenhagen last December, where little consensus was reached within the official UN spaces.

At the same meeting, President Obama pushed through what has become known as the Copenhagen Accord — a statement that largely reflects U.S. positions and interests, which has gained signatures, if not support, from a growing number of countries.

But the accord’s very existence, the secretive manner in which it was drafted and the process for getting governments’ endorsement, have generated fierce debate about the efficacy of the UN as the forum in which to solve the climate crisis.

On one side of the debate are developed countries and NGOs that tow their line (invoking the need to remain politically relevant in battles over domestic climate and other legislation back home). These guys are generally of the belief that it’s impossible to get consensus among 192 countries, and so the UN is at best irrelevant and in the worst case, fumbles any hope of an effective negotiating process (as evidence they recount the image of long lines of freezing delegates locked outside conference halls in Copenhagen).

The proposal by this camp is to pull the key issues — targets, money, legal commitments — out of the UN and into smaller group discussions whose outcomes could be fed into the official negotiations — or not.

On the other side of the spectrum are many of the social movements from the anti-corporate globalization struggle calling for an overhaul of the way we think about climate change and its solutions. This camp sees the UN as a space where political positions are easily swayed by business lobbyists and undemocratic global institutions like the World Bank. They reject the UN as an illegitimate space in which to make decisions on the behalf of those most impacted by climate change — very often the same people who are marginalized by their own governments.

These movements are calling for peoples solutions manifested on the ground in each community, woven together in networks of solidarity and social justice.

But there’s a sweet spot between these two poles. While recognizing the UN’s limitations as a facilitator of negotiations with so much at stake, and that the process which they are attempting to facilitate is between parties that are not truly representative (or necessarily democratic) — the UN is the only forum were all countries that have signed the Framework Convention on Climate Change have equal representation. And as the People’s Conference on Climate Change recently hosted by the Bolivian government in Cochabamba shows, civil society can ally itself with progressive governments to make political and substantive policy interventions in these multilateral processes.

The question that still lingers is whether the chairs of the relevant UN working groups will incorporate people's proposals — in the form of official party submissions — into the global discussion this week in Bonn.

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