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August 08 2012

18:56

How Morality Can Win the War on Climate Change


Finding a moral imperative to fight climate changeThe climate movement must go beyond preaching economics and explaining science, we must create a moral imperative that compels us to act. To get people involved in the war on climate change we must weave environmental awareness into our codes of conduct.

The reasons why more people are not demanding action on the environment is a glaring moral failing. If we are to see a critical mass of support for efforts to combat climate change, we must understand that in addition to an economic and ecological crisis, we are also facing a moral crisis. To bridge the gulf between morality and climate change we need to go to the places where morality still has value.

Religions are a primary source of ethical conduct, and as such they are an ideal platform for communicating a moral argument. Although governments and businesses have a central role, churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship may be the best venues for disseminating the moral dimension of the climate change issue.  We need to tap into the deeply embedded preexisting morality of the vast majority of people who consider themselves followers of religion. (Even those who do not subscribe to religion also respond to moral arguments about the need for action on climate change).

Religious leaders from all the major traditions see action on climate change as a moral imperative. As reviewed in an extensive list of Climate Change Statements, all of the world’s major religious traditions espouse a harmonious relationship between people and the planet.

One group called Interfaith Moral Action on Climate  is a collaborative initiative of religious leaders and groups that are promoting a moral call to action on climate change. This group feels compelled by their “traditions and collective conscience to take action on this deeply moral challenge. [They] believe that a moral voice is essential in inspiring action on climate change, since scientific and economic arguments alone have not moved the United States to adequately address this deepening crisis.”

Interfaith is calling for policies that dramatically reduce wasted energy, support renewable energy and phase-out all fossil fuel subsidies. Despite the radical change they advocate, their message is positive. They seek a “brighter vision” to unite the world around “a set of clear widely held moral principles.”

Their third guiding moral principle is to protect the Earth, they reiterate the aboriginal beliefs that we have a moral obligation to be good stewards of the Earth and all of its creatures and processes.  Interfaith’s vision advocates a moral response to climate change while acknowledging scientific research.

They have circulated their Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change, and an Interfaith Statement on Climate Change was submitted by representatives of the world’s religions at the COP17 in Durban, South Africa.

“We recognize that climate change is not merely an economic or technical problem, but rather at its core is a moral, spiritual and cultural one. We therefore pledge to join together to teach and guide the people who follow the call of our faiths.”

In an article titled “Rekindling the Moral Call to Action,” climate change is construed as a “fundamental moral and humanitarian issue.”  The article urges action from leaders and works towards a unified effort to combat climate change.

On July 23rd,  2012, there was a phone conference briefing on “How to Communicate about Climate Action as a Moral Imperative.” The event was co-hosted by Climate Access, US Climate Action Network, Interfaith Moral Action on Climate Change, and the National Climate Ethics. The speakers indicated that we need to create a moral movement that urges people to take personal responsibility and choose sides on the issue of climate change.

Even American Evangelical Christian Leaders have clearly articulated a moral argument for supporting action on anthropogenic climate change. They state that their Christian moral convictions demand their response to climate change. They go on to advocate national legislation in the U.S., requiring emissions reductions through market based mechanisms like cap-and-trade.

As reviewed in a Guardian article, NASA scientist Jim Hansen calls climate change a moral issue on a par with slavery. He is calling for a global carbon tax and sees inaction on climate change as an “injustice of one generation to others”.

Morality is also the key issue in an article titled Why Few Americans View Climate Change as a Moral Problem by Ezra Markowitz. He is a doctoral candidate in Environmental Sciences at the University of Oregon and a research fellow with the Climate Shift Project at American. In a 2012 publication Markowitz points to an absence of strong moral intuitions on climate change.

Markowitz and his colleague Azim Shariff have published research on the moral psychology of the public (dis)engagement with climate change. Their new paper in Nature Climate Change is called Climate change and moral judgment.” In the paper, Markowitz and Shariff explore six reasons why climate change is not a more common moral issue and six strategies that may help to compel us to act.

According to these researchers, the human moral judgment system fails to acknowledge climate change because: Climate change is complex, distant and abstract; it represents an untraditional type of moral transgression where it is sometimes hard to attribute blame; people have an aversion to guilt; they see the future as uncertain and they fail to identify with victims of climate change. Finally, concerns about climate change are not at present core moral values.

To help people engage efforts to combat climate change, the authors recommend that we use existing moral values. They go on to suggest that we should focus on communicating the problems that climate change will wreak upon future generations, rather than on the potential benefits. The idea here is that it is counterproductive to focus on “extrinsic motivators” for action on climate change (i.e. economic growth and jobs). According to the researchers, it weakens moral engagement by deemphasizing intrinsic values and non-materialist motives.

The research indicates that it is more productive to use messaging that generates positive emotions (eg: hope, pride and gratitude), rather than negative emotions (eg: guilt, shame and anxiety). The study reports that we need to expand our group identity, incorporate shared goals, and finally, we need to highlight positive social norms where pro-environmental action is lauded.

“The point I want to drive home is this: truly engaging with climate change as a moral issue—really feeling its moral significance viscerally—is no easy feat” Markowitz said, “regardless of how often we hear about the people and animals that will be harmed or the injustice of richer individuals and nations misappropriating a life-sustaining, common resource.”

We will need to be creative and develop evidence-based approaches that help people to understand climate change as a moral imperative. Despite the subtle psychological nuances needed to effectively communicate the point, the moral argument is capable of unleashing unprecedented activity.
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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Mal B, courtesy Flickr

January 04 2012

15:16

The Year in Review: Popular Efforts to Combat Climate Change in 2011


Popular efforts to fight global warming increased in 2011Last year saw a significant increase in popular efforts to combat climate change. From protests against the Keystone XL pipeline to campaigns that pressure businesses to engage more sustainable practices, people are standing up in support of efforts to combat climate change. Last year, we also saw an unprecedented number of people getting involved with environmental events, protests and social activism. Although the Occupy Movement may have lacked a clear environmental focus, it did underscore the growing popularity of grassroots protests.

