Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category
Earth’s Ability to Support Us At Risk – An Indictment of Governments We Elected
By Stephen Leahy
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 19 2012 (IPS)
The science is crystal clear: humans are threatening Earth’s ability to support mankind, and a new world economy is urgently needed to prevent irreversible decline, said scientists and other experts at an event on the sidelines of the Rio+20 Earth Summit.
Yet the Global Environment Outlook report, or GEO 5, which was launched on June 6 and assessed 90 of the most important environmental objectives, found that significant progress had been made only in four in the 20 years since the first landmark summit in Rio in 1992.
Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said the results of GEO 5 were “depressing, even to me”.
“This ought to have us shaking in our boots,” Steiner told TerraViva at the Fair Ideas conference that concluded Sunday. ”It is an indictment of our behaviour over the past 20 years and of the governments we elected. We need an honest conversation about why we are not turning things around.”
Instead, “what’s happening right now in the RioCentro (Rio+20 official site) is that science is being picked out of the text of the final agreement,” Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden, told the conference.
Rockström said he had received updates from the negotiations that the United States and some of the world’s least developed countries were attacking the science showing humanity is pushing up against “planetary boundaries”.
Climate is only one of those “planetary boundaries”. Another is the ongoing decline of biodiversity, where so many plants and animals are going extinct that the Earth’s living systems, upon which humanity depends, are unravelling. Fresh water is another planetary boundary. Water is a limited resource, yet water use has increased six-fold in the past century.
“The science is absolutely clear: we are up against the edges of the planet’s ability to support us and approaching irreversible tipping points,” Rockström said. Read the rest of this entry »
By Stephen Leahy
Uxbridge Cosmos, Feb 2013
There is quite a bit of misinformation about climate science and climate change (global warming). This is the most important issue of our time but it can be a complex subject. Here are some tips to help sort fact from fiction based on my experience of writing about science and climate change for the past 15 years.
Tip #1: Consider the source
It’s important to know where the information is coming from. Are they an expert or someone with an impressive looking website but no climate science training? No one goes to an engineer if they want their appendix removed.
If someone says a group of retired NASA scientists claim there is no evidence carbon dioxide causes global warming, I check to see if they are climate scientists — they’re not. Then I go to the official NASA website and in a big headline it says: “97% of climate sciences agree” climate change is happening. This is followed by a long list of well-regarded scientific societies from around the world who also agree.
A reader once sent me a link to a “science” article from Investor’s Business Daily that said increased activity of the sun was entirely responsible for the current warming according to the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, a well-known research centre in Germany. A quick check of the Max Planck Institute’s website revealed their actual conclusion: “Solar activity affects the climate but plays only a minor role in the current global warming.”
Tip#3 Brush up on some science
Our atmosphere traps and retains the suns heat which is called the greenhouse effect. Without this the Earth would be more like the moon: +100C in the day and -170C at night. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas that helps keep the planet warm by retaining some of the sun’s heat. John Tyndall proved this 150 years ago in 1861. In the last 100 years our burning of oil, gas and coal has added 40% more CO2 to the atmosphere. That extra CO2 has warmed the planet 0.8C globally and 1.5C to 2.0C in Canada so far.
Tip # 4: Follow the money
Ask this question who has the most to gain or lose? Climate scientist’s largely rely on getting research money from governments. Scientists are smart people who are good with numbers so if they just wanted to make money they’d be working on Bay St or Wall St.
On the other hand the oil, coal and gas companies represent by far the richest industry in human history. In 2010 their revenues were estimated to be $5 trillion, far more than Canada’s $1.7 trillion gross domestic product (GDP) that year. (A trillion is one thousand billion. A trillion seconds is nearly 32,000 years).
The five biggest oil companies made a record $137 billion in profits in 2011. Surprisingly Canada’s largely foreign-owned oil and gas industry still receives $1.3 billion a year in public subsidies despite many promises to end this taxpayer handout.
Some fossil fuel companies have been caught sowing confusion and doubt about climate change just like the tobacco companies did regarding the link between smoking and lung cancer. Fossil fuel interests fund organizations that look official or science-based and they publish reports, write opinion pieces or do media interviews stating that global warming is a hoax and there is no real need to burn less oil, gas or coal. One of these organizations is Canada’s Friends of Science and its related site ClimateChange101 that received funding from Calgary oil company Talisman Energy to put out false and long-debunked critiques of climate science.
