As I walked outside on the day that I wrote this, I inhaled the sweet air of springtime. Though I had gloves, I didn’t need them. My coat was open, and I didn’t shiver. Not so strange if this had been early in May. But it’s December in Iowa. Much as I love spring and enjoy the relative warmth of 63-degree days, I find the moderate temperature most unsettling. December isn’t supposed to be warm where I live. This false, fall “spring” is the harbinger of a changed climate that is already dramatically altering weather patterns around the world. Yet, climate skeptics still fill the airwaves with denial.
In his young adult novel, Iglu, author Jacob Sackin imagines a world in which climate change is no longer questioned by anyone. Climate refugees are fleeing the lower 48 states to Alaska, pushing back the Native people and seizing the land for themselves. War rages on as the Inuit people fight back against the encroaching masses and the cruel Skyhawk soldiers sent to ensure the safety of the refugees.
The heroine of the story is April, an Inupiaq girl running for her life, narrowly evading the Skyhawk troops who have captured — or possibly killed — her parents. Everything familiar to April has been destroyed by bombing or bulldozers. Inupiaq people are being rounded up, forced into camps where they can be contained and controlled. April’s family has been torn apart, and she is left alone to fend for herself. In this futuristic coming-of-age story, April finds the strength not only to survive, but also to fight against the cruelty and injustice of the powerful U.S. government. She isn’t perfect — no realistic character is — but she makes a powerful role model for youngsters who are themselves coming to grips with an unfair world and an uncertain environmental future.
The political implications of this novel shouldn’t surprise anyone. The U.S. government is vilified, and the nation’s citizens are portrayed as self-interested and callow toward the plight of the Native people they are displacing. Although it’s set more than 100 years in the future, the characterization of my fellow citizens makes me more than a little uncomfortable. I hear a loud ring of truth about the way Native Americans were pushed back by people who look like me. The story of the Inupiaq people in Iglu, is universal: You have what I want; give it to me, or I’ll take it from you.
Today, we are all on our own inexorable march, but not (yet, anyway) a march northward. Instead, we are moving steadily toward the destruction of our own habitat. We are using resources with abandon. In the name of profit, convenience, and self-interest, we are killing the very rain forests and oceans that breathe oxygen into our air.
The ranks of the skeptics here at home are growing smaller as raging superstorms disable huge swaths of our nation and drought spreads its reach over much of the continent. Sadly, the youngest among us may live to see an Alaska with no glaciers, no permafrost, and no trees. It’s worth contemplating this painful future. If we do not change our ways now, this may be the awful legacy we offer our descendants.
The story is original, the message is compelling, and it is a cautionary tale worth reading — for young adults and adult readers alike. It took me some time to get into the story. Once I had read a few chapters, however, I found my self hooked, eager to know what would happen to April and those she met on her journey. I’d put the book down for a day or two and continue to think about the characters and their plight, glad to get back to it as soon as I could.
This is not a pretty story; ugly things happen to good people, and human nature shows its worst face at times. But there are moments of redemption and acts of kindness that restore the reader’s faith. The events may be too upsetting to younger readers, but older students and adults will find in Iglu ideas and events that lead to thoughtful discussion.
The only real hope for our survival is if we all make changes today. We can’t continue to blithely abuse our planet and think the future will be as bright for our grandkids as it was for us. Raising awareness through a vivid and exciting story is a step in the right direction.
The Fine Print
Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the book reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.Our policy is to review only those books we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a book more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by free books and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.
Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with Amazon.com. If you purchase this book or any other products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive a very small financial compensation from Amazon, which we use to sustain this website.
It’s fair to say that everyone has noticed the weather changes here in the UK — the heavy rainfalls, gale force winds, flooding, and even the reduction in snow. Every year, we notice more visible changes to the climate — which many believe is the result of climate change — and they appear to be getting progressively worse with each new year.
Heavy rainfall for extended periods is expected to increase the flood risk in the coming years. We have witnessed freak levels of flooding already this year, especially during September. With major flooding throughout the country, holidaymakers in Wales had to be airlifted to safety, and homes in the south of Devon were flooded. Northern areas of the country, such as York and Newcastle, didn’t get off lightly either, with many residents claiming to have experienced the most severe flooding in recent memory.
In fact, Meteogroup released figures showing a 14.25 inch (362mm) rainfall in June, July ,and August, making 2012 the wettest summer seen in the UK since 1912. One explanation is that the flooding is due to unusual circulation patterns in the atmosphere, which can sometimes become fixed on a certain cycle. Depending on whether the circulation is pointing away or towards the country, this can either lead to the UK experiencing excessively dry or wet conditions. This theory could certainly go some way to explaining the drastic alterations in weather that have been experienced in recent times.
Higher Seas and Climbing Temperatures
Sea level has increased by ten centimetres since 1900. This is making seaside properties prone to flooding, and houses situated on the edge of the coast are at heavy risk of coastal erosion. The average sea level is expected to increase by fifty-nine centimetres by the end of this century.
In addition, both land and sea temperatures are on the increase, with coastal water temperatures rising around 0.7 degrees Celsius higher over the past three decades.
The combination of high winds, warmer waters, and increased sea levels have effectively made areas like the Southwest coast of England more attractive to Bluefin tuna, stingrays, thresher sharks, and other marine life, all of which normally enjoy the warmer waters of Southern Europe. Simultaneously, however, sea birds, such as kittiwake, are experiencing poorer breeding patterns, and the success of their survival is under scrutiny as their populations decline.
There was very little snow in many parts of the country this past winter. Years ago you couldn’t open your door because the snow had built up so high overnight, but now a small dusting gets washed away quickly by rain in most areas. Overall temperatures have increased in the past four to five years and it’s anticipated that we can expect these temperatures to rise by more than three degrees Celsius.
The entire globe is feeling the effects of climate change, and these are the key areas where I feel the UK is noticing the change. For the first time in many a year, residents in the UK were actually worried about drought, and certain areas were put on water restrictions. The dry spell was quickly followed by too much rain, which caused widespread devastation to homes, crops and businesses, which in turn cost the country billions.
Moving forward, it’s very likely that these conditions will worsen. Living within the UK, it’s too easy to assume that “everything will be OK”, as we don’t live in a country that experiences freak weather. It’s already heading that way, however, and we need to prepare ourselves. This can only be achieved when the government starts taking climate change seriously and figures out how to tackle the onslaught of excessive rainfall and flooding in the future.
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John Langford is a writer and blogger for UK insurance service Policy Expert. He enjoys writing about the environment and home improvement, and is currently working a thesis about coastal erosion in the UK.
Once upon a time we had a concept called global warming. Then we had something called climate change — we called it climate change to make it easier to digest, although that didn’t seem to help the many conservatives in government who refuse to admit such a thing is even possible.
With the name change, there’s an added benefit that the temperature can go up or down, hurricanes can blow, and freak weather patterns can appear all under the same broad category of description. But even with melting ice caps, record droughts and any number of outrageous weather patterns, some individuals and organizations are still dragging their feet about climate change. Others are turning an absolutely blind eye.
The Math Gets Real
At this point, that’s just a bit too sheltered for good sense. After all, even a magazine renowned for its musical prowess, Rolling Stone, took a hard look at climate change and what it means for us. With an analysis like this by music pros, there is no reason that scientists, politicians on both sides of the aisle, and manufacturers should still be pretending nothing is going on.
So, what did rock and roll have to say about our climate? Surprisingly, the magazine approached the topic mathematically. Here are the key points:
- May of 2012 was the warmest May on record for the entire Northern Hemisphere.
- May of 2012 was also the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th century average. The odds of this occurring were 3.7 times 10 to the 99th power. That’s a pretty small chance.
- June of 2012 broke or tied a total of 3,215 temperature records throughout the United States.
- It rained in Mecca this year, Saudi Arabian authorities recorded. The outside temperature was 109 degrees when it rained, marking it the hottest precipitation in the planet’s recorded history.
Sadly, despite notable weather events like this, Rolling Stone went on to report the startling lack of response to even the possibility of change. Our current president — the same one who supports green energy to such a high standards — did not attend the 2012 environmental summit in Rio. President Bush actually went to the first event of its kind back in 1992, although it’s fair to say that not much came out of that meeting other than perhaps a picture of important people smiling together and shaking hands. Political leaders, as we know, tend to pay a lot more lip service to the issue of climate change than actually do anything about it.
President Obama did make it to the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, however. There, a large number of world leaders signed his accord to “cut carbon emissions,” although it included no way to enforce or even check if countries were complying — a noble, if lacking, effort from all leaders. One positive thing did come out of the meeting, however, and that was the limit of where our climate can go. President Obama’s Copenhagen Accord stated that the global temperature could not rise more than two degrees Celsius without disastrous results.
In light of the recent debate over foreign policy between the two presidential candidates, it’s notable that none of the discussion centered on emissions or global warming at all. Obama did remind us of how hard he is working in the different aspects of green energy, which is encouraging for future discussions on the topic. But Romney’s previous comments on global warming — denying that it is a problem or even exists — is of significant concern for anyone concerned about the future of the climate. In fact, where Obama is content to enjoy the status quo in carbon emissions, Romney is pushing for more oil and coal production, both of which would increase emissions and affect climate change even more than our current levels.