Keystone XL Pipeline

According to the Guardian, the Keystone XL pipeline protests that took place from August 20th to September 3rd were, “the largest act of civil disobedience for the climate in US history.”  Thousands of people, including 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben and NASA’s Dr. James Hansen protested at the White House, demanding that President Obama reject the tar-sands oil pipeline.

On Monday August 28th, more than 60 religious leaders made their voices heard in front of the White House. Nine recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, also joined the protest against the Keystone XL.

Weeks of protest and the arrests of 1,252 peaceful protesters did not deter people from opposing the pipeline in Washington. McKibben reportedly said the pipeline galvanized U.S. action on climate change.

On Sunday, November 6th, another protest was held to stop the tar-sands pipeline. As many as 15,000 Americans encircled the White House to tell President Obama to reject the Keystone XL project. This was described as a historic defining moment in the push to move beyond oil.

On November 10th, President Obama announced that he would put the future of the planet ahead of Big Oil. Citing climate change, Obama sent the Keystone XL pipeline project back for review until at least 2013.

Even though Republicans are resorting to blackmail to get the Keystone XL pipeline back on track, the success of the anti-pipeline protests represent an important victory for those involved in the struggle against climate change.

Arab Spring

Corruption and misuse of natural resources were some of the factors that fueled the uprisings in Arab states. The Arab world is facing numerous environmental problems including air pollution, water scarcity, desertification, waste management, loss of arable lands and marine degradation. Popular movements in the Arab world succeeded in changing the political landscape in the Middle East and North Africa in 2011. There are early indications that the environment could benefit from the Arab Spring.

The Arab Spring has attracted a $550 billion investment that promises to bring sustainable energy to the region. The world’s most ambitious solar project could start producing energy as early as 2015 in the region.

Paul van Son, the managing director of the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII), told Reuters that interest in the project to turn sunshine into energy has grown with the spread of democracy across North Africa and the Middle East.

Before the Arab Spring, there were concerns about the political stability in the region. “We like the Arab Spring because it has opened up a lot of ideas and generated support for the project,” van Son said. “We’re very supportive. The democratic structures fit very well with ours.”

Renewable energy projects could help the economy and create jobs in the country and throughout the region. van Son said he hopes Desertec can help bring Mediterranean nations closer together. “I believe large infrastructure projects like this can contribute to stability. It’s about the development of new industries in the region, investment, job creation and the transfer of knowledge and know-how,” he said.

The first 150 megawatts power plant will be built in Morocco and it could be generating power by 2015 or 2016, with further projects planned in Tunisia and Algeria.

COP 17 

On Saturday December 3rd, 2011 in what was called the “Global Day of Action,” about 20,000 people from all over the world took to the streets calling for action in Durban. Protests, marches and rallies around the world demanded “climate justice.”

“We march today to show our outrage. We want to give the ministers…a clear message: You cannot continue to make excuses,” said Action Aid international climate justice coordinator Harjeet Singh.

“We demand urgent and strong action on climate change. We can’t just keep talking and keep wasting time,” Singh said. And Greenpeace said, “it is time to listen to the voices of ordinary people not polluters.”

Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, told the protesters in Durban: “You know where we stand, here with you.”

Although expectations for COP 17 were low, people came together and helped to force governments to sign-on to a binding agreement.

Local Protest Goes National

Michigan State University (MSU) students have been protesting the fact that they have the largest on-campus coal plant in the nation.

“Coal is harmful to our environment and us, but not everyone knows. I think it is important to raise awareness of the problem so it can be fixed and the damaging effects of coal can be stopped,” said student activist Kendra Majewski.

Even though three students were arrested at a sit-in, MSU activists have indicated that they are going to keep demanding clean air for their campus. In October, hundreds of campuses across the nation joined in on the demonstration against the university to show support for the Quit Coal campaign known as 100 Actions for 100% Clean Energy.

Students across the country are now engaged in telephone protests directed at the MSU president’s office. They are requesting that the president reconsider her position and commit to using 100 percent clean energy at Michigan State. This campaign illustrates that local issues can quickly gain national support.

Although MSU has not yet agreed to close its coal plant, the university has taken other steps to become more sustainable, including plans to have all new buildings become LEED-certified.

Environmental Events

There have been a number of environmental events in 2011, which were supported by an ever growing number of people. Global Green’s I Am Fighting Climate Change video contest asked people to document their individual actions to fight climate change. Global Green asked people to come together to help stop climate change and demand that leaders invest in green technologies and green jobs.

The League of American Bicyclists sponsored an event in the US and Canada that promoted the bicycle as an option for commuting to work. In 2011, Bike to Work Week was held on May 16th through the 20th. On June 5th the annual World Environment Day (WED) event became the largest and most widely celebrated WED event ever.

On June 15th, Global Wind Day raised worldwide awareness about wind energy. Thousands of public events were held in the US and around the world.  On Saturday June 18th, Canada, the US and the UK (November 19th in Australia) celebrated SolarDay. The 2011 SolarDay events were held by cities, non-profits, companies and the solar industry.

On August 15th through the 19th, the EDF led a campaign titled Voices for Clean Air to help remind political leaders that clean air is something that the majority of Americans support. The EDF sent a message to political leaders in the U.S. in support of strong clean air standards.

Beginning on September 13th, the Climate Reality Project hosted a live streaming event. The event was known as 24 Hours of Reality, it involved a global broadcast about the reality of the climate crisis. This global event was designed to help people make the connection between extreme weather, climate change, and the need to push the planet beyond fossil fuels. ZeDay was an event that took place on September 21st, it was a day for people all over the planet to strive for zero emissions and encourage the use of renewable energy.

On September 24th Bill McKibben and the 350.org team launched the “Moving Planet” campaign. It inspired over 2000 events in more than 175 countries. In South Asia, the 350.org coordinator indicated that their goal was to encourage grassroots activism against coal fired power emissions, as well as redefining development. African initiatives urged people to take to the streets to demand climate jobs. All regions including, the Pacific and Europe, pushed for renewable energy laws and sustainable transportation.

