Friday, March 01, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #97 - Part 2

Global warming protest draws 40,000

Something I didn't get to last week for lack of time so I wanted to do it early this week to make sure I got it in.

On Sunday, February 17, the largest climate protest ever occurred in Washington, DC. Some 40,000 people from 30 states along with Canadian indigenous rights activists turned out on a cold, blustery day to demand that Barack Obama reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline and live up to his pledges to act on climate change.

Four days earlier, on February 13, 48 environmental, civil rights and community leaders - including Julian Bond, Robert Kennedy, Jr., Bill McKibben, and Daryl Hannah - blocked a sidewalk in front of the White House in an act of civil disobedience around the same issues.

A significant addition to that number was Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. It was important because it was the first time in its 120-year history that the Sierra Club had taken part in civil disobedience, an indication of how much importance the group attaches to the issue.

I talked about the Keystone XL pipeline before: It's intended to carry tar sands from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas. There are two big problems with the plan: One is the danger of leaks, spills, and other threats to local environments, including wildlife and water supplies. In fact, the risk is likely bigger than you think. Look at the picture to the right. I know it's hard to see, but notice the thin light line.

In early December, three activists locked themselves inside a segment of the pipeline located in Winona, Texas. In the morning, they found sunlight had illuminated gaping holes in the pipe left behind by faulty welding. The photograph was taken from inside the pipeline and the light is daylight coming through what is supposed to be a water-tight, air-tight pipe.

The three protesters were arrested and held for 24 days in prison. An hour after the arrest, TransCanada, the corporation that wants to build the pipeline, took that segment of pipeline and put it in the ground where it can't be seen. The pipeline is supposed to be checked by independent inspectors, but "independent" apparently has as much meaning here as does the requirement that superPACs don't "coordinate" with a political candidate's campaign does in campaign finance: TransCanada pipeline contractors are permitted to choose their own inspectors.

But here's the other problem, the even bigger one: Tar sands is about the dirtiest, most environment-fouling, air-polluting, greenhouse gas-generating, global warming-pushing way of producing oil there is. Bill McKibben, founder of, one of the groups organizing the climate rally along with the Sierra Club and the Hip-Hop Caucus, says development of tar sands means "game over" on climate change and likened it to lighting a "carbon bomb."

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the pipeline will boost annual US carbon emissions by up to 27.6 million metric tons, the equivalent of adding nearly six million cars on the road. In fact, Oil Change International says those estimates are too low because they don't take into effect the full range of effects. The group says the pipeline and the associated boost to the tar sands industry will raise total emissions by at least 13 percent.

Which only emphasizes the point that the rally was, again, about more than the Keystone XL alone; it was about the whole threat of climate change and a demand that the Amazing Mister O live up to his promises to act.

We can't avoid the truth of climate change, we can't escape it except by willful self-delusion: The more time goes by the higher the mountain of evidence becomes.

For example, in November, the World Meteorological Organization, an agency of the United Nations, reported that the volume of greenhouse gasses went up by 30% in 2011, with the gasses ranked most harmful - carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide - all reaching record high concentrations.

Bill McKibben's group,, gets its name from the fact that atmospheric scientists say that 350 parts per million is the "safe upper limit" for concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to head off significant climate change. Current concentrations of CO2 are above 395 parts per million and rising.

Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, noted that until now, carbon sinks such as trees and, significantly, the oceans have absorbed nearly half of the carbon dioxide humans emitted into the atmosphere but there are clear signs - such as the increasing acidity of the oceans - that those sinks may be reaching the limit of their ability to take up carbon.

More recently, last month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued its annual State of the Climate Report, which noted that 2012 was the hottest year on record for the US. Just days later, the National Climate Assessment Development Advisory Committee published its draft of the nation's third climate assessment report, intended to be a comprehensive review of the latest and best peer-reviewed science on the extent and impacts of global warming on the United States. It was put together by a group of 240 scientists. The final report, after a period of public comment, is due next year.

For those of us who have been following the issue, that report doesn't tell us anything we didn't know - but it is still sobering, even depressing, reading. It says that evidence is stronger and clearer than ever that the climate is rapidly changing, even more rapidly than predicted, primarily as a result of human activities, including the use of fossil fuels. Weather extremes are on the rise, and the evidence for a connection between such events and climate change is stronger than ever.

Scientists say that we need to keep the overall increase in world temperature below 2C (3.6F) to head off the worst effects of climate change. The bad news is that right now we are on track to hit a 4C increase - or more - by the end of the century. The good news is that according to the latest research, it is still possible to stay below that 2C increase. The bad news is that doing so will require worldwide emissions to peak in 2016 and then decline 5% per year for the next 34 years.

Let me be blunt: With current international negotiations on climate change hoping to have a deal by 2015 which won't go into effect until 2020, I really doubt we're up for it.

And here's part of the reason why:40,000 people marched in Washington. The largest climate demonstration in US history. And the major network newscasts - CBS, NBC, and ABC - could barely be aroused to notice. CNN did some live coverage, but we tend to forget that the Big Three evening newscasts still swamp cable outfits in terms of numbers of viewers. And people can't care about what they don't know about.


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