Here’s two of the best sources I use to help me sort fact from fiction:
For climate science go to “Skeptical Science”, a volunteer community with clearly written, rock solid science-based answers on climate.
For everything else go to “DeSmogBlog – Clearing the PR Pollution that Clouds Climate Science” . There is now a Canadian version “DeSmogCanada” that I will be contributing to.
No one really wants to think about climate change and what it means for our children’s future. It is too difficult, too painful to even consider. But avoiding or denying global warming and its dangers prevents us from taking action to minimize future impacts. Inaction and delay are truly terrifying. However taking action at the personal, family and community levels is liberating and empowering. We need to start a conversation about this.
Uxbridge’s Stephen Leahy is the 2012 co-winner of the Prince Albert/United Nations Global Prize for Climate Change reporting . He is the senior science and environment correspondent at IPS, Inter Press Service News Agency, based in Rome. His work is also published in National Geographic, The Guardian (UK), New Scientist, Al Jazeera, Earth Island Journal and others.
Or Just Print This Cheat Sheet Will Help You Win Every Climate Argument (thanks to Mother Jones)
New study reveals a major trend is underway. More and more countries are acting on climate – only Canada going backward
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 15 2013 (IPS)
A majority of major economies have made significant progress in addressing climate change, with countries like South Korea and China taking aggressive action so they can benefit from energy- and resource-efficient economies, a new report released Monday found.
The study by GLOBE International and Grantham Research Institute profiled 33 major economies in an annual examination of climate and energy legislation. 32 of them, including the United States, made significant progress in 2012, while only Canada regressed.
“The study reveals a major trend is underway. More and more countries are acting on climate,” said Adam Matthews, secretary general of GLOBE International, an organisation of legislators.
While major international climate conferences such as the Conference of the Parties (COP) held in Doha in November and December 2012 have made little progress, cities, states and national governments around the world are taking action.
The political reality, Matthews told IPS, is that local and national climate regulations and legislation must come first. “An environment minister in Doha couldn’t commit his country to an ambitious carbon reduction target unless the country has already decided to chart a new economic course,” he said. Read the rest of this entry »
“Our economy creates scarcity by being extraordinarily wasteful and destructive.”
Stephen Leahy interviews writer and environmentalist FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ
UXBRIDGE, Canada (IPS)
To meet the challenges of the 21st century, including climate change, feeding the world and eliminating poverty, we need to free ourselves from the “thought traps” that prevent us from seeing the world as it truly is and narrow our vision of how to respond.
At same time, we need to eliminate “privately-held government”, says Frances Moore Lappé, author of “EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want” published by Nation Books. Lappé has written 18 books, including the very influential “Diet for a Small Planet”.
“There is no way to deal with climate change or poverty without real democracy,” she says.
IPS climate and environment correspondent Stephen Leahy spoke with Lappé about her new book.
Q: What do you mean by the term “thought traps”?
A: We don’t see the world as it really is but through a filter or mental map. Research in neuroscience shows that we interpret the world based on our previous experiences and understanding of the world. In other words we see what we expect to see.
One of the dominant ideas in our society is about scarcity or lack. There isn’t enough resources or food or whatever for all of us. We then “see” or interpret everything from that filter or frame of reference.
Q: How does this widely-held idea of “scarcity” affect us?
A: Believing there isn’t enough makes us defensive and competitive with each other. We think we’d better get ours before someone else does. The majority of people I talk to insist with seven billion people on the planet scarcity is our reality now and into the future. They are blinkered by this scarcity mentality.
Q: But isn’t it true that we are running out of resources like water, energy, food and so on?
A: I discovered as a young student that the U.S. food production was extraordinarily wasteful and inefficient. Sixteen pounds of corn and soy fed to cattle to get one pound of meat. That pound of meat also requires as much as 12,000 gallons of water. Nearly half of all food harvested is never consumed.