On October 26th, college campuses across North America celebrated the 9th annual Campus Sustainability Day (CSD), a day which highlighted the green accomplishments and initiatives of staff, faculty and students.

On March 26th, 134 countries and turned out their lights for WWF’s Earth Hour. In 2011, Earth Hour called on businesses and other organizations to show leadership by committing to lasting action for the planet beyond shutting off their lights for one hour. Climate Care Day is an event that takes place on the same day as Earth Hour; however this initiative is intended to encourage global businesses to replace all corporate travel with remote meetings.

On Earth Day (April 23rd), the Billion Acts of Green® campaign became the largest environmental service campaign in the world. In 2011, it included an increasing number of commitments from businesses to measurably reduce carbon emissions and support sustainability.

On Monday, April 18th, thousands of people came together for a rally outside the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC. The rally was the culmination of Power Shift 2011, which took place between April 15th and 18th. 350.org launched a campaign entitled “The US Chamber of Commerce Doesn’t Speak For Me,” where more than a thousand businesses abandoned the climate denying Chamber, including corporations like Apple, Nike, Microsoft, Levi-Strauss, Best Buy, and General Electric.

Businesses are Listening

Businesses are increasingly reckoning with the power of popular pressure. Individuals are pushing corporations to cleanup their supply chains, which are causing some businesses to change the way they source commodities. Public pressure has forced companies like Nestle, Unilever, Nestle, Kraft, Burger King, and General Mills to adopt more sustainable business practices.

In 2011, it became increasingly obvious that the risks associated with unsustainable business practices are a serious threat which cannot be ignored. Rather than incur such risks, an increasing number of businesses are cooperating with environmental groups. For example, Xerox has partnered with The Nature Conservancy to promote sustainable forestry, preserve biodiversity and help minimize forest loss and degradation that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Non-profits are putting their expertise to work guiding businesses on sustainability. Carbon Trust has published a Green Guide for SMEs, the WWF-UK has launched its Green Game-Changers initiative and the EPA’s Green Power Partnership program has yielded impressive results.

People around the world are increasingly united in their demand for action on environmental issues. The events of 2011 demonstrate that the public can influence decision making at the highest level. This is a testament to the power of citizens to effectuate meaningful change.

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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

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December 14 2011

19:15

Is the Agreement in Durban Enough to Contain Climate Change?


Is the deal struck in the final marathon session at COP17 producing the Durban Platform too little, too late?The participants at the U.N. sponsored COP17 climate change talks in Durban, South Africa, managed to come to an agreement on a package of measures that will eventually force all the world’s polluters to take legally binding action. One of the most significant elements of the deal concerns a replacement for the soon to expire Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto protocol is the only global warming fighting treaty we have and it was initially adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997. Although there are details that are yet to be worked out, the parties in Durban managed to craft a general agreement that would extend Kyoto for five years from January 1, 2013 until the end of 2017.

Just hours after the landmark agreement was announced in Durban, Canada officially withdrew from Kyoto prompting an Indian official to remark that Canada’s decision could jeopardize gains made at the Durban meeting.

The Canadian Conservative government’s prioritization of the tar sands made it impossible for Canada to meet its emissions targets, which made the rejection of Kyoto inevitable. While the province of Alberta applauded the decision, much of the rest of the world has criticized Canada for its decision to formally withdraw from Kyoto. China’s state news agency, Xinhua, denounced Canada’s decision as “preposterous,” calling it “an excuse to shirk responsibility.”

Chinese Foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin lashed out at Canada, describing Ottawa’s decision as being “against the efforts of the international community,” and “regrettable.” “We hope Canada will face up to its responsibilities and obligations and honor its commitments and actively participate in relevant international cooperation against climate change,” Liu said in Beijing.

A spokesman for France’s foreign ministry called the move “bad news for the fight against climate change.” Japan’s Environment Minister Goshi Hosono told reporters that Canada’s withdrawal was “disappointing,” and noted that it was “indispensable that each country makes efforts” on climate change.

Graham Saul of Climate Action Network Canada said, “It’s a national disgrace. Prime Minister Harper just spat in the faces of people around the world for whom climate change is increasingly a life and death issue.”

Greenpeace Canada spokesman, Mike Hudema, said in a written statement that the Canadian Conservative government “has imposed a death sentence on many of the world’s most vulnerable populations by pulling out of Kyoto.” He said the move “destabilizes” the promise of future action on global warming. “This is a further signal that the Harper government is more concerned about protecting polluters than people.”

Ian Fry, lead negotiator for the vulnerable island nation of Tuvalu, said “it’s an act of sabotage on our future, withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol is a reckless and totally irresponsible act.”

Canada’s irresponsibility badly damages a UN climate process already weakened by divisions. Like the Republicans in the US, Canadian Conservatives use misinformation and fear mongering to sell their irresponsible governance.

To explain its decision, Canada cited the cost of meeting its obligations under Kyoto. However, they fail to factor the costs of climate change. Even the $13.6 billion it would cost to honor Kyoto in Canada is a tiny fraction of the cost of climate change, which could run as high as $91 billion a year in the country by 2050. According to the September 2011 report from the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, climate change will cost Canadians at least $5 billion a year by 2020.

The research reveals that the longer the effects of climate change are ignored, the costlier they become. ”Our modeling…shows there is a risk those costs could not be just higher, but much higher,” the report adds. “Getting global emissions down is both in Canada’s economic and environmental interest,” said David McLaughlin, president of the roundtable. In addition to increased health costs, the report estimates that global warming will lead to between five and 10 additional deaths per 100,000 people per year by 2050.

The world may not be able to afford Canada’s renunciation of Kyoto and exploitation of the tar sands. As NASA’s chief climatologist James Hansen said:

“If the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over [for containing global warming].”