The Future of Rock and Roll and the Earth
The Rolling Stone article continued on to explain the impact of emissions, in particular carbon, on the environment to date. Since scientists began measuring, the global average temperature has risen 0.8 degrees Celsius. With that change, we’ve lost 1/3 of the ice in the Arctic, changed the acidity of the oceans and increased the likelihood of flooding.
If you’ve been doing your own math, you’ll realize that there are only 1.2 degrees left that the earth can warm before we hit the threshold. With 87 percent of the CO2-producing countries signing on to the accord, you’d think there would be some work to stem the CO2 production.
Instead, there is additional effort being made to produce more CO2. Currently, the amount of fossil fuels waiting to be discovered, pumped, and refined exceeds the amount the world can create and stay under the 1.2 degrees remaining of the agreed-upon limit.
The math is rather unexpected from Rolling Stone, but it’s very hard to argue with. The numbers are there, and there’s no room for politics in understanding them. All that we can do now is work to help others realize just how dire the situation on Earth is going to become if we continue our current practices — which we do with the blessing of past and present administrations.
Rolling Stone gets it – why don’t we?
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Rebecca Garland is a freelance writer working hard to populate the Internet with relevant and engaging materials. With advanced degrees in business and information science, Rebecca enjoys writing about many different topics, including green initiatives like rainwater harvesting for Oasislandscape.com.
Comments Off on Water Crisis in the United States
The southwestern portion of the United States has historically been a dry area, but the problem has become much worse in recent years. About 30 million people in the Southwest rely on the Colorado River for their water, and the river’s level has been declining steadily.
Population growth, weather changes and modern agricultural habits are putting a strain on the U.S. water supply. Educating people about the causes and effects of the water crisis is the first step toward making large-scale changes in how people think about water use.
How Climate Change Affects Water Supply
Higher temperatures, particularly in regions of the Rocky Mountains that usually have snow pack year ’round, are affecting water supply across the country. Runoff when snow melts in the Rockies each spring and summer supplies not only the Colorado River, but also the Columbia River and Missouri River running east from the Rockies. But with temperatures steadily increasing over time, less snow pack is forming, resulting in less runoff to rivers. Experts predict that an average annual temperature increase of just five degrees would decrease the nation’s water supply by 20 percent. In an area already parched by drought, this change could be catastrophic.
Significant Impacts of a Water Crisis
Drought takes a toll on agriculture. About 70 percent of the water in the Colorado River is allocated to farmers, and a decrease in supply impacts crops throughout the Southwest. California has been using an enormous amount of groundwater to grow fruits and vegetables over the last several decades. Texas also uses groundwater to grow grains in the northern portion of the state. Since these crops are more difficult to grow when groundwater is depleted, food will become more expensive.
Eventually, the water crisis could lead to global unrest as countries squabble over water rights. Picture what is happening now with oil, but with water instead, which is a much more important resource.
Solutions to the Water Crisis
Everyone can play a part in solving the water crisis – from farmers to city governments and individual consumers. Here are some ways you can help relieve the pressure on water resources:
- Plant grasses with deeper roots, which reduce runoff and hold moisture in the top layer of soil when it does rain. This is particularly helpful for cattle farmers who struggle to keep their cattle fed during arid conditions.
- Improve processes to reclaim waste water, treat it and recycle it back into the municipal water supply. Households can implement this on a small scale by using “gray” water from sinks and showers to flush toilets.
- Drink filtered water rather than bottled water. Using water filters in the home is significantly less wasteful than drinking bottled water that has been transported across the country.
- Considerably reduce the use of water in household gardens by planting drought-resistant lawns or decorative plants and watering them with rainwater collected in a barrel.
- Reduce household water use by installing low-flow shower heads, sink faucet aerators and low-flow toilets. Also choose dishwashers and clothes washers that use less water.
The water crisis is likely to get worse before it gets better, but now is the time to start implementing changes. Being attentive to increasing temperatures and conserving existing water supplies will help soften the blow. Ultimately, the population of the U.S. will need to change how we view water, and seeing it as a valuable commodity will help with that.
Lindsey Harper Mac
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Lindsey Harper Mac writes on behalf of DiscountFilters.com. She is a professional writer in Indianapolis and is working on her Masters degree.
Phoenix, Arizona is a sprawling metropolis in one of the world’s hottest places. And it has a long way to go before it can be considered “green.”
Andrew Ross, a professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, wrote Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City. His book is based on 200 interviews over two years concerning the likelihood of the Phoenix area becoming sustainable.
What resulted from his work is a gripping analysis of government’s effect on making positive environmental changes. In Phoenix, he claims, those in charge are not doing what’s necessary to preserve the region for future generations.
I recently finished reading this book, and I recommend it, largely because Ross points out that a number of important environmental issues in Phoenix can be applied to other American cities struggling in their attempts for sustainability. These include the roadblocks at the legislative level, local culture, use of natural resources, business interests, and urban design.
Ross illustrates his points with thorough research and timely examples and often addresses the reader directly. As a former journalist, I was amazed at the interviewing skills he must possess to glean so much information from his subjects. Despite writing a nonfiction book focused on analyzing a social and environmental problem, Ross’ prose as a result of his field work is remarkable and page-turning.
Published in November 2011 by Oxford University Press, the book is available on Amazon:
Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City.
Ross’ main argument that change will happen through democracy more than through technological innovation is repeatedly supported throughout the chapters. He discusses that changes in sustainability will be difficult in Phoenix because of the state’s government. Namely, Ross mentions the GOP denial of climate change and how persuading Arizona’s legislature to be more green is a losing battle. Ross discusses the legislature’s dismissal of science as well as the impact of recent anti-immigration laws.
He also writes about how change will be difficult because of the area’s mentality—namely, a narrow focus on growth and sprawl. What others see as sprawl, Phoenix residents see as their heritage and have the mentality that growth must continuously occur quickly. Ross states that land growth is essentially the area’s industry.
Bird on Fire is a great book for anyone who is curious about sustainability issues facing American cities. It can bring you up-to-date on the topic regardless of your current knowledge of the subject. Because of the vivid examples, it will spring you into action and make you think about what you can do to make your area a little more green.
The Fine Print
Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the book reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.
Blue Planet Green Living’s policy is to review only those books we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a book more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by free books and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.
Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with Amazon.com. If you purchase this book or any other products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive a very small financial compensation from Amazon, which we use to sustain this website.
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Last weekend, climate advocates and activists in more than 180 countries performed in over 2000 showings of what may very well have been the world’s largest production to date: Moving Planet. Billed as “A Day to Move Beyond Fossil Fuels” and built on the backs of tens of thousands of impassioned participants, “energy” was both the central theme and the real star of this show. The production—massive in size and yet purposefully carbon-light—focused on moving our world from dirty energy to clean energy while showcasing the human energy powering the movement.
In keeping with that focus, here in Iowa City, our local production opened with a march and a bike rally, the latter of which consisted of a 3.50-mile route (in honor of the parent production company, 350.org), which featured a brief interlude at The University of Iowa’s Sustainable Energy Discovery District. Passing by the UI’s old coal- and gas-burning power plant (which in recent years has been retrofitted to also burn biomass) and pausing at the university’s new solar EV charging station and wind turbine, the riders reconvened with the marchers in City Park. There they ended their respective journeys and gathered for a celebration at the Riverside Festival Stage.
Looking back, on a day for moving the planet, on a day when all the world truly was a stage, it seems fitting that we staged our local production in a space modeled after Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. To an audience of about 150, our players—educators, entrepreneurs, and elected officials—gave us their monologues, and our musicians sang us their ballads. For those four hours, friends, Iowans, and countrymen lent their ears—and their voices—to a rallying cry for climate change solutions.
And thus concludes Act One. What’s to come in the second and final act? That is yet to be written, and how it all unfolds is entirely up to us. If our work, like the Bard’s, is to stand the test of time, if Moving Planet is to have any lasting effect, we must move from playing at action to becoming agentic actors, fully embodying our roles as climate advocates.
This means not just putting on a show to celebrate the Earth a couple of times a year, but celebrating it every waking hour. This means not only making changes in our own lives, but also working toward the necessary cultural changes and demanding the necessary policy changes. On a more concrete level, this means staying current, continuing to educate ourselves on these changes and speaking up in defense of their necessity, and moreover, in defense of their inherent advantages.
In the U.S., this means contacting our lawmakers to let them know our priorities and writing to our media to spark the discussion. In Iowa, this means attending one or more of the frequent appearances of the presidential candidates and pressing them about climate change and sustainability, asking, for example, how they propose to mitigate the economic, environmental, and human costs of our current dependence on fossil fuels. Wherever we are in the world, this means joining the cause or renewing our commitment to it—seeking out eco-minded individuals and organizations and working together with them to positively effect change.
In this tale, we are both the villain and the hero, both the victim and the victor. Which persona will prevail in the end is yet to be determined. What’s at stake is nothing less than our very survival: “To be, or not to be?” really is the question. Moreover, if we are not just going to survive, but actually thrive, we need to act now, and we need to move quickly.