This staggering waste is the rule, not the exception, and not just in food production. The U.S. energy sector wastes 55-87 percent of the energy generated – most of it in the form of waste heat at power plants. It’s not just the U.S. U.N. studies showed that 3,000 of the world’s biggest corporations caused two trillion dollars in damage to the global environment in 2008 alone.
Q: Why are we so destructive and wasteful?
A: It’s a result of the current market economy with its single focus on generating the quickest and highest return to a small minority of wealth-holders. Our economy creates scarcity by being extraordinarily wasteful and destructive. The term “free market economy” is completely wrong. What we have is a corporate-monopoly market economy of waste and destruction. We need to be more careful and more precise in our language.
Q: There is a growing call by environmentalists and some economists of the need to shift from a growth economy to a no-growth economy, but you say this is a thought trap?
A: Yes, it leads to a distracting debate about merits of growth versus no-growth. Growth sounds like a good thing so most people will resist the idea of no growth. Better to focus on creating a system that enhances health, happiness, ecological vitality and social power.
Q: In your book you also say everyone needs to focus on “living democracy”.
A: America has become what’s called a “plutonomy”, where the top one percent control more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Inequality is now greater in the U.S. than in Pakistan or Egypt, according to the World Bank. The result is corporations and the very wealthy sway public decision making via political contributions and lobbying. There are now two dozen lobbyists for every member of Congress.
To counter this privately-held government we need to re-create a culture of mutual responsibility, transparency, citizen participation and public financing of elections. Democracy is not just voting once a year, it is a culture, a way of living.
The “mother of all issues” in most countries is removing the power of concentrated wealth from public-decision making and infusing citizens’ voices instead. The environmental crisis is in fact a crisis in democracy.
Q: There is a feeling amongst many environmentally-aware people that it is already too late and there is too much to be overcome.
A: Thinking it’s too late is another thought trap. It may be too late to avoid significant impacts that could have been avoided if action had been taken two decades ago. It is not too late for life. My book is filled with examples of people taking charge and turning things around.
What makes people think it’s too late is that they feel alone and powerless. People feel that way because of the thought traps, the false beliefs about scarcity and of human nature as greedy and selfish. Those beliefs and a privately-held government have led to feelings of powerlessness.
Q: This year is the 20th anniversary of the historic Earth Summit and major conference called Rio+20 will be held in June. What are your thoughts?
A: I participated in the Rio+10 conference and we’ve gone backwards in those 10 years. Rio+20 could be the opportunity to reverse course and align ourselves with nature to create the world we really want.
First published on IPS Feb 7, 2012 Q&A: “The Environmental Crisis Is in Fact a Crisis in Democracy” – IPS ipsnews.net.
Gwendolyn Smith, Amazon Conservation Team. Photo: Stephen Leahy
Climate change is the result of not behaving in the right way says remote Amazon tribe
by Stephen Leahy
Climate change is the result of not behaving in the right way, according to the isolated Trio, an indigenous people living in Suriname’s Amazon forest near its border with Brazil.
“They see climate change as big problem. They say their forests are changing, deteriorating,” said Gwendolyn Smith, a project director for the non-profit organization Amazon Conservation Team (ACT).
ACT was launched by U.S. ethnobotanist Mark Plotkin and Costa Rican conservationist Liliana Madrigain Madrigal in 1996 to work with indigenous peoples in the rainforests of Suriname and elsewhere in the Amazon to retain their traditional knowledge.
The Trio (also known as Tiriyó) number perhaps 2000 and live entirely off their forests as hunters and swidden farmers. Swidden is a form of slash and burn agriculture where small plots are cleared and crops planted for one or two seasons, after which plots in new areas are cleared. Old plots are left fallow for many years, allowing the forest and soils to replinish. On a small scale this is sustainable.
“They have strict rules for managing their forest,” said Smith, who has worked with the Trio for seven years and is also a PhD student at Nova Southeastern University in Florida.
Their knowledge of the forest is unparalleled but the Trio know little about the wider world. “Money was only introduced to them six years ago and they don’t really understand concepts like saving,” she said.