As the world’s second largest emitter and as the primary consumer of tar sands oil, the U.S. is both an egregious offender and complicit in Canada’s role as a climate renegade. Even if the parties iron out the details, respect the stipulations and implement the timetables of the Durban agreement, it may not be enough.

Under the Durban Platform, a new global agreement will be negotiated by 2015 and will be implemented by 2020. The Climate Action Tracker scientists indicate that the delay and the absence of more ambitious targets make “catching up on this postponed action…increasingly costly.”

Scientists at the Climate Action Tracker said this puts the world on a path that will see “over 3°C warming with likely extremely severe impacts.”

A global temperature increase of over 3°C could destroy the Amazon rainforest, bleach coral reefs, melt Greenland ice, thaw permafrost in the arctic, and release methane hydrates from the ocean floor.

UN chief negotiator Christiana Figueres said the Durban agreement is the “critical next step,” but also admitted it is “still insufficient.”

“What remains to be done is to take more ambitious actions to reduced emissions, and until this is done we are still headed to over 3 C warming. There are still no new pledges on the table and the process agreed in Durban towards raising the ambition and increasing emission reductions is uncertain it its outcome,” Bill Hare, Director of Climate Analytics said.

The Climate Action Tracker research indicates “the global mean warming would reach about 3.5°C by 2100 with the current reduction proposals on the table. They are definitely insufficient to limit temperature increase to 2°C.”

The Durban agreement is not capable of curbing global warming within acceptable limits and Canada’s support for the tar sands over Kyoto make controlling climate change that much more unlikely.

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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

October 12 2011

18:33

US Denial versus European and Asian Sustainable Growth


The US continues to bury their head in the sand about climate changeWhile much of the rest of the world seems to see the dangers of climate change, many Americans appear to be woefully oblivious. Embracing a green, low-carbon economy is a sustainable way of dealing with the problems of resource depletion, economic uncertainty and climate change.

Europeans understand the severity of the threat posed by climate change far better than Americans. An October 2011, Eurobarometer poll found that Europeans consider global warming to be one of the world’s most serious problems. According to this poll, 68% of Europeans rate climate change as a “very serious” problem. One-fifth of Europeans indicated that climate change is the single most serious problem. Only poverty is considered a more serious problem than climate change, followed by the current economic crisis. (In fact the poor are the ones who will be most affected by climate change and the overwhelming costs of climate change make it a pressing economic issue).

As reviewed in an Eco-Business article, the Green Growth Forum, held in Ha Noi on October 4, 2011, was part of an Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) initiative where 180 European and Asian delegates shared their experiences on incorporating green growth models.Speaking at the forum, the Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Vu Van Ninh said that green growth not only served as a vehicle to foster global economic growth and recovery, but also as a tool to implement sustainable development based on social and environmental protection.

Miyon Lee, director general of the International Co-operation Team of the Presidential Committee on Green Growth in South Korea, said that all countries had a responsibility to develop green growth policies before it is too late.

The Eurozone has their green priorities in order, and increasingly, so does Asia, but America remains woefully behind in sustainability. European and Asian nations understand that economic concerns do not trump environmental concerns. However, in America, economic growth takes precedence over climate change. Climate change consistently ranks near the bottom on the list of Americans’ concerns. As stated in Roger Pielke Jr.’s “Iron Law” of climate policy, “When policies on emissions reductions collide with policies focused on economic growth, economic growth will win out every time.”

If we do not change our ways, economic growth will evaporate, taking jobs with it. Yet somehow, a small group of corporate interests have managed to introduce an element of doubt into the debate causing many Americans to buy into misinformation rather than subscribe to the scientific evidence. This is a travesty, not just of science, but of common sense.

Economic growth is not incompatible with managing climate change. As stated in a Treehugger article, “Europeans understand this better than Americans, and have managed to not only recognize the threat, but to reduce emissions while growing their economy.”

All around the world, people are beginning to develop national and regional strategies to minimize their impact on the earth. In the U.S., corporate interests beholden to the old energy economy have successfully resisted efforts to save the economy, the planet and its inhabitants.

If senior Asian and European officials can work on ways of transitioning economies from a ‘grow first, clean up later’ approach toward a greener development path, why can’t America?

It is a miscarriage of reason that in the U.S., short term economic issues are being used to justify ongoing environmental genocide.

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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

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July 06 2011

18:42

Collaboration is Better than Competition in the War Against Climate Change (Part Two)


Sustainability is only achieved through collaboration and cooperationThere are numerous examples of organizations, towns and cities working within a collaborative framework to address the looming threat of climate change. Although there are areas where market oriented competition will continue to be invaluable, there are other areas where collaboration is little more than common sense. Cities working together to share methods of being more sustainable are an effective way to pool resources in the effort to combat climate change.

The first part of Collaboration is Better than Competition in the War Against Climate Change explored collaboration within a company that can make innovation and commerce both more efficient and more sustainable.

This part explores a few examples of regional and municipal sustainable initiatives. These efforts are on the front lines of initiatives to combat climate change. Sustainable cities are designed with consideration for the environmental impact including minimizing inputs of energy, water and food, and the outputs of heat, air pollution and water pollution.King County Cities Climate Collaboration

A number of sustainability initiatives in the Northwest illustrate the power of collaboration. This is the subject of an article by Andrea Lewis, CSBA, LEED AP ID+C and Senior Project Associate at O’Brien & Company.

On June 9, 2011, King County and several of its cities officially pledged their support for a new partnership known as, the King County-Cities Climate Collaboration. The climate change mitigation efforts of jurisdictions within King County is a collaborative effort that benefits all parties. Through this initiative, cities are learning from each others sustainability efforts.

There are now six mayors who have signed a pledge enhancing the effectiveness of local governments’ climate and sustainability efforts. The signatories to the Pledge will partner on climate change outreach, coordination of standards, strategies and goals, climate mitigation solutions, and funding commitments for shared resources.  The group is grounded in local efforts and bound by common higher level commitments such as the US Conference of Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement, and ICLEI membership.