Moving Planet’s Second Act will determine just what story we’ve been writing here. Will it be your stereotypical Shakespearean drama where everyone dies in the end? Will it be a not-so-funny comedy of errors? A tragedy? Or will it be an epic tale—where the good guys, pitted against seemingly insurmountable challenges, persevere to save their people and their home, and ultimately come out victorious, triumphant, at peace?
Comments Off on Notes from Virginia: Love in the Time of Cholera, Air Conditioning, and Basic Human Rights
At the end of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book Love in the Time of Cholera, Florentino Ariza’s lifelong love is finally reciprocated. Fermina Daza, an aged widow, accepts his invitation to ride a riverboat down the Magdalena River. As owner of the company, he gives her the presidential suite.
The river’s nearly destroyed. Timber that held the bank of the river had been harvested to fuel the ships, to the point where it’s difficult to find any trees along the muddy riverbank. At the end of the trip, fearing the return to her former life, Fermina Daza says, “It will be like dying.” Florentino Ariza, to please his lover, commands the captain to turn around and continue puffing up and down the river. Jolly and obedient, the captain replies, “And how long do you think we can keep up this goddamn coming and going?” Florentino answers, “Forever.”
I recently had an argument with my partner, Lindsay. With humiliation that resembles Dr. Juvenal Urbino’s when he admits that it had only been three days, not seven as he had first accused, that soap had been missing from the bathroom, in short, an excruciating and painful humiliation that for most men is only ever experienced in domestic situations, I agreed to install the air conditioning unit our neighbors lent us.
Notice that they don’t invite us over for lunch or coffee. They stopped by one day and left an air conditioner on the porch.
I prefer a less obnoxious method of cooling the house, what Marquez calls the Roman style. At night I run a big fan at the window, blowing out, and in the day I shut the windows and blinds. I told Lindsay that if it got hotter than 80 degrees, I’d install the air conditioner. After four days of bickering, and a thermostat that wouldn’t budge past 79 degrees, things got ugly.
Essentially, I either loved her, and would install the air conditioner, or I didn’t love her, and she would leave me and take our baby.
Picking basil for pasta, I considered the proposition.
Florentino Lorenzo’s devotion to the woman, not the river, provided the justification I needed to save my love life from impending solitude and regret. Love, truly, is worth an air conditioner. Once inside, angry to see her still angry, I said I would install it, but tried to set some terms about when it could be used…which she refused. We ate the pasta in a hurry. She left to babysit for a friend.
The next morning, cheery again, no doubt because of my concession, she related some of the ridicule our friends had administered behind my back. “Do you have a fridge? I’m going to come take that!” one said, pointing out the arrogance inherant in depriving someone of such a right. Regarding an indirect argument I made about climate change and the famine in Somalia, the other said, “Oh please! Those things have nothing to do with each other.” I hotly explained how global warming causes desertification. She shook her head. I scowled.
It is cool today, below 80 degrees, and I’m putting off the installation, like a communist does the revolution.
Basic Human Rights
My mom emailed me, in a panic, you know how moms are. “You need to get your own insurance, you’re not eligible to be on your father’s anymore, because your graduate program offers you your own insurance deal.” It’s not a deal, really. It’s basically private insurance channeled through a state university for a minimally deduced price. You might be familiar with it. I make $16,000 a year, so paying $2500 for my own insurance is sort of sickening. Of course, I still have to pay if I get sick, with deductions and percentages, the game of mousetrap I have to play to get the company to pay anything. I replied with one letter, “k,” and turned off my computer.
I was planting leeks when a siren went off. “This is not a test, seek shelter immediately” says a booming male voice. I assumed tornado. Only a few clouds, no wind. I continued mulching. Why do I think the disaster is always going to come from the direction of the voice, anyway? Actually, there was a man reported carrying a gun on campus, in a hurry. This is Virginia Tech, so we are scared. Reasonably so, actually. Sadly.
What if I got shot in the shoulder. (I’m thinking like my mom, now.) Would I be able to afford to get the bullet removed?
I wonder why it is that most Americans consider air conditioning a necessity, but not health insurance. Why is it that the conveniences that isolate us from each other, encourage us to stay indoors, in our own homes, accept the closing of public pools, libraries, and take away the common thing we have to complain about, in short, kill summer, why is that more important to the public than public health insurance?
If Lindsay had told our friends that she didn’t have insurance (the truth), I imagine they would have bitten their tongues, or said, “Times are hard,” with the embarrassing awkwardness most Americans exhibit when anything political is mentioned.
But air conditioning is political. We’re not only losing a valuable, shared tradition of struggling to stay cool in the summer, isolating ourselves inside private homes. We’re not only providing dividends for irresponsible coal mining companies that strip away the local landscape. We’re also increasing demand for greenhouses gases. Whether or not they believe it, I believe the toll of climate change won’t only affect African countries, but economies, lifestyles and cultures, ranging from Oklahoma, to Iowa.
In the words of Bob Dylan, “What you gonna do when you can’t play God no more?” Maybe we should all accept a summer with a dose of humility, and sweat it out.
A country full of people
I will never meet.
Some are farmers, others politicians
for the communist government.
Your rivers and lakes
run like sewers
from the west into the ocean,
and can’t be drunk from, nor swum in.
The desert creeps farther
over the workable soil.
Each year there’s less lumber,
but more children to figure.
It’s just a trend we all
have been following.
Population boom without a bust
in a universe we’re told is infinite.
Maybe not for us, though,
maybe not for us.
We’re just another species,
a homo-sapien virus.
We made up laws
that we think matter,
but true laws can’t be disobeyed.
We’ll soon be overpopulated.
When there are no more forests,
no more rivers, no fish or deer,
we’ll have to kill ourselves.
In fact, we’ve already started.
In an online article in The New York Times posted today, writer Elizabeth Rosenthal reports on the worldwide loss of small animal species due to climate change. She writes,
Over the next 100 years, many scientists predict, 20 percent to 30 percent of species could be lost if the temperature rises 3.6 degrees to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit. If the most extreme warming predictions are realized, the loss could be over 50 percent, according to the United Nations climate change panel.
The article sparked a response from professional storyteller and Ph.D. candidate Chris Vinsonhaler. Vinsonhaler is a river activist and the founder of Iowa River Call, a group dedicated to connecting fourth graders to the Iowa River. Her goal, and the goal of her co-founders, is to instill children with a love of the Iowa River and of nature.
After all, “People protect what they love,” as Jacques-Yves Cousteau proclaimed. And if we want future generations to protect the planet, we must help them learn to love it.
But if we — or the generations to follow us — see nature as “other,” we will stand by as it is destroyed and not concern ourselves until it is truly too late. This is the message of Vinsonhaler’s poem, which is based on the much-quoted poem by Martin Niemoller about the persecution of the Jews.
First It Came
by Chris Vinsonhaler
First it came for the coral reef,
but I was not a coral reef
so I did not
choose to change my lifestyle.
Then it came for the polar bears and penguins,
but I was neither,
so I did not change.
Then it came for the hornbill,
but I was not a hornbill
so I did not speak out.
And then when it came for me
there was no way left to change.
What Are We Doing?
With Americans comprising 5% of the world’s population and consuming 24% of the world’s energy, we have plenty of cause for concern about the impact of our actions, Vinsonhaler tells me. “And, of course, the news of acceleration–2010 tying with 2005 as the warmest global year since record keeping began” should convince anyone of the urgent need to find solutions.
What are you doing to mitigate your impact on climate change? What am I doing? And will it be enough?
May Vinsonhaler’s poem serve as an effective warning that motivates us to action, not as a harbinger of dreadful things to come.
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Going green can be overwhelming when you’re just getting started. For beginners, the steps involved may seem too complex to digest and act upon. This can cause a large amount of anxiety, resulting in impaired physical and mental health, such as high-blood pressure (a leading cause of heart attacks) and paralyzing guilt. Bag Green Guilt: 5 Easy Steps: Turn Eco-Anxiety Into Constructive Energy by Jen Pleasants explores options to reduce such needless stress.
Some of our anxiety is a direct result of factors like overpopulation and global warming, which often seem beyond our personal control.
Bag Green Guilt is a very short read that offers useful tips to prevent us from shoving our heads into the sand or making ourselves sick with guilt and worry about how to fix our ailing earth. The monumental stress we feel each time we see injustices resulting from environmental issues can paralyze us.
Pleasants offers readers methods of dealing with factors that seem beyond our control. She suggests to begin by breathing (correctly) in order to relax the mind and body. “Breathing is a powerful tool in coping with and overcoming stress and guilt,” she writes. By relaxing the mind and body, we free our energy from guilt to make positive changes. These reassurances could also be found in any meditation class.
The author starts by making a list of ways to reduce her own overwhelming guilt, and suggests that readers use her list or make their own. Making a list is a constructive way to chart a plan toward living a green life. “Our goal,” she writes, “isn’t to be perfect, it’s just to make a difference.”
Because it is a short, straightforward read, the author demonstrates a keen understanding that contemporary consumers have incredibly busy lives. We require simple and easy ways to get started with green living.