Similarly, the concept of carbon and using their forests to soak up carbon is simply not part of their worldview, she told delegates at The Climate Change Mitigation with Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples workshop in Cairns, Australia. Read the rest of this entry »
Youba Sokona of Mali is co-chair of the IPCC Working Group III. Photo: Citt Williams, OurWorld2.0
by Stephen Leahy
Many indigenous peoples are living examples of societies thriving with sustainable, low-carbon lifestyles. Successfully meeting the global climate change challenge requires that much of the world shift from high carbon-living to low.
This shift is daunting. Current emissions for Australia and the United States average about 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person. In the coming decades that needs to fall to two tonnes per person as it is currently in Brazil or the Dominican Republic.
Emissions from most indigenous peoples are even lower and are amongst the lowest in the world.
All options for making the shift from high- to low-carbon living need to be explored and that’s why the United Nations University Traditional Knowledge Initiative (UNU) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) invited indigenous peoples to a special three-day workshop in Cairns, Australia last week.
“Climate change is the result of our behaviour,” said Youba Sokona, co-chair of the IPCC Working Group III that will report to governments in 2014 on ways carbon emissions can be reduced.
The IPCC is the world authority on climate, assessing the state of knowledge on the issue every five to six years. Traditional knowledge of local and indigenous peoples have been left out until now.
“One of the critical solutions is to change our behavior, to change our production and consumption systems,” said Sokona, a climate expert from the African nation of Mali.
The Climate Change Mitigation with Local Communities and Indigenous peoples workshop offered a number of “examples of local peoples in Siberia, in Australia, northern Canada and in some African countries demonstrating that it is possible to change our behavior,” he said.
Marilyn Wallace, a Kuku Nyungkal Aboriginal woman. Photo: Citt Williams, OneWorld 2.0
“I live in a shack but I love being on my ‘bubu’, my traditional land,” said Marilyn Wallace of the Kuku Nyungka ‘mob’ (tribe) in northern Queensland, Australia.
Wallace has lived in towns but fought for years to “return to country” and live in her tropical forest homeland 60 kilometers from Cooktown.
At the workshop Wallace and every other indigenous delegate focused on land rights. The simple truth is that if they can’t live on and manage their lands with time-tested traditional methods, they can’t be part of the solution to climate change.
For complete article see Nat Geo’s NewsWatch
Petr Kaurgin, a Chukchi reindeer herder from Siberia. Photo: Citt Williams
by Stephen Leahy
“Our elders are the best source of information. Better than science or the internet,” said Petr Kaurgin, a Chukchi reindeer herder from the remote Turvaurgin nomadic tribal community in north-eastern Siberia.
Kaurgin delivered his message to climate scientists from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other Indigenous peoples at the closing of the Climate Change Mitigation with Local Communities and Indigenous peoples workshop here in Cairns, Australia.
“We need to listen to the wisdom of the elders. We can use everything in nature. But we must not break or destroy things, ” he said through a translator.
It was -45C when Kaurgin left his home to bring his people’s message to climate experts here in the hot, wet tropical part of Australia. The IPCC is the world authority on the science of climate change. And along with the United Nations University (UNU) organized the workshop to figure out how to incorporate Indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge.
“When we love the land where we live only then we are happy,” he said.
Kaurgin’s people and other local Siberian communities have been experiencing the impacts of climate change such as melting permafrost for the last 20 years said Tero Mustonen, Head of the Village of Selkie in North Karelia, Finland.
For complete article see Nat Geo’s NewsWatch
A personal message from Stephen Leahy
“Journalism and media are society’s mirror providing accurate and essential information.
That is no longer the case.
Media are now controlled by a few major corporations like Murdoch’s News Corp. Coverage of environment and science has been gutted. If there is coverage it rarely digs below the surface. It’s not just TV, it’s all media.
After 18 years of being published in major publications on two continents I now count myself lucky to get $150 to $200 for an in-depth article. The few independent media outlets are either non-profits or struggling.
Urgent environmental issues didn’t go away just because most media stopped covering them.
More than 20,000 people attended the international climate meeting in Cancun, Mexico and it received one ten second clip on US network TV according to a Drexel University media study. (Coverage was even worse at last climate meet in Durban)
Nearly every indicator proves things are getting worse but less and less people know about this.