This effort involves outreach, coordination, solutions as well as funding and resources. These initiatives support and enhance projects and programs like green building, renewable energy, sustainability outreach and education, and alternative transportation.

Through these programs’ city and county staff work to share local best practices and relevant resources, they also collaborate on related projects and programs, and support regional efforts such as the Growth Management Planning Council’s work to set countywide greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.

King County’s support includes ongoing initiatives, such as the Sustainable Cities Roundtable  and the GreenTools program.  The Sustainable Cities Program provides learning opportunities to work together to create regulations that support green buildings and get projects on the ground.

The King County GreenTools program helps builders, residents, businesses and governments create and sustain green buildings, and sustainability policies and programs. The GreenTools Team provides technical assistance, grants, hands-on training, and information necessary to find locally-produced, high quality sustainable building materials and resources.

Seattle’s 2030 District

The City of Seattle’s 2030 District  is a collaborative model that involves property owners sharing utility data usually considered proprietary. This effort is largely driven by a private sector group. Although these companies are usually competitors, they are each working together to share practices and techniques in order to maximize their combined energy conservation.

The Seattle 2030 District committee intends to go beyond just the data gathering and reporting. The committee has adopted additional goals to create a sustainable, low-energy downtown.

Seattle’s 2030 district was started by local architect Brian Geller, a sustainability specialist with ZGF Architects in Seattle. He was inspired by the Chicago Central Area Decarbonization Plan. Geller, along with a group of individuals concerned with large-scale energy efficiency, have involved six major property owners and managers in the downtown core and surrounding business neighborhoods, two City utilities, Cascadia Green Building Council and the active participation of the Office of Sustainability and Environment and DPD’s City Green Building.

The 2030 Challenge for Planning also includes reduction goals for water use and transportation vehicle miles traveled as well as the aggressive carbon reduction and energy efficiency goals of the original 2030 Challenge.

Specific Seattle 2030 District goals are as follows:

  • Existing buildings: A 10 percent reduction by 2015, incrementally increased to a 50 percent reduction by 2030.
  • New and renovated buildings: An immediate 60 percent reduction, incrementally increased to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030
  • Emissions of auto, freight, and water consumption in existing buildings: A 10 percent reduction by 2015, incrementally increased to a 50 percent reduction by 2030.
  • Emissions of auto and freight, and water consumption in new and renovated buildings: An immediate 50 percent reduction.

The Seattle 2030 District Committee has already begun to aggregate and analyze data to define current baselines and energy, water and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reduction targets. Concurrently, the committee is exploring best practices for energy efficiency improvements as well as incentive and financing plans to implement improvements.

Inspired by efficient European cities, the committee will also explore opportunities beyond individual building strategies through incorporation of district heating and cooling and distributed generation.

Emerald Cities Collective

On the national level, the Emerald Cities Collaborative (EEC) leverages the expertise, assets and skills of the public and private sector to create clean economy cities. Seattle and Portland are two of several early municipal partners who have signed on. ECC is a national coalition of diverse groups that pools the resources of 21 national partners that include unions, labor groups, community organizations, social justice advocates, development intermediaries, research and technical assistance providers, socially responsible businesses, and elected officials.

They are united around the goal of rapidly greening our nation’s central cities and metropolitan regions. They envision a future in which American cities are the greenest and most equitable in the world.

Conclusion

These initiatives help to provide economies of scale that make efficient building design and cleaner energy sources more viable. These collaborative efforts are working across economic, political, and social boundaries to develop more sustainable cities. In the absence of federal legislation, cities are ideal candidates for collaborative initiatives that are leading the way in the war against climate change.

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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

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June 01 2011

21:14

Key Partnerships Announced at C40 Cities Climate Leadership Summit


Major cities from across the globe meet in Brazil for the C40 Summit meetingMayors of major cities from around the world convened yesterday in Sao Paulo, Brazil, at a summit meeting of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. The meeting began one day after the IEA released their latest figures showing an alarming spike in carbon emissions in 2010, adding a sense of urgency to the proceedings.

As human population becomes increasingly urbanized, cities have become “ground zero” for dealing with climate change.

“The effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change will be won or lost in cities,” New York mayor and C40 chairman Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. “As the primary centers of economic activity globally, cities are significant consumers of energy and emit nearly three quarters of the world’s carbon emissions. They are also innovative and nimble and can often move quickly and boldly in implementing environmentally and financially viable solutions.”

As the work of the summit continues through Thursday, key partnerships have already been announced to assist in facilitating and streamlining how the world’s cities mitigate and adapt to climate change:

  • World Bank and C40
    The C40 and the World Bank have signed a “groundbreaking” agreement aimed at helping cities face climate-related issues in the coming decades. Essential elements of the agreement include will help large cities expand climate mitigation and adaptation plans, while strengthening local economies and protecting vulnerable populations. The partnership will help cities finance climate action plans and establish stronger partnerships between cities. The plan will also establish a consistent method of measuring and reporting emissions, making possible verifiable and consistent emissions monitoring and reporting between cities. 

    “This unique partnership with the World Bank will help solve many of the problems that cities face in obtaining financing for climate-related projects, both from the World Bank and other lenders. It will also make it easier for C40 cities to access the resources of the World Bank,” said Bloomberg.

  • ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability and C40
    The C40 and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability will work together to establish community-scale standards for accounting and reporting greenhouse gas emissions. Once established, the standard will make possible reliable, consistent and comparable emissions reporting. The standard will allow for monitoring progress against targets, help inform effective climate action plans, and form the basis for making day-to-day policy decisions and performing community environmental reviews.

“Cities of all sizes play an important role in combating the impact of climate change. Establishing a single global standard for reporting greenhouse gas emissions will empower local governments to accelerate their actions and access funding for mitigation and adaptation projects,” Bloomberg said. “This will enable new efficiencies and create a level playing field for comparing emissions across cities around the world.”