Environmentalism is a well-researched topic, and there are many books, publications, and websites that go into greater depth than this book does. Individuals who have experience with many of the issues related to reducing their carbon footprint would likely find Bag Green Guilt to be too simplistic. Yet, the vast majority of consumers are not yet living a truly green life and will doubtless find that the author’s practical suggestions are easily digestible and readily implemented.
Suggestions such as the following are easy to act upon:
- “Run your washer and dishwasher with full loads.”
- “Use 100% post-consumer recycled paper in your printer and copier.”
- “Take shorter showers.”
- “Unplug chargers when the charge is complete.”
- “Eat less meat.”
There are also suggestions that, Pleasants writes, might take “More effort and money, but [provide] more reward:”
- “Install low-flow toilets and faucets.”
- “Make sure your walls and ceilings are insulated.”
- “Install a gray-water system and reuse water from the bath and washing machine for your landscaping.”
As a huge bonus, the author includes a list of websites that lead to tips and hints by which consumers can reduce our carbon footprints. Sites like Change.org, GreenSchoolAlliance.org, 1 Block Off the Grid, and CarrotMob.org provide an education on ways to promote social and green change.
Pleasants consolidates several sites that promote ways to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and describes each site’s content and purpose. Though a few of the sites listed are new to me, I have often read or heard of a number of these websites. Yet, I have never taken the time to jot them down and store them in an easily accessible place. I found this the part of the book that I most appreciate.
As an individual who has not really explored many services and methods to reduce my carbon footprint, I enjoyed Bag Green Guilt and appreciated Pleasants’ suggestions.
Bag Green Guilt is available on Amazon.com and at other retailers. The cover price is $12.95 in the U.S. and $16.25 in Canada. It would make a great gift for someone who is just beginning on the path to green living.
The Small Print
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June 23, 2010 by Julia Wasson
Filed under Blog, Books, Chemicals, Climate Change, Conservation, Contamination, Ecology, Environment, Events, Front Page, Global Warming, Hazardous Waste, India, Japan, Mercury, Pesticides, Slideshow, Sustainability, U.S., VOCs
As the Gulf of Mexico continues to fill with oil due to BP’s negligence and our own government agencies’ lack of oversight, we are experiencing an environmental disaster of catastrophic proportions. Tragically, this isn’t the first human-caused environmental disaster — and given our track record as stewards of this planet, it’s futile to fool ourselves that it will be the last. In his book, This Borrowed Earth: Lessons from the 15 Worst Environmental Disasters Around the World, Robert Emmet Hernan describes in detail 15 environmental crises we must remember so that history doesn’t repeat itself.
In the book’s Introduction — penned mere months before BP’s so-called “spill,” Hernan wrote, “If we forget how and why these disasters happened and what horrible consequences emerged from them, we will not avert future disasters.” As a society, we seem to have done just what Hernan feared: We’ve forgotten. And so another calamity is upon us.
Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, writes in the book’s Foreword, “In an age where we’re once again ideologically committed to ‘loosening the reins’ on private enterprise, it’s sobering to remember what has happened in the past. In an age when new technologies are barely tested before they’re put into widespread use—genetically engineered crops, for instance—it’s even more sobering to contemplate a seemingly iron-clad rule: every new machine or system seems to fail catastrophically at least once.”
The BP crisis is still unfolding, but it behooves us all to look back at the crises that came before, to try to understand how to lessen the impact through transparency and owning up to responsibility for what has happened and for fixing it — as much as that is even possible.
Though widely varied in their origins, the 15 situations that Hernan reviews share several elements characteristic of environmental disasters in general. The following points are taken from Hernan’s introduction, and they are worth keeping in mind as we contemplate the aftermath of the current — and future — environmental catastrophes:
- “[D]isaster-caused illnesses often do not manifest themselves until years or decades after an accident.”
- “Sometimes, when communities are given inadequate information, they react in ways that exacerbate the suffering of the victims of these disasters.”
- “Environmental disasters are deeply disruptive to communities in numerous … ways. They often require the relocation of entire communities from their homes, sometimes permanently.”
- “The emotional toll remains one of the hidden costs of environmental disasters.”
- “The turmoil that accompanies environmental disasters erupts in a fairly predictable pattern. The initial consequences are often immediate and severe; they are followed by a lull; then finally the devastating consequences emerge.”
- “Confusion often reigns … and events are not always what they seem.”
- “As uncertainty sets in, some will invariably minimize the dangers again, in part, to reduce costs.”
- “Disasters often occur because a particular industry or a single company dominates a local economy.”
- “Without adequate environmental laws and regulations, companies generally choose the least costly way to operate.”
- “Ordinary citizens also participate in the destruction of our environment.”
Hernan’s Introduction forms a comprehensive background for the separate disasters he discusses. Each has lessons to teach us — lessons that are being forgotten as our children grow up in a world focused on the “now” and little impressed with the “then.” If you doubt our short-term memory as a society, ask a young adult you know to tell you what happened at Chernobyl (Ukraine), Three Mile Island (US), Minamata (Japan), Bhopal (India), Love Canal (US), or Seveso (Italy). I have to admit, I had no idea about Seveso (or a couple of the others), and I’ve been around a whole lot longer than a young adult.
Here’s the complete list of environmental disasters covered in This Borrowed Earth (Which ones do you recognize?):
Minamata, Japan, 1950s
London, England, 1952
Windscale, England, 1957
Seveso, Italy, 1976
Love Canal, New York, 1978
Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, 1979
Times Beach, Missouri, 1982
Bhopal, India, 1984
Chernobyl, Ukraine, 19886
Rhine River, Switzerland, 1986
Prince William Sound, Alaska, 1989
Oil Spills and Fires of Kuwait, 1991
Dassen and Robben Islands, South Africa, 2000
Global Climate Change
A Facebook friend from New Delhi asked me the other day if I would consider posting an article about the gas released from the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) plant in Bhopal, India. According to some estimates, the gas leak has caused the deaths of at least 15,000 people in the 26 years since the event — and that’s in addition to those who died immediately in what Hernan describes as “sudden, violent deaths.” He pointed out that Union Carbide paid $470 million — a relative pittance — for the huge loss of life, health, crops, and livestock.
Yet, he reminded me, British Petroleum (BP) has already promised to pay $20 billion, though — other than the tragic deaths of 11 men on the oil rig — so far as I know, a total of 2 cleanup workers have died from the Gulf oil disaster. That, he said, is injustice. And, though the Gulf oil calamity is beyond imagination in the scope of the consequences yet to emerge from it — the wildlife lost, the habitats that may not recover in centuries, the lost livelihoods, the shattered way of life, and certainly more human lives lost in the years to come — I can’t disagree that the comparison shows a vast inequality.
In This Borrowed Earth, the culpability of Union Carbide is clear. Workers were poorly trained. Safeguards were neglected. And the safety of the public was completely overlooked, both in preparing for possible leak and in the panic that ensued after a leak occurred: “When it was clear that none of the plant’s safety systems were of use, the workers still at the plant grabbed oxygen masks or covered themselves with wet cloths… and ran as fast as they could to minimize their exposure. As they did, they ran past four buses that were designated for the emergency evacuation of residents from areas adjacent to the plant. The buses remained unused. No workers died that night.”
Though a plant audit in 1982 had warned of serious problems, the warning was ignored. And, Hernan writes, “UCC’s cost-cutting measures and failure to correct safety problems, as evidenced by its 1982 audit of the Bhopal plant, contributed to the events.”
The “events” he writes about were horrific and had catastrophic consequences for the impoverished people of Bhopal:
Doctors worried about the spread of disease because of all the dead bodies. Medical staff had more than they could handle, taking care of the thousands of people who showed up at the hospitals. There was scant record of who or how many had died. The corpses were cremated or buried in mass funeral pyres or graves. Animal carcasses were sprayed with lime and salt and buried in large graves. Vultures circled over Bhopal. Over 500,000 people were exposed to MIC gas that night, and some 150,000 suffered injuries, many of which were permanent. Because of the chaotic conditions and the need to bury the bodies quickly in mass graves, the number who died within the first few days still remains uncertain. Officials estimate that more than 3,000 people were killed by the gas, although others estimate that as many as 10,000 were killed. In addition, an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 deaths over the years are attributable to the exposure.
Like the other environmental disasters in this book, corporate irresponsibility was a large part of the problem. And, like most of the other disasters, financial awards for the victims were pathetically small in comparison to the damages.
Too, those responsible have suffered precious little justice. As of this writing, seven former high-level employees of Union Carbide India have recently been convicted of causing “death by negligence” of the thousands of victims. Their sentences? Less than two years in prison. And, Hernan writes, “Warren Anderson, the former chief executive officer of UCC … remains a fugitive from Indian justice.”
Another theme that runs through this book is the complicity of the government in protecting companies who contributed largely to the tax base of the area they contaminated. This was certainly true in the small fishing village of Minamata, Japan. Chisso, an electrochemical company, was “a major source of jobs and revenue” in the area. This may have been temporarily good for the local economy, but the tight relationship between the government and Chisso led to a massive tragedy.
