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Tue, 2010-11-30 14:40Emma Pullman
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Cancun Showdown: Results at the UN Climate Talks More Important Than Ever

The United Nations Climate Change talks kicked off yesterday in Cancun.  For many, the mood began much more sombrely than last year.  Copenhagen attracted celebrity clout, world leader buzz, and a sense of optimism for a binding agreement.  For all Copenhagen promised, however, those who hoped for a fair and binding global deal left empty handed.  

Along with analysts, pundits and the blogosphere, the U.S., UK and EU are already downplaying the chances of a deal being reached in the next fortnight.  And as Desmogblog reported today, those fears may not be in vain with threats that the U.S. may pull out of the talks early

The talks during the next two weeks are going to focus largely on forests and finance, but also on questions about the legal status of a future agreement and emissions targets, which are expected to be tackled beginning next week when ministers arrive.

The sense of general pessimism around the talks has led some to question the viability of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to deliver, and has led others to manufacture doubt over the scientific basis for action.  A new report released by Oxfam argues that despite the disconsolate atmosphere, a year of extreme weather conditions demonstrate more than ever that a binding climate agreement under the UN auspices is imperative.  The report, More than ever: climate talks that work for those that need them most, presents the weather events that have devastated much of the planet in the last year, and the even more harrowing costs of climate inaction.  

According to the report, at least 21,000 people died due to weather-related disasters in the first nine months of this year – more than twice the number for the whole of 2009.  “This year is on course to experience more extreme-weather events than the 10-year average of 770. It is one of the hottest years ever recorded,” wrote Tim Gore, Oxfam’s EU climate change policy adviser and report’s author.

Fri, 2010-11-26 19:13Emma Pullman
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2010 In Review: Scientists and Journalists Take Stock and Share Lessons Learned

There’s no doubt about it. It’s been a challenging year for climate science and climate scientists, for journalists, and for the public. A string of legislative and regulatory disappointments coupled with dizzying political spin have left many more confused than ever about the overwhelming scientific consensus of climate change. 

It’s been a particularly grim year following the Citizens United decision that ushered in a new era of rampant electoral spending on climate change denial; the U.S. midterm elections produced a Senate filled with climate change skeptics and deniers; a failed climate bill or two, and after the Copenhagen talks failed to produce any real results.  In addition, many pundits and analysts are giving us good reason to believe the U.S. won’t see a climate bill for two years, and little reason to believe that real climate progress will be made in Cancun next week. It seems there’s a lot of reason to feel distressed.  

Last week marked a year since the so-called Climategate “scandal” sent climate change deniers into an echo chamber frenzy.  Bud Ward and John Wihbey aptly note that to even call it “climategate” lends it credence that is undeserved.  Yet it is imperative that we try to learn lessons from it.   This certainly won’t be the last difficult year for the climate change movement; an increasingly challenging political environment promises more interesting times ahead, both for the science and for the scientists who devote their lives to the subject.  In a nutshell, we’ve got our work cut out for us.

Thu, 2010-11-25 09:46Emma Pullman
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Alberta and Canadian Governments Complicit in Killing Climate Policy in EU & U.S. to Support Toxic Tar Sands

The Alberta government’s multi-million dollar public relations campaign to spin dirty tar sands production in a positive light has received quite a bit of flack from those who see through efforts to tout the tar sands as green, or as a “national treasure”

They haven’t just been investing in $56,000 advertisements and op-ed pieces. The governments of Canada and Alberta are also engaged in something much more insidious: a concerted effort to weaken climate policies in other countries, with the aim of ensuring that no impediments exist to Canada’s filthy tar sands. 

The shocking report released by Climate Action Network Canada shows that the Alberta and Canadian governments have been complicit with industry in efforts to undermine climate legislation in the EU and U.S.  The report highlights three devious efforts by industry and government to oppose or weaken energy policy abroad: California’s low-carbon fuel standard, which encourages cleaner fuels and discourages burning dirty fuels; Section 526 of the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act, which stops departments from buying the dirtiest kinds of fuels and the European Union’s Fuel Quality Directive, an effort to lower CO2 emissions and move toward cleaner-burning fuels.