Climate action, sustainability, and cities

It often seems that effective action on climate change and sustainability is largely stalled at the international and federal level. But it is where people live, in cities, that action can and will drive real change. This point was illustrated recently in an interview with Emma Stewart, currently senior manager of AEC Sustainability for Autdesk, and a thought leader in environment trends.

Stewart argues that the greatest strides in grappling with climate and environmental issues can be, and are, made in cities. Human society is now predominantly urbanized, and creating livable, sustainable cities is the best way to address the global issues of climate change and sustainability.

Stewart’s thoughts dovetail well with the work done this week in Brazil, and are highlighted in the article Earth Day Inflection Points; Looking Toward the Built Environment recently published in TriplePundit.

Image credit: cabbit, courtesy Flickr

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May 31 2011

21:57

Carbon Emissions Spike to Historic High


Carbon Emissions Spike to Record Levels in 2010The International Energy Agency (IEA) released estimates on Monday showing that CO2 emissions have soared to record highs after a lull in 2009 due to the global recession. 30.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide where emitted into the atmosphere in 2010, mostly from burning fossil fuels, a rise of 1.6 gigatons over 2009 according to estimates from the IEA, and up 5 percent over 2008 emissions.

Though the drop in 2009 emissions is generally attributed to the economic downturn, but at the drop in emissions was greater than the decline of GDP, at least in the United States, suggesting that gains in efficiency might be “decoupling” energy consumption from economic growth – an essential element for future economic and environmental sustainability.

But that hope appears to be dashed with the IEA most recent emissions estimates.

Climate scientists warn that avoiding “potentially dangerous climate change” requires limiting global temperatures to within a 2 degree Celsius rise this century, something that IEA chief economist Fatih Birol says is now likely just a “nice Utopia.”

“I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions,” Birol said. “It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say.”

In the IEA’s 2010 World Energy Outlook (pdf) set a pathway to a 2 degree Celsius rise with its  450 Scenario by limiting carbon emissions to 450 parts per million through century’s end. The scenario is based on emissions targets to which nations pledge to reach only by 2020. Given the current rate of emissions, those targets could be met within as little as two years. For the targets outlined in the 450 Scenario to be met, emissions will have to rise less in the next decade than they did between 2009 and 201o. Without a change to the current trajectory, there is little choice but to shift the burden of signinifcant emissions reduction onto future generations, when it will be even more difficult to achieve under worsening climactic conditions.

“Our latest estimates are another wake-up call,”  saidBirol. “The world has edged incredibly close to the level of emissions that should not be reached until 2020 if the 2ºC target is to be attained. Given the shrinking room for maneuver in 2020, unless bold and decisive decisions are made very soon, it will be extremely challenging to succeed in achieving this global goal agreed in Cancun.”

The situation is make even more difficult because much of the energy sector has already “locked in” 80 percent of its 2020 emissions from plants already in operation or currently under construction. Most of these plants will burn fossil fuels, virtually guaranteeing that 2020 targets will never be met.

Economist Nicholas Stern from the London School of Economics, author of the 2006 Stern Report on climate change, warns that the latest numbers from the IEA combined with projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show a 50 percent chance that global temperature could rise by as much as 4 degrees Celsius by 2100 – double what is generally considered “safe.”

“Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict,” Stern said. “That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce.”

Birol still hangs to some hope that a climate disaster can be avoided, but the door is fast closing.

“If we have bold, decisive and urgent action, very soon, we still have a chance of succeeding,” he said.

That’s exactly what I heard nearly two years ago in Copenhagen.

Sources and further reading:
ARS Technica

Ecologist

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January 12 2011

02:13

CO2 Inertia Will Trigger Climate Change for Next Millennium, Study Says


New research warns of longterm effects of climate change even after emissions stopAccording to a research study just published in the journal Nature Geoscience, climate change will persist, and in some parts of the world intensify, from the increased levels of atmospheric CO2 long after humans stop burning fossil fuels – for a millennium or more, the report says.

In even a best case, real-world scenario where anthropogenic carbon emissions essentially stop by the year 2100, the consequences on climate will last throughout the next one thousand years, and in epoch-changing ways.

The seas are the great heat sink that have so far absorbed much of the heat and most of the CO2 from the atmosphere. Eventually the ocean will be able to take no more and begin to give back the heat – as decadal trends of consistently warming seas now portend. By the year 3000, if carbon emissions continue to 2100, the West Antarctic ice sheet will collapse and sea level will eventually rise by at least four meters (more than 13 feet).

Obviously, forecasting climate out 1000 years can only point to probabilities and not exact circumstance, and therefore is “an art and not a science,” as Andy Soos writes in the Environmental News Network, but the study reinforces other research, such as a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences, the concludes climate change is now irreversible “from the standpoint of a human lifetime.” In other words, we’re in it already and it where it will lead is increasingly beyond what any human intervention.

The new research adds more detailed projections of long term forecasts in different regions and the effect on specific earth system. As lead author of the report Nathan Gillett of the Environment Canada’s Centre of Modelling and Analysis said when discussing the nature of the research:

“Most of the other studies that have looked at this haven’t looked at the pattern of climate change following the cessation of emissions. Which regions are warming? Which regions are cooling? How are rainfall patterns changing?”

The study is also the first to run two scenarios for what happens after carbon emissions have ended – one for 2100 and the other for 2010. The projection for a 2010 cessation of emissions suggests that even though the climate impact will last to the year 3000, the effect could be relatively modest.

“It’s seven days past that deadline, so it’s kind of a science fiction scenario at this point,” said glaciologist and study co-author Shawn Marshall.

If carbon emissions don’t stop until 2100 – more in the realm of reality than science fiction – warming could be as much as 4 degrees Celsius, or about 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit, by the next millennium, almost certainly destabilizing the West Antarctic ice.

“The choices we make are sort of a multicentury legacy,” Marshall said. “The difference between 0.6-degree warming and 4-degree warming in terms of the stability of Antarctica is huge.”

Consequences of life through the ages

Clearly, the choices humanity makes now – every human being now alive – will reverberate through the next millenium. That’s not the kind of thing anyone is really equipped to deal with by nature. It is hard enough to just live our lives, care for our own, and hopefully grow old with some wisdom and dignity.