If you are old enough, you may recall black-and-white photos published in Life magazine and elsewhere, showing humans trapped in twisted bodies, their deformed faces staring at the camera with expressions of hopelessness or devoid of recognition. In one famous photo, a mother is bathing her deformed young adult daughter. The mother’s face shows infinite love and patience, and yet utter despair. The daughter appears not to be aware of her tragic circumstances, but we really do not know if she is that lucky. It’s heart wrenching.
Here’s how Hernan describes the cause of what became known as Minamata disease:
After the war, Chisso developed organic chemical compounds to produce a variety of materials, including acetaldehyde, which employed mercury as a catalyst. Acetaldehyde, first made in 1932, was used in plastics, pharmaceuticals, photographic chemicals, and perfumes…. Increased production of acetaldehyde and other organic chemical products resulted in a concomitant increase in wastewater, which Chisso continued to dump in Minamata Bay.
Once-plentiful fish became scarce, and signs of impaired nervous systems began to show in both cats and humans. “The cats in the village started to dance crazily, bash themselves against walls, jump into the sea, and drown.” Then fishermen and their family members “had difficulty walking and talking and suffered wild mood swings. Their bodies were racked with convulsions. Most disturbing, newborns were exhibiting symptoms, which indicated the presence of a congenital form of the disease.” Physicians reported “scores of patients” with similar symptoms and many deaths.
Fearing contagion, villagers who weren’t affected shunned — and often physically abused — those who were ill. A British neurologist discovered that the brains of the afflicted turned “into a sponge, full of holes.” Those findings were confirmed by a Japanese scientist. “[A]nd a special governmental research committee also found that organic mercury was the cause, although it did not attribute the mercury’s origins to Chisso’s operations. The government disbanded the committee as soon as the report was issued and transferred any further research to a group under the control of several trade ministers who were sympathetic to the company.”
Despite Chisso’s and the government’s unwillingness to acknowledge the source of the problem, individuals with Minamata disease banded together to demand action.
The patients demanded financial support from Chisso to pay for medical and living expenses. Chisso dominated the economy of Minamata, contributing over half of the city’s tax revenue and over one-third of the jobs, and most of the local city officials were former Chisso employees. Because of this, most Minamata citizens were unsympathetic and even hostile to the patients. Through the intervention of the local government … each family ended up with an equivalent sum of about ten dollars. Chisso also provided ¥65 million (about $180,000) for restoration of the fishing grounds, but this was in the form of a loan to the fishermen’s cooperative. Then in December 1959, Chisso agreed to also settle with the patients by offering a take-it-or-leave-it deal: ¥30,o00 per year ($83) support for each child, ¥100,000 per year ($276) support for each adult, and a lump sum of ¥300,000 ($833) for each dead person, of which there were about 30….
As part of the settlement, Chisso received a release from the patients to the effect that if proof ever emerged in the future that identified Chisso’s wastewarer as the cause of the illness, the patients would be precluded from receiving more money from the company. The patients were unaware at the time that Chisso already had the proof … that the wastewater was indeed the cause of their suffering. For seven more years Chisso discharged over 500 tons per year of mercury-contaminated waste into the sea.
A Warning for All of Us
Each of the tragedies described in this book serves as a warning. The ultimate question is, “Will we heed it?”
Of the 15 stories Hernan tells, two of the disasters are not specific, individual events, but ongoing problems we need to recognize and stop immediately. Rainforest destruction is one of those. “In 1800, there were 7.1 billion acres of tropical rainforest throughout the world. By 2000, there were only 3.5 billion acres, with about one-third of those acres in Brazil. The world continues to lose rainforest at the rate of 35 to 50 million acres each year,” he writes. “Between 2000 and 2005, more than 51,000 square miles of Brazil’s rainforest—an area larger than Greece—was destroyed, and in 2006 and 2007 an additional 9,266 square miles was lost.”
Hernan explains some of the reasons why this loss is so devastating:
“About one quarter of all medicines are derived from plants, not synthetic compounds, and 90 percent of the plants critical to medicine are found only in rainforests…. Besides the plants, trees, and animal species, the world is losing the indigenous peoples of the rainforests….
This deforestation is disturbing not only because of its impact on the environment of Brazil, but also because of the far-reaching consequences for regional and global climate change. The Amazon rainforest has been described as the “Lungs of our Planet” because it continuously recycles carbon dioxide into oxygen. More than 20 percent of the world’s oxygen is produced in the Amazon rainforest. As a result of the burning of the rainforest, and there is no forest to recycle the carbon dioxide. The prevalence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a major contributor to global warming, the next and most pressing environmental disaster facing us today.
And global climate change is the final disaster Hernan discusses. He warns the reader, “The consequences may not rise to the level of an apocalypse, but they will be disastrous. Just how disastrous will depend largely on what we do right now.”
“The challenge,” Hernan writes, “is to convince people to sacrifice now to protect against risks in the distant future. This is a formidable challenge that has to compete with the short-term objectives that dominate corporate bottom lines and the reelection campaigns of politicians.”
He wrote those words prior to the “spill” in the Gulf (a marketing term if ever I heard one; this is no spill, it’s a gusher of historic proportions). Will our global climate change “rise to the level of an apocalypse”? We have very little opportunity to make enough changes to save ourselves from destruction. And with every environmental disaster, our chances of long-term survival lessen. We must learn from our mistakes, if we are to have any hope of leaving a world worth inheriting by our grandchildren. This book provides a lens through which to look into the past and make course corrections for a better future.
The Small Print
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“I’ve got an idea – let’s play hide and seek!” Mary Travers spoke, as I recall, on the 33-rpm vinyl record by Peter, Paul and Mary called Peter, Paul and Mommy, an anthology of some of my favourite children’s songs. Songs I love.
Well, I have an idea: let’s save humanity so that many more generations of children will sing children’s songs. Not an original idea but let’s stay with it.
Dependable science delivers a picture of planet Earth as we pass through the consecutive impacts of changing climate, consequence that may start with ecology but quickly moves through the food chain and the economy into the health and wealth of humanity, and the security of civilisation.
This somewhat succinctly embodies the essential message that Gwynne Dyer delivers globally, to all people in government and the smart folk who do “military intelligence”.
Let me review Dyer’s argument from his latest book “Climate Wars”. Either climate change creates food shortages that create climate refugees that start local international wars that seriously complicate civilisation, or climate change causes food shortages that cause local civil problems within nations that complicate civilisation. Either way, climate change threatens human civilisation as we know it.
A failed state cannot feed its own population. The people of a failed state cannot grow enough food to feed themselves. Neither the people nor the state can buy enough food. Starvation threatens people living in a failed state, only partly because in some states only the corrupt can survive.
After enough climate change, no country in the world will have surplus food to sell: every country will have too little, as “just enough” is not an option, just a tipping-point we swing past. A government that cannot feed its people has run out of credibility. All government is threatened. Rule of law collapses helter-skelter, here, there and everywhere. What a future scenario!
Today’s failed states, Haiti and Zimbabwe, will be the first to go full-speed towards turning their present populations into starving climate refugees. Other states, now nearly failing in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and “Latin” America will follow.
The International Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, suggests that the increase in the average global temperature may pessimistically be expected to reach 6 degrees by the end of the present century. The best science has consistently produced forecasts with a range from unlikely, through likely, and on to unlikely again. Dyer and many are concerned that the most pessimistic forecasts on the unlikely side made from the best science continue to be exceeded with surprising frequency. Global warming is on the increase, and not only the frail are concerned that it threatens to go runaway.
The dominoes can fall pretty quickly; the order matters little. With climate change, those countries nearer the equator suffer more severe food shortages sooner.
Near North America, Mexico and other countries immediately south are headed towards a large food deficit. Much of the desertification there will affect the southern USA as well. As climate changes, many more people will want to cross over the US-Mexican border into the USA. Many more Americans will not want them. A challenged America will eventually ask the American military to begin to “shoot to kill” these climate refugees coming north if necessary, to keep the border more closed than porous — of course, in a sincere effort to deal with America’s own increasingly short food supply. The navy will sink the refugees that come north by boat; the air force will eliminate the smart and desperate Spanish speaking refugees that choose to move by kite, balloon or blimp, if the American right in the second amendment does not kill them first.
Similar things happen as climate refugees try to enter Russia from China. All hell breaks loose north of Africa as the Africans and people of the Middle East all want into Europe; the Italians may travel to Norway as Greeks and Turks invade Sweden and Finland. The Northern countries of Europe could go to war with the Mediterranean countries. A local nuclear war over water may erupt between India and Pakistan. Neither military industry nor treaty organisation can police all of this. No one can win. Once the climate wars begin, we never return to the good old days we had on Earth in 2010.
There is a climate-caused tipping point built into human nature: people never go quietly into starvation, Dyer sensibly points out.
A popular rumour reassures us that Earth has lots of food, just a problem to distribute it fairly. This rumour is false; it always was exaggerated.
War will come if we have not acted in time to prevent dire food shortage: humanity must avert global climate catastrophe.
