can’t see the forest

The climate changes, but not much else

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While European leaders congratulate themselves at the close of a two-day Brussels summit on climate change, their numerous critics are left shaking their heads in dismay.

An agreement was reached whereby EU nations will be required, by 2020, to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% as compared to 1990 levels. Additionally, the pact calls for a 19% reduction in CO2 emissions from automobiles by 2015, and for measures to increase the use of renewable energy and to improve on overall fuel efficiency in the coming years. Also laid out was a carbon emissions trading scheme, perhaps the most comprehensive of its kind yet put into place in the world economy.

The Guardian reports that the product of the talks represents a major victory for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, as he nears the end of his six-month tenure as President of the EU. The European Parliament is set to write the decisions into law next week.

“This is a major advance,” said [UK] prime minister, Gordon Brown. “Europe after these decisions remains the leader on climate change.”

coal-plantBut critics complained that the package was too little too late, that EU leaders had capitulated to fierce lobbying from European industry, that the loopholes in the system and the awarding of pollution permits free to most non-energy firms in the scheme would trigger a bonanza in windfall corporate profits.

“Industry has to do next to nothing,” said Claude Turmes, a leading Green MEP from Luxembourg, who helped to draft part of the legislation. “If they are honest, these leaders know they haven’t agreed something really ambitious.”

“This could have been one of Europe’s finest moments,” said Robin Webster, climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “But huge loopholes allow big energy-users to carry on polluting.”

Barroso admitted that the terms of the deal could bring windfall profits for industry, reversing the logic of the polluter pays principle that is supposed to underpin the carbon trading scheme.

In particular, critics feel the accords go incredibly soft on certain industries, such as coal processors—which, although among the very worst emissions offenders, will be given generous discounts in the carbon trading arena—and steel refineries. Industries such as these will hardly flinch in the wake of this “major advance.”


CSMonitor: Projected Arctic melting

According to the New York Times, President-Elect Barack Obama has placed confronting climate change second only to the revitalization of the U.S. economy on his to-do list, and in its acknowledgement of the issues at hand, his administration is sure to represent a marked improvement over the Bush years. Indeed, on Tuesday Obama met privately with 2007 Nobel Prize winner Al Gore to discuss climate change and energy policy, though the Obama camp denies a potential role for Gore in the new White House. But environmentalists are skeptical as to just how far the impassioned rhetoric will carry over into reality come January; if European leaders consider the kind of agreement just reached in Brussels to be a colossal step forward, one wonders if substantiation of the change Obama has in mind is bound to prove commensurately disappointing. Obama’s plans are ambitious, but his ability to enforce them remains unproven.

Political leaders tend to shy away from forcing stringent environmental standards on industry because such measures can have significant front-end overhead and can make certain products at least initially unpalatable to consumers. This wariness is only amplified in times of economic crisis. Americans can expect the new President to be far more forthright and engaging on environmental policy than his predecessor, but should not harbor illusions. Lobbyists are still lobbyists, capitalism is still capitalism, and automobiles still run—mostly—on gasoline.


They Leaked Their Oil in San Francisco

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On Wednesday, an 810-foot Cosco oil tanker slammed into the base of a tower of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. In about twenty minutes, 58,000 gallons of oil leaked into the Bay.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the U.S. Coast Guard reported for most of that day that about 140 gallons had leaked before revising their estimate to reflect a more accurate assessment of the spill.

While nowhere near the size of megaspills such as the infamous Exxon Valdez incident, which dumped about 11 million gallons of oil off the coast of Alaska, the proximity of this spill to a major metropolitan area and a unique, delicate ecosystem makes it a tragic event nonetheless. California Governor Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency, with many citizens criticizing a sluggish and disjointed response from the Coast Guard. Southern California, of course, is still reeling from a profusion of human-ignited forest fires which created thousands of refugees and caused billions of dollars in damage to property, exclusive of the immense devastation it wreaked on local ecosystems.

1996 Cape Mohican Oil Spill, CaliforniaAs of this evening, about 20,000 gallons of oil had been mopped up along the coastline. An official from the state Fish & Game Department was reported as saying that cleanup operations could continue for months or even years; over 100 oiled birds have been found thusfar, but the extent of damage to species and their habitats will not be fully grasped for some time, as the Bay currents continue to wash waves of sludge on the once scenic beaches of Marin County.

In 1996, a tanker dumped about 40,000 gallons of oil in the same vicinity (pictured). Cleanup continued for about two years.

U.S.-India Nuclear Deal Sparks Israeli Interest, Underscores Unjust Foreign Policy

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The Associated Press reports that the United States’ singular deal with India— which bypasses international agreements on nuclear proliferation, allowing India to enjoy nuclear power without being a signatory of a non-proliferation agreement and without subjecting itself to IAEA inspections—has attracted the interest of Israel.

Both the U.S. and Israel have heavily criticized the Iranian government’s ambitions to develop peaceful nuclear energy. Pakistan, India, and Israel—all allies of the United States—are known to possess nuclear weapons capability outside of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, with Israel steadfastly refusing to declare its arsenal, to the dismay of many Arab states.

The Israeli government has submitted papers to the 45-nation NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) requesting “Nuclear Collaboration with non-NPT States.”

“Israel’s proposal demonstrates the danger of making exemptions for individual countries,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

At the recent IAEA conference in Vienna, only the U.S. and Israel voted against a resolution critical of the Jewish state’s refusal to place its nuclear program under international review. Thusfar, the U.S. State Department has hinted opposition to the Israeli proposal, but the decision will ultimately be made by the NSG.