And so we can be forgiven if we chose not to think about it. Right?

Like it or not that question remains, and must now be answered.

Additional source:
ClimateWire (subscription required)

Reposted by02mydafsoup-01 02mydafsoup-01

January 03 2011

18:59

Make Your 2011 New Years Weight Loss Plan Low Carbon!


How to resolve for a low carbon diet in 2011Guest post by Brian Toomey

“Once more into the breech,” the good bard had it, and so it is that once again I face another New Years admitting I need to loose a few.

Ahh, New Years resolutions. I would hazard a guess that some readers are chewing the cud (or holiday leftovers) on this issue as well.

An unfathomable score of plans exist to help you loose weight, from Joel Fuhrmans Nutrarian diet to “Paleo” and Eco-Atkins options. My goal here is not to adjudicate their relative nutritional merits. Instead, lets talk carbon and climate. Even if you could shed a few on only Brazilian rainforest steaks, I suspect you, dear reader, would have qualms. Estimates are that agriculture contributes about 25 percent of global CO2 are from human agriculture, and much of the fuel used for transportation was used power globalized food production. The choices here matter.

So, here are the tips I try to live by to keep the carbon in my diet low, including a few you might not have thought of:

  • Eat local, seasonal foods: We know the drill here. Don’t ship apples from New Zealand when they are in season 5 miles away.
  • Eat ecologically farmed food and consider wildcrafting: Support farmers that plant in polyculture, and build soil, because better soil and increased biodiversity translate directly into increased carbon sequestration. Even better, dine occasionally from the unquestioned champion of CO2 sequestration –  wild forests and prairies are loaded with edible greens, mushrooms, and tubers, and with the right guide you can get in some relaxing walking and end up with gourmet foods like violet leaves, nettles, watercress and oyster mushrooms. Footprint wise, those gleaned natural treasures are a freebie compared to the footprint in organic industrial agriculture.
  • Eat Whole Plants: Michael Polan and T Colin Campbell make what I find to be a compelling case for the nutritional benefits of whole foods but, in addition, refined foods are wasteful. Lets look at two choices: One, eat the corn whole, straight from the cob, or minimally processed (say popcorn). Two: spend considerable energy grinding, mashing, straining, processing and refining it to get at just the syrup, wasting the rest of the nutrients (fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc.).
  • Try Intermittent Fasting: Nothing, and I mean nothing, is better for the environment than nothing. Seriously, no matter how eco and local the farm the food you are eating is, it still takes resources and displaces other uses. So I would encourage you to consider intermittent fasting, taking 24 hours once or twice a week to go without food and subsist on clean drinking water. Fitness writer Brad Pilon over at EatStopEat.com has a great collection of tools and writings to support your experimenting with fasting. Consider, if everyone did one day a week without food we would easily hit the standard international carbon reduction goals. Fasting has amazing effects on weight loss, longevity, internal cleansing and hormonal regulation, but for this post I want to note that it is sorely underrated as an eco friendly diet option.

(editor’s note: please consult with your doctor before attempting any fasting regimen)

Good luck with your Low Carbon New Years Weight Loss!

——————-

About the Author:

Brian Toomey lives at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, and, among other things, works as an eco focused online consultant for Appoutdoors.com, and Kranich Jewelers, a family run jewelry business specializing in Mothers Rings family jewelry who recently made the jump to energy efficient laptops and LED lighting.

December 07 2010

23:07

Climate Counts Scorecard Shows Continued Improvement in Corporate Action on Climate


The latest Climate Counts Scorecard shows broad improvement across all scored sectorsClimate Counts reports 14 percent improvement in scores from 2009

We first reported on the Climate Count Scorecard back in 2008 for their second annual report. This morning, Climate Counts released their updated scores for 2011, showing Nike as the clear winner for the third year in a row with a score of 87 out of a possible 100.

Five companies surged ahead more than 20 points over their 2009 score, including CBS, Clorox, Capital One, PNS Financial (up 40 points since the first ’07 scorecard), and Alaska Air. Some of those companies still have a ways to go to adequately satisfy all the 22 criteria used by Climate Counts (pdf) to score a company’s climate action (the highest ranking of the five fast movers is Clorox, with a score of 57). But given such a healthy surge in 2010, these companies exemplify a general movement in the right direction among the biggest players in the corporate world.

Overall, company scores are up 14 percent since last year, and the average score has risen to 50.1 points, up from just 31 points in 2007.

“There’s an emerging top tier of innovative companies leading on climate,” said Wood Turner, Climate Counts Executive Director. “Climate action may have bogged down in Washington, but these companies know they can build successful businesses while tackling the climate crisis. Corporate climate commitment has graduated,” added Turner. “It is now the norm for well-managed, forward-thinking businesses. We’re excited about that 50-point milestone. When we launched four years ago, we issued a clear challenge, and companies appear ready to see the leadership bar raised.”

Climate policy advocates

This latest release of the Climate Counts scorecard is the first since the Senate’s abject failure to address climate and energy issues. Hundreds of millions of dollars where spent by corporations and their associations to help insure such failure of leadership.

“As Climate Counts evolves,” said board chair Gary Hirshberg, “it will become increasingly importantthat it look closely at the role companies play in positively or negatively influencing climate policy. Corporations are asserting themselves into our political process as never before, and it’s important that consumers know who’s working against strong climate action.”

To that end, this year Climate Counts has given special recognition to 21 scored companies for their strong and vocal support for climate policy that would help reduce global warming (look for a gold star next to their names). These companies come from nine of the twelve business sectors considered in the Climate Counts scorecard.

‘Tis the season to shop – wisely

Another new aspect of this years Scorecard is the launch of the Striding Shopper Campaign, which encourages consumers to vote with their dollars and purchase from companies with a score of 50 or higher. And to make it easier, Climate Counts offers a free iPhone app to keep the scorecard handy (Apple, incidentally, scores a 61, up 9 from last year).