The present international plan, in principle already agreed to, that we must not pass two degrees of average-global-temperature increase, is inadequate. A mere 1.5 degrees of average global warming will bring on climate wars.
There exists this geo-political issue, not yet widely recognised, a societal tipping-point, a point past which we must not press the ability of humanity peacefully to deal with food-shortage. As we lose water for irrigation, as fertile soil blows away, as we lose the productivity of our present supply of arable land, as climate changes and we approach 1.5 degrees of change, humanity runs unavoidably short of food.
At 1.5 degrees of average warming, the ability of the global ocean to provide food begins to collapse and soon collapses catastrophically. Humanity gets far too little food from the ocean and far too little food from the land. Humanity has catastrophically less food than in 2010.
You see, humanity does not have as much time as today’s best scientific estimates allow us. We have to re-calibrate these estimates in view of the condition of the ocean and Dyer’s vision on land.
To avert catastrophe, we should eradicate the global carbon deficit by 2015. Do not argue with this or question the source today: we cannot afford not to err on the side of discretion. There is no time for international brinkmanship as governments change policy.
We have to get the global machinery that will reverse the trend to increase the release of carbon and contain atmospheric carbon dioxide at a safe level. The top bookies in England no longer consider this a good bet.
On spaceship Earth, there are no passengers: all are crew — a good line from Marshall McLuhan.
Everyone in every country must do her best. The intellectual failures that deny climate change will still be active in 2013, so how do we do the trick and get our governments ready for 2015?
Every government must do its part. Good Americans must see that the USA fights carbon emissions at home. Good Europeans must ensure that Europe is on side. The Chinese people must make sure the People’s Republic works to reduce its emissions. Russia must play its role, also Israel, Australia, Brazil and India.
As a Canadian, my job is to help Canada do its part.
No problem here: the solution is clear. We need as many people as possible to vote for the Green Party of Canada. All the other parties that presently hold all the seats in the House of Commons in the Canadian parliamentary system have serious baggage, other traditional items that top their agenda, other items less urgent than avoiding climate catastrophe. Concerned Canadians cannot trust any of the four presently popular political parties, currently out of date and soon to be out of fashion.
Only the Green Party in Canada accepts as its highest priority the need to avert global climate catastrophe and climate war.
The climate wars will be deadly. Humanity has already manufactured and distributed the necessary ordnance. People will make war, not love, when the time comes; and it comes.
So this is the plan: in Canada, all good people must vote Green, Green because without valuable free-market forces that government must allow, and should encourage but with due caution, humanity is toast. No vote but Green is strong enough. Green is the party of science.
The good people in all countries must take care that their governments are seeing the light, acting in good faith and in good time.
Done! It is this simple. Come on, Canada, each of us must stop watching whether the people in other countries are with us. Each one of us must give each one of us permission to vote Green before the next election. Go Green!
Many Canadians are unhappy with the party they have been supporting with their vote, many of these are not adverse to or uncomfortable with intellectual thought. These people are becoming increasingly comfortable in the knowledge that they can jump safely to solid territory by voting Green. The good they can do this way is greater than the good they have been doing in elections recently past.
Either this is the plan, or soon enough, children everywhere will stop singing the many children’s songs we all loved.
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Bob Halstead, known to his followers on Facebook as Paradigm Shift, writes thought-provoking columns about matters of importance not only to his fellow Canadians, but also to citizens of Planet Earth. In this Earth Day post, he urges Canadians to take action, but it isn’t too far a stretch to say that he is urging us all to get off our duffs.
It’s easy to be complacent about climate change policy, letting our governments do the work — or not. But if we do not heed Halstead’s warning, we will find ourselves in deep trouble in no time at all. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
Appearing in Toronto on Earth Day’s Eve, award-winning author and columnist Gwynne Dyer delivered a dire report. Along with Dyer, environmental lawyer and Canada’s Green Party leader, Elizabeth May, shared an urgent message.
May warned that we have about a month to convince the Canadian media to convince the irresponsible Canadian government to put climate change on the agenda of the G20 meeting in Toronto in June 2010, or our great grandkids will not live in a civilised world.
The G20 allows the host nation to set the agenda. In June, the G20 meets in Toronto. Canada’s Prime Minister, arguably representing as much as 35% of Canada, will not put climate change on the G20 agenda for 2010. Canada has one month to make the change that will permit the G20 to act this year as a globally responsible organisation. Good luck, Earthlings.
Our window of opportunity to act effectively just lost 18% of the available time. The global carbon deficit must be zero by 2015 if we are to avoid passing through serious tipping points.
This dilemma would not afflict humanity if Canada entertained genuine democracy, as New Zealand and many of the countries in Europe do. Unfortunately, along with America and Britain, Canada supports a substantial amount of top-down tyranny.
As I write, this is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. What have we done in these years? Humanity cannot afford such brinkmanship, all to protect the reputation of a nation exercising the right to trade a few gallons of dirty oil for a couple of dollars, trade that will happen regardless.
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The countdown has begun for Earth Hour 2010. Less than 24 hours remain before the fourth annual observance of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) event that asks all of us to turn off our lights for an hour.
Last year, people in 71 countries around the world participated in history’s largest climate change event. The purpose? To show the world’s leaders that we need to take action to mitigate climate change. With COP15 holding out the promise of a climate change agreement, citizens of Planet Earth turned out in huge numbers to show our leaders how important an agreement was to us.
Sadly, COP15 was a huge disappointment. But just because the world’s leaders couldn’t come to an agreement, that doesn’t mean the issue is any less important. In fact, it gets more urgent with every year that passes.
Despite the serious nature of global warming, turning off the lights for an hour is far from a somber action. In many places around the globe, Earth Hour is cause for a celebration!
This year, for EH2010, a record 120 nations will be participating. If your city is planning an event, why not join it? You can find an event near you on the WWF Earth Hour website. Show your support for efforts to stop climate change.
If there’s not an event near you, why not create one? Invite your friends to join you in your own celebration. Whether it’s a singalong, storytelling, dance, or a romantic dinner by candlelight, make EH2010 an hour you will remember.
Earth Hour isn’t just about letting our leaders know that taking care of our planet is a priority. It’s also about remembering to do our own part every day to use less energy and be kind to the one world we share.
Will you join the millions of people around the globe who are taking a stand against climate change? It’s simple. Just turn off your lights for an hour. Earth Hour 2010 begins at 8:30 p.m. local time on March 27. See you in the dark.
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March 9, 2010 by Shraddah Reyna
Filed under Blog, Cap and Trade, Carbon, Climate Change, Fee and Dividend, Fossil Fuels, Front Page, Global Warming, Greenhouse Gases, Renewable Energy, Slideshow, U.S.
For many years, the words global warming meant little to me. I was quick to dismiss climate change as a hoax or a natural phenomenon and continue to live as I always have. Then, one day, I heard someone on the radio ask, “Whether it’s man-made or a natural occurrence, shouldn’t we be doing something about it?” This comment stuck in my mind, and through a number of events, my thinking slowly changed.
In the fall of 2007, I returned to college after my daughter was born. I enrolled in an Environmental Science class, primarily because I needed to take a science class and didn’t want to take a lab. I had no idea the impact this class would have on my way of thinking and my life’s journey.
My college textbook discussed global climate change and CO2 emissions. It stated, “[A]tmospheric CO2 concentration [is] now at [the] highest level in at least 400,000 years, and likely the highest in the last 20 million years. Moreover, [CO2 levels are] increasing faster today than at any time in at least 20,000 years” (Withgott & Brennan, 2007, Essential Environment: The Science Behind the Stories). These numbers, as well as others, got my attention. It became clear to me that we were messing up our planet, and something had to be done about it, although I wasn’t sure what, just yet.
According to the National Academies, prior to the Industrial Revolution, CO2 emissions generated through natural processes were in balance with the amount of CO2 absorbed by plants and “carbon sinks” on the earth’s surface. The National Academies went on to state, “[M]odel simulations for temperature change during the past century only match the observed temperature increase when greenhouse gas increases and other human causes are included.” So, increased temperatures can only be explained by including human activities, particularly increased greenhouse gases such as CO2.
A few months ago, I began looking for environmental organizations where I could get involved and learn more. I came across Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL). The goal of this organization is to “create the political will for a sustainable climate [and] to empower individuals to have breakthroughs in exercising their personal and political power.” Both of these goals spoke to me on a deep level. In fact, that is why I am writing this article — to create political will for a sustainable climate and to empower myself and others.
One bill in Congress to address climate change uses a cap-and-trade approach. Cap and trade sets a carbon cap for utilities, transportation, and manufacturing. While this sounds like a great way to limit carbon emissions, the details are dicey to say the least. Businesses will have no true financial incentive to decrease reliance on fossil fuels, the amount of carbon allowed is still a mystery, and — even if it works — it won’t be fast enough. We need something more transparent and effective, and we need it now.
Citizens Climate Lobby and a number of other climate-oriented organizations came up with a solution: the fee-and-dividend plan. Under this proposed legislation, an escalating carbon fee will be imposed on fossil fuels at their point of entry into the economy, whether it be at mines, wells, or ports. This fee will raise the price of fossil fuels and make clean energy technology more competitive.