Government and industry are behind “a concerted effort to weaken climate policies outside our borders, with the aim of ensuring that no doors are closed to Canada’s highly polluting tar sands,” the report’s authors write. This is the heart of corporate-government complicity, with the secret oilsands advocacy strategy being led by the Foreign Affairs Department, with officials working in both the U.S. and the European Union.  The report’s authors fear that these examples appear to be just the tip of the iceberg.

Tue, 2010-11-23 10:39Emma Pullman
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Gore Admits Corn Ethanol Support Was A Mistake

At a green business conference on Monday, Al Gore admitted that his support for corn ethanol subsidies was a mistake. This news comes weeks before tax credits are up for renewal.

U.S. tax breaks for ethanol make it profitable for refiners to use the fuel even when it is more expensive than gasoline.  Total ethanol subsidies reached $7.7 billion last year according to the International Energy Agency. In fact, biofuels worldwide received more subsidies than any other form of renewable energy.

Gore argued that “It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for [U.S.] first-generation ethanol”.  Giving extraordinary subsidies to first generation feedstocks was a mistake, he says.  “The energy conversion ratios are at best very small.”

Thu, 2010-11-18 12:02Emma Pullman
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Toxic Tar Sands Coming to a Community Near You: Profiles From The Front Lines

Many Americans who have never heard of the Alberta tar sands soon will. The tar sands is one of the largest, dirtiest, and most destructive projects on Earth, and is likely coming to a community near you.  The oil industry is expanding facilities to process toxic tar sands oil in the U.S. through a network of refineries and pipelines.  With plans to triple refining and transportation of tar sands by 2015, there is no question that air pollution and health problems in communities from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast will increase.

Public health in several U.S. states is already under threat from dramatic increases in refining pollution, and massive pipelines are planned to cross the United States’ largest freshwater aquifer, which supplies one-third of U.S. agriculture.

Tar sands crude contains heavy metals, and refining tar sands releases polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons linked to pre-natal brain damage, and smog and ozone-depleting chemicals and compounds.  Exposure to these toxics is linked to asthma, emphysema and other lung diseases.  That says nothing of the devastating impacts on air, water, and soil.

With the environmental and health impacts of the tar sands well known, but no sign of an end to the environmental trauma, the Sierra Club’s latest report shows the personal side of the impacts of dirty oil in North American communities. Americans and Canadians are worried about Alberta’s tar sands expansion poisoning their water, destroying their farmland, and contaminating their air. 

Wed, 2010-11-17 11:42Emma Pullman
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Canadian Conservative Senators Use their Clout to Kill Climate Bill Passed by House of Commons

A snap vote in Canada’s unelected, and primarily Tory Senate on Tuesday night saw the demise of the NDP’s Climate Change Accountability Act by a narrow margin of 43-32.  The vote caught Liberals in the Upper House off guard, and the climate change legislation was no match for Stephen Harper’s conservative-stacked Senate. Without any debate in the Red Chamber, Conservative Senators called a vote on Bill C-311 introduced by Thunder Bay-Superior NDP Bruce Hyer. Canada’s hope for meaningful environmental legislation ahead of the UN Cancun climate talks later this month was killed by eleven votes.
 
The bill has spent the last year bouncing between the House of Commons and its environmental committee.  It would have called for greenhouse gas emissions to be cut by 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. It also set a long-term goal to bring emissions down 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.  That’s a lot more stringent than what the Harper government is calling for now—namely a 17 percent emissions cut from 2005 levels by 2020.
 
This marks the first time that unelected Conservative Senators have used their near-majority to kill a bill passed by elected politicians. The absence of over 15 Liberals from the Senate allowed the bill to fail narrowly in a vote.
 
According to NDP leader Jack Layton, “This was one of the most undemocratic acts that we have ever seen in the Parliament of Canada…To take power that doesn’t rightfully belong to them to kill a bill that has been adopted by a majority of the House of Commons representing a majority of Canadians is as wrong as it gets when it comes to democracy in this country”. 

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