Many people, including leading scientists, tell me: ‘we need people like you to write about these issues‘. I’d like to do far more but it is impossible to continue without your help in what I’m calling Community Supported Journalism. People directly support independent journalists who craft honest and thoughtful articles about important subjects the mainstream media ignores or gloss over.
Community Supported Environmental Journalism Works
In 2010 dozens of people offered their help, donating $5,750 which helped ensure many breaking international stories were covered including the first media reports on the global die-off of corals and how climate change may be bringing colder winters to Europe and eastern North America. Those donors — I prefer to call them partners — enabled me to cover important international meetings like the UN Convention on Biodiversity, UNFCCC climate change conference and much more.
Thanks for reading.” — Stephen
Please join us. Consider a donation of just $10 a month to support enviro journalism that serves the public interest.
Contributions can be made safely and easily via PayPal* or Credit Card*. [You can cancel at any time, automatically. No need to contact me]
*More than 100,000 non-profits safely use PayPal Donate service
If you’d like a mailing address or contact me with story ideas, please complete this comment form.
Letters of Support:
We need people like you. In tough economic times, where information flow is increasingly channeled and controlled, you perform a simply critical role. Hang in there. You are an admirable role model for the future.”
– E. Ann Clark, Associate Professor, University of Guelph.
“Stephen Leahy has done a superb job exposing the enormous sums the US government is spending on corporate welfare for big oil.”
Ross Gelbspan, Pulitzer-prize winning editor and author of The Heat is On
My continued appreciation to those who have contributed in the past.
Car Ownership Declines in Europe as Cities’ Focus on Walking, Bikes & Public Transit
Cost of Personal Car Ownership Tops $10,000 a year
By Stephen Leahy
CHANGWON, South Korea, Nov 1, 2011 (Tierramérica)
Berlin is a big capital city of a country famed for making excellent automobiles, but it can no longer afford roads and is now moving people by transit, bike and especially through walking.
Berlin is not alone. Paris, Tokyo, Seoul, Bogotá, New York City and other major cities simply cannot afford the cost, the pollution, the noise and the congestion of more cars. They are embracing a new concept called EcoMobility – mobility without private cars.
“EcoMobility is not only walking, cycling and public transportation. It is about these three systems clicking together: connectivity is the key,” Gil Peñalosa, former director of parks and recreation in Bogotá, Colombia, told those attending the EcoMobility Changwon 2011 congress.
The congress on Mobility for the Future of Sustainable Cities was organised by the South Korean city of Changwon and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, an association of local government members from more than 1,220 cities in 70 countries.
“The famous Times Square in New York City is now a permanent pedestrian mall. Who would have believed that could happen just three years ago?” Peñalosa commented to Tierramérica.
“Five years ago who would have thought Paris would have over 22,000 bikes as part of a tremendously successful bike sharing system?” added Peñalosa, who is now the executive director of 8-80 Cities, an NGO based in Toronto that promotes walking, cycling, parks and urban trails to improve the public life of cities.
“We need to build cities around people and not around cars,” he stressed. Read the rest of this entry »
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 26, 2011 (IPS)
Government policies are seldom lauded, yet Rwanda’s forest policy has resulted in a 37-percent increase in forest cover on a continent better known for deforestation and desertification.
Rwanda’s National Forest Policy has also resulted in reduced erosion, improved local water supplies and livelihoods, while helping ensure peace in a country still recovering from the 1994 genocide.
Now Rwanda can also be known as the winner of the prestigious Future Policy Award for 2011.
“Rwanda has sought not only to make its forests a national priority, but has also used them as a platform to revolutionise its stances on women’s
rights and creating a healthy environment,” said Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement.
She issued a statement for the award ceremony in New York City last week just days before her death from cancer in Nairobi Monday at the age of 71. “Rwanda has been a very divided country since the 1994 genocide but this policy is helping to bring peace and value to the people,” said Alexandra Wandel, director of the World Future Council, which administers the Future Policy Awards.
The World Future Council is an international policy research organisation based in Hamburg, Germany that provides decision-makers with effective policy solutions.
“Our aim is to inspire other countries to adapt these successful policies to their individual needs.” said Wandel told IPS. Read the rest of this entry »