Additionally, 100% of the carbon fee is refunded to American households to offset increased energy prices during the transition to clean energy. The dividend is equally divided among American households. Those who cut their dependence on carbon can pocket the difference between increased energy prices and their dividends. Under this plan, businesses and individuals have a great incentive to reduce dependence on carbon-based energy — their wallets.
The potential benefits of fee and dividend are significant, including —
- The increased price of carbon will lead to an explosion of green jobs, in solar energy, wind energy, weatherizing, and the like.
- As fossil fuel dependence decreases and clean energy increases, we will import less foreign oil.
- Carbon emissions and other pollutants will decrease, benefiting the health of our planet and heading off catastrophic climate change.
The fee-and-dividend approach has bi-partisan appeal. Similar plans have been presented by Rep. John Larson (D-CT) and by Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC). But this legislation needs the support of citizens. If you like the idea of the fee-and-dividend plan, contact your Members of Congress and tell them so. Let them know you support climate legislation that places a fee on carbon and returns the revenue to all households. It’s transparent, it’s simple, and it will be effective.
Perhaps the worst fears of climate change will never be realized; but, they may. We have no viable choice but to plan for the worst while hoping for the best. Each of us must do our part to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and to reduce CO2 emissions. But our responsibility doesn’t end there. We also have a responsibility to engage in the political process to make real change happen. In the best-case scenario, we’ll have a healthier planet in the end.
But, for that to happen, we need to take action now. I invite you to lend your support to the people’s climate bill — fee and dividend. Be a part of the solution. Contact your Congresspersons today.
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We’ve all heard it: Carbon dioxide billows into the atmosphere, icebergs melt, oceans rise, the world gets hotter — our planet is headed toward calamity. And, although businesses, governments, and individuals throughout the world have been working together to enact change, “our civilization is still failing miserably to slow the rate at which these emissions are increasing — much less reduce them,” wrote Al Gore in a New York Times editorial last week.
Sheesh. It’s enough to prevent you from getting out of bed in the morning, much less enjoy your day. But, if enjoying yourself — being happy — seems a trivial concern in the face of such doom and gloom, think again. While the study of happiness is hardly new and noteworthy — recent books include Rhonda Bryne’s The Secret (Atria Books 2006), a hokey, if ubiquitous, book that instructs us to manifest our own destinies through visualization and vibrations — a new set of pragmatic authors examines personal happiness as both a source of, and obstacle to, our ability to enact change.
Yale Law School graduate-turned-writer, Gretchen Rubin tackles happiness in the list-making spirit of a lawyer in The Happiness Project (HarperCollins 2009).
She sets out to “test-drive the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies and the lessons from popular culture — from Aristotle to Martin Seligman to Thoreau to Oprah,” and takes us along as she checks off tasks on her very own happiness chart. (For example, January’s goal is to boost energy, so she resolves to “go to sleep earlier, exercise better, toss, restore, organize, tackle a nagging task, and act more energetic.”)
While happiness seems like an inherently selfish pursuit — all of this inner-reflection while the world around us falls apart — Rubin argues that, in fact, the opposite is true. “Studies show that happier people are more likely to help other people. They’re more interested in social problems. They do more volunteer work and contribute more to charity… [T]hey’re less preoccupied with their personal problems,” she writes.
“Some people assume that happiness makes people complacent. Quite the contrary. Happy people are more concerned with the problems of other people and more likely to take action to help. So by making myself happy, I arm myself to be more effective in addressing the world’s significant problems,” she writes.
Indeed. When I’m tired, I grumble about the ten extra steps to the recycle bin; when I’m in a hurry, I don’t spend the time to make educated choices at the supermarket — much less on anything of substance. By acting selfishly, attending to my own personal well-being, Rubin argues, I arm myself to act unselfishly, to find the energy and well-being needed to confront difficult tasks.
The problem arises when we take the mantra of personal well-being too far. In Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America (Metropolitan Books 2009), Barbara Ehrenreich looks at what happens when happiness is privileged above all else — including fact.
According to Ehrenreich, it’s the happiness industry — born from a uniquely American culture of reckless optimism and the field of ”positive-psychology,” spearheaded by none other than Martin Seligman, and distilled into books such as The Secret — that motivated corporate boardrooms across the country to buy into a sort of mind-over-balance-sheet mentality. She traces the rise of positive psychology as a cultural mandate — only good news today, please — until the point of delusion, wherein “science is something that you can accept or reject on the basis of personal tastes.”
Indeed, the very title of Gore’s op-ed is “We Can’t Wish Away Climate Change.” He writes, “It would be an enormous relief if the recent attacks on the science of global warming actually indicated that we do not face an unimaginable calamity requiring large-scale, preventive measures to protect human civilization as we know it.”
Yet, we don’t have the luxury of indulging in that relief. The paradox is that the realm of positive psychology privileges this mental relief above the actual distressing facts, yet positive thinking arms us with perhaps the necessary delusion that we can stop the tide of global calamity. We must strike a balance between genuine and legitimate fear regarding climate change and the positivism that allows us to believe that we can do something about it, that we can change the way things are going.
Ultimately, while Rubin and Ehrenreich seem to view happiness from opposite angles, the conclusion they reach is strikingly similar. “The threats we face are real,” writes Ehrenreich, “and can be vanquished only by shaking off self-absorption and taking action in the world.” For Rubin, the point of all this happiness striving — the point of her checklists and daily reminders — is so we may become less self-obsessed, less introspective, more likely to step outside our comfort zones and do something.
So, get enough sleep, eat healthy, exercise. Tackle nagging tasks. Enjoy your work. Cultivate relationships. Make the effort to get out and connect with people. And then, perhaps, call your Senator, as Gore advocates. Grow your own produce, recycle, and spend an hour a week volunteering. And watch how these activities, these unselfish attempts to tackle a very large, un-happy problem, might ultimately bring you (selfishly) even more happiness.
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As we greet the beginning of a new year and a new decade, let’s remember what is truly important: Saving our planet and caring for each other. We cannot do the first without doing the second. And, if we do not pull together to end the climate crisis, we will have fought each other over a planet that we don’t get to keep. Humankind will be “history,” but there will be no one left to read the records of our misdeeds.
Yet, the climate crisis is far from our only serious problem. We are warring with each other over religion, ethnicity, property, power, and money. We fight and kill each other in the name of our god, presumably the same almighty being we call by different names: Allah or Jehovah or God or Yahweh or another name entirely. To me, it makes no sense. I cannot envision an almighty being who would be pleased to have humans killing and torturing each other in the name of religion. And yet, historically, religion has been one of the major reasons we’ve shed blood, seized property, and enslaved other humans.
In my view, it doesn’t have to be this way. We can — and must — change the way we treat each other and our planet, if we want to survive as a species.
In this era of instant communication, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Plaxo, SoAct, and dozens of other social network sites bridge the divide of miles and cultures. Suddenly, we have friends on the other side of the planet — people we would never have known in our entire span of time on this earth. We’ve connected electronically, but we wouldn’t recognize these people on the street.
Through social networks, we come to know our electronic friends as real people, who live, breathe, love, hurt, rejoice, sing, work, cry, and play. We learn just how much they are like us, even as their religions, cultures, and daily lives are different from our own. If we are open to it, we can even befriend individuals whose nations are warring with our own. We can create an atmosphere for peace, one friend at a time.
I’m especially grateful for Facebook as I start this new decade. It has brought me friends in nations I’ve only read about. I have a new “daughter” in Palestine, a dear young woman who has “adopted” me as I have “adopted” her. I am getting to know what she cares about, what scares her, and what she loves. Likewise, she is learning about me and my family.
Two young men also call me “mama,” one in Bangladesh and one in Italy. What’s it like in the US? they want to know. Then, What’s it like in your country? I ask in return. Like young people everywhere, they want desperately to find someone to love. We’ve had a lot of heart-to-heart talks about life, dating, and relationships, much as I have spoken with my own young-adult children. I can only imagine their parts of the world, as they imagine mine. But we have a bond of friendship.
Another young friend, a university student who lives in Pakistan, feels devoid of hope. His heart is broken, and he says there’s nothing for him to live for. Besides the loss of his love to an arranged marriage the girl cannot avoid, there are suicide bombers attacking his city, making his daily life a waking nightmare. I reach out with comfort, but I’m not there, and I don’t really know what to say to make him feel better. I feel his pain, as I would feel the pain of any friend I cared for; yet, I’ve never even seen his face.
We all have worries and fears, wherever we live. We are not so different, whether we are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Wiccan, agnostic, atheist — or observe any other religion or tradition. Another new friend today declared his wish that the world will become “one family, whatever the religions, thoughts, traditions, and ethnicity.” I share his hope.
But, it is critically important to remember, as another young man from India wrote today, “All should know that to change the world, we must start from ourself.” He was writing about climate change, but his words apply equally well to making peace on earth a reality.