Putting your money where your values are

The Climate Counts scorecard is a good way to make corporations responsible for the climate action and policy support. It is up to the consumer – you and I – to make the corporate world aware that what they do and say about climate and sustainability makes a difference to their customers. Let them know you care.

December 02 2010

19:10

The Climate Change Divide: Have We Reached a Political Tipping Point?


Are we at a political tipping point with global warming?Despite overwhelming physical evidence of anthropogenic climate change, and a definite of majority (97 percent) of scientists who agree that human activities are causing the climate to change, in the latest poll from the Pew Research Center found that the number of Americans who believe in climate change, particularly Republicans, has decreased dramatically since 2006.

In 2006, 79 percent of Americans believed there was evidence of global warming and 50% said it was caused by human activity. 61 percent felt it required immediate action. 59 percent said scientists agreed that the cause was human activity.  Only 29 percent said that scientists did not agree.

Now in 2010, 59 percent of American adults believe that there is evidence that the planet has been warming over the past decades, and 34 percent state that it is mostly caused by human activity. 32 percent see global warming as a serious problem, while 31 percent think it is somewhat serious. The public is also divided as to whether scientists themselves are in agreement that the planet is warming as a result of human activity – only 44 percent say that scientists agree, and 44 percent say that they do not.

While 80 percent of Democrats and a majority of independents state that there is solid evidence of climate change, with 34 percent believing that it is a result of human activities only 53 percent of Republicans say that there is no evidence of climate change whatsoever.

70 percent of those Republicans who were on board with the Tea Party movement were “much more likely…to say there is no solid evidence,” and “do not think that the earth’s temperature has been rising.” (Of the Republicans who are not aligned with the Tea Partiers, only 38 percent hold this view.) 50 percent of the Tea Partiers  do not see global warming as any sort of problem and 71 percent believe that scientist do not agree as to whether or not human activity is the cause of global warming.

Evidence and perception diverge

This all during a year of climate disasters, of extreme weather – record breaking temperatures, heat waves, floods, and droughts. In the past century, sea level has risen 4 to 10 inches, and glaciers and ice caps are melting at unprecedented rates. On the Antarctic Peninsula, 90 percent of the glaciers are in retreat, and winter temperatures have soared by 11 degrees Fahrenheit. Habitats are shifting and seasonal cycles are changing, endangering countless species of plants and animals.

NOAA has reported that planet has been warming significantly, a full 1 degree Fahrenheit, over the last 50 years, that each of the past three decades was warmer than the last, and the 2000s is the warmest decade in recorded history. According to NASA, 2010 is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded.

Furthermore, the current level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere — about 390 parts per million — is higher today than at any time in measurable history — at least the last 2.1 million years.

So, as the evidence has become alarmingly apparent year after year, why are the numbers of Americans who believe in climate change decreasing? When even prior climate change deniers poster boys Bjorn Lomberg and Fran Luntz have seen the light – or rather the heat.

Granted, the economy has taken its toll. These days, when countless Americans are focused on how to keep or get a job, concerned with how to feed their families, any other threats, especially those that are not immediately in one’s face, do not seem so urgent or significant. Moreover, the changes due to global warming are gradual, subtle, and much more pronounced in regions like Antarctica, where most Americans never go, much less even think about.

As Fen Montaigne writes:

“If such  profound changes (those occurring at the Antarctica peninsula) had come to our temperate zones over the last few decades – if average winter temps in New York City had soared a dozen degrees, if our oaks and maples were being replaced by palms, if sea levels had risen half a dozen feet – chances are the public would not be so indifferent to our warming world and many politicians would not be denying that climate is changing because of human activity.”

A tipping point?

And yet, they are. Have we reached the political tipping point in regards to climate change? Has the intensely divisive nature of our two party system, created two separate and not necessarily equal Americas? Even the news media is now as divided, and in parroting their own party line, they relay completely different views of the issues, of the world, of reality altogether.

A Yale/George Mason University poll released this past summer found similar results whereas a large number of those who considered themselves conservative, and/or part of the Tea Party movement, were either doubtful or dismissive about global warming, and those who considered themselves alarmed or concerned identified themselves as Democrats or liberals.  This poll also revealed that the news media consumed by those considered “alarmists” and those “dismissive” regarding climate change, were completely different – i.e. Fox News or MSNBC.

That said, what one may deduce from these polls is that Americans overall are NOT ignorant nor apathetic when it comes to climate change – only some, maybe half, of us, and mostly the Tea Party members of the Republican party. That’s the good news. The bad news, well, it is those Republicans, who as of this past Fall, have completely changed our political landscape, which may just have a direct effect upon our cultural, and our physical landscape, as well.

According to the blog Think Progress, 50 percent of the freshmen Republicans entering Congressdeny the existence of manmade climate change, while a shocking 86 percent are opposed to any legislation to address climate change and increases government revenue. Meanwhile, all of the Republicans vying to chair the House Energy Committee — which handles climate and energy issues — in the new Congress are climate change deniers,” including longtime climate denier, and BP apologist, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX).

Nevertheless, though opinions about and reactions to climate change are in stark contradiction between party lines, we all still live on the same planet, like it or not. When the seas and rivers rise, and the heartland turns to dust bowls, when the winter and summers are nearly intolerable, these effects will not vary between red states and blue states. Just because you don’t believe doesn’t mean it will not affect you – nor your grandchildren – nor theirs.

So here we are. In the worst recession since the 1930s, with an economy and infrastructure that desperately needs an influx of jobs, of which green jobs and a green economy is a perfect fit. Right as the UN Conference on climate change has begun; right as the moratorium on deepwater drilling has been lifted. At the brink of another year, another decade, where (some) Americans continue to hide their heads in the sands, or rather tar pits, and may just continue to do so for further decades, and generations to come. While China, and soon other countries, has quickly overtaken us in research and development, emerging as the pioneers in green technology and the green market, leaving us literally in the dust.

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