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University of Iowa student Simeon Talley attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen, Denmark. Following are his final observations and commentary on what he — and the world — learned as a result of the conference. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
The Copenhagen conference ended, for the most part, disappointingly. The Copenhagen Accord, the climate change agreement reached at the last minute, doesn’t effectively address climate change. While it may have been a step in the right direction, it was only an incremental step when the world needed a leap at this moment in time.
In the aftermath of such a disappointing effort, many have sought to place blame. Fingers have been pointed at China, predictably at the US, at Danish political leadership, and even at the UN. All of these narratives are partially correct, but only partially. The blame is plenty and should be spread far.
Yet, if we only focus on recriminating others, we’ll miss a fundamental lesson about what this Copenhagen conference taught us about the world we live in. Furthermore, such a narrow focus fails to acknowledge the positive aspects of the conference — albeit few.
COP15 wasn’t as successful as many had hoped it would be, because world leaders couldn’t put aside their political differences for the greater global good. And yet, something remarkable happened over the course of those two weeks. Thousands of ordinary people gathered in Copenhagen, with millions across the world standing in support of bold action. The Copenhagen conference unveiled a dramatic account of the many constituent parts that make up our world all interacting with each other for the very first time.
History may not look too kindly upon the leaders who participated in Copenhagen. COP16 taking place in Mexico in 2010 may begrudge what took place in Copenhagen as well. There are several interpretations of what went wrong in Copenhagen. And I imagine as time passes we’ll learn much more about what actually happened in those private meetings between world leaders. But what we do know now that can inform us moving forward is that many of those leaders still succumb to an outdated view of the world and how it is changing.
Climate change necessitates international cooperation on an unprecedented level. A few rich countries can’t get together, wave a wand and fix it. Nor can any country choose to remain on the sidelines and not participate. Climate change affects all, and any solution encompasses all. The issue is evidence of our increasingly interconnected, interdependent, and interwoven world.
Profound differences still exist, but with each day they are blurred, if only slightly. Negotiators and leaders came to Copenhagen with political positions and perspectives; they all had an eye on protecting national interests. To meet the challenges of the 21st century national interests that inhibit progress on critical global issues must give way.
I’m a university student studying international politics. The global community I saw in Copenhagen is vastly different than the one I — and most American students — read about in textbooks. The divisions between rich and poor, west and east are real. But in Copenhagen, poor countries of Africa effectively coalesced with the emerging economies of China, India, and Brazil to possibly thwart the will of the West for the first time.
African nations and small-island states like Tuvalu and the Maldives elevated their concerns like never before. At times, countries like Ethiopia, Brazil, and the Maldives played absolutely critical roles in moving Copenhagen negotiations along in the final hour. Unlike other international or intergovernmental institutions, to a reasonable degree, this process incorporated 192 nations. It wasn’t pretty most of the time, but it is a foreshadowing of things to come.
Thousands of ordinary people flooded the city of Copenhagen hoping to influence the conference. Citizens from all walks of life from all over the world were in attendance. Hundreds of youth participated, recognized as an official constituency group for the very first time. Citizen participation — the increasing ability of ordinary people to be there and to bear witness — will continue to shape climate change meetings.
There were protests and several arrests, but there was also excellent citizen journalism. Besides reading the mainstream press to stay informed, to get a complete picture of what was going on, it was key to read blogs or follow someone on Twitter . There a new element of transparency introduced in Copenhagen. What has happening wasn’t just confined to the conference center and how the big news outlets would report it. Information and news were profuse among many sources, some of them legitimate news organizations and some knowledgeable NGOs.
The task for civil society will be to continue to exert and raise political pressure on the world’s leaders to come together and cooperate in meaningful way. If COP16 is to be more successful, it will be in large part because negotiators know that more and more people are watching, and there will be domestic political repercussions if nothing meaningful is done.
2010 must be more successful than 2009. Let’s learn the lessons from Copenhagen and work together to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
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Simeon Talley, Blue Planet Green Living contributing writer and University of Iowa student, is one of only 10 young people selected by the Iowa United Nations Association to attend COP15 this week. In this, his second report, Talley updates us on the rising tensions at the conference. For background information about Talley’s trip, visit his own blog, The Road to Copenhagen. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
COPENHAGEN — The anxiety and anticipation rising in the conference center are palpable as the fault lines become more distinct and several entities attempt to resurrect negotiations. It’s Wednesday morning in Copenhagen, there are far fewer NGOs, a lot more press, and sightings of presidents and prime ministers scuttling to meetings. It’s difficult to make sense of everything that is taking place at these talks. But one thing is clear, the sense of urgency has heightened, and time is running out for nations to strike a deal.
Countries are divided along fairly typical lines: global north vs. global south, rich vs. poor. The G-77 plus China, the more than 100 countries in the developing world, want advanced developed nations to commit to deeper emissions reductions and more money to finance adaptation and mitigation — essentially a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol.
So far, the only country to commit to emission cuts along the lines of IPCC recommendations is Norway. Of course not the US, but the EU hasn’t either. Developed countries have committed to a numerical amount for “fast track” ($10 billion US for three years) climate financing, but so far have been silent on long-term figures.
The US has shied away from a more ambitious commitment because of domestic political constraints. The EU is willing to commit to a 30% cut from 1990 levels, but only if other developed nations commit to that number as well. On the financing front, the US has balked at the notion that it’ll finance China — which holds $2 trillion in US reserves — to adapt to climate change.
This may seem like a redux of disagreements from three weeks ago, even three months ago, but they have still not been resolved in Copenhagen. Most heads of states are have arrived by now, with anticipation growing for President Obama’s arrival on Friday. Because so much disagreement, the final deal will mostly reflect the commitments each country has put on the table prior to the start of the conference. And it’s most likely that the entire UNFCCC process will continue along a two-track pathway. A Kyoto Protocol (read: not including the US and what poor countries are advocating for) and a Long-Term Cooperative Agreement path (what the US has been pushing for and would push for emerging economies like China to be held to greater emission cuts).
Whatever the final shape the Copenhagen agreement takes, it is absolutely necessary that it include a timeline and a deadline for when a legally binding agreement will be signed. Many outstanding issues still need to be resolved, climate finance being only one of them. But to leave Copenhagen without a deadline for a legally binding agreement would essentially be a failure.
Outside of the conference center, many of the NGOs who are not allowed inside are protesting, leading to a large number of arrests. The UN has cut severely the number of Civil Society participants that can enter the Bella Center, where the conference is taking place. 45,000 people were accredited to attend the conference; the conference center can only accommodate 15,000 people. In the first week and on Monday of this week, no restrictions were placed on attendance; but as heads of states arrive, security has been tightening.
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Simeon Talley, Blue Planet Green Living contributing writer and University of Iowa student, is one of only ten young people selected by the Iowa United Nations Association to attend COP15 this week. Talley arrived in Copenhagen on Sunday. Here is his first report from the historic United Nations Climate Conference. For background information about Talley’s trip, visit his own blog, The Road to Copenhagen. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
COPENHAGEN — The climate change talks taking place in Copenhagen are on life support. One week in to the conference, and with one week to go, progress towards a worthwhile climate change deal has been slow. In order to salvage COP15, negotiators will have to double down in order to reach a deal.
Monday’s major news was a group of African nations walking out on negotiations, then, in dramatic fashion — late in the evening hour — choosing to come back to the negotiating table. The story behind the walkout is that, last week, the Danish government reportedly had met with a group of wealthy nations, including the US, outside of the formal process. The parties agreed to a draft “text” that could eventually become the agreement that the Copenhagen conference produces. Several poor nations were angered by what they perceived as a backdoor deal that favored rich nations. The mood has been sour — and souring— ever since, culminating in today’s walkout.
The walkout by African nations would have made a Copenhagen deal impossible, and it reflects long-held divisions. Organized as the G-77, developing nations want developed nations to commit to 40–45% emissions reductions from 1990 levels by 2020. And if you’ve been following international negotiations at all, you know that developed countries so far have committed to considerably less. The US’s commitment to 17% reduction from 2005 levels by 2020 is estimated to be only a 3-4% reduction from 1990 CO2 levels. And hell is more likely to freeze over before a change in US position.
G-77 countries want more ambition by way of emission reductions and adaptation financing. So far, developed countries haven’t budged. The US still hasn’t committed to a specific amount it will pay toward climate financing, funds to help poor countries adapt to the negative effects of climate change. With one week to go and only two days until heads of state start to roll in, negotiators have to find a way to reach consensus in order for the Copenhagen conference to have a positive outcome.
China, as a developing nation, is also a part of the G-77 grouping. But this morning’s report of impasse over verification shows the complexity of China’s status as a poor, developing nation and its continued differences with the US.
In many respects, poorer nations and nations closest to actual climate disaster, such as small-island states, are playing a moral role in negotiations. The country of Tuvalu — a small-island state only two meters above sea level – has repeatedly called on rich nations (read: the US) to do more. The president of Tuvalu made an impassioned plea to conference delegates to agree to a binding deal, which limits the amount of CO2 to the levels the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said is needed. Such a deal is likely out of reach at this point.
An EU Commissioner characterized the atmosphere as “frozen.” And that’s a fairly accurate description of where we stand currently.
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Dispatches from Copenhagen — Sour and Souring (Top of Page)