Posts Tagged ‘Environmental Movement’

Copenhagen – now what?

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

The Copenhagen meeting finished some time ago now, and didn’t succeed in delivering anything useful. I’ve resisted the temptation to write about it earlier, rather I wanted to see what others said first, before making up my own mind about it. There’s been an awful lot of analysis published in the blogosphere since the meeting ended, I’m sure I’ve not encountered every view, but here are my own conclusions.

One thing is obvious, we did not get the fair, ambitious, and legally binding document we were all hoping for. Not even close. All we got was the ‘Copenhagen accord’, a piece of paper with no legal weight written by a few of the participants. That accord has no numbers in it that we can use to actually set policies. It does not state when emissions should peak, what reduction in emissions is required, in what timescale, or anything like that. There is no way to turn it into a plan of action, to decide how to tackle climate change based on what it says. It is worthless in itself, and is quite possibly worse than having no agreement at all.

By stepping outside the UN framework to produce that accord, those few countries that created it have seriously weakened the UNFCC process.
President Obama announced the accord to the press before most of the national representatives had even seen it, which shows a distinct lack of respect for protocol. How can the UNFCC be taken seriously now that a handful of leaders have ignored it and made up their own agreement?

On the other hand, it is not at all clear that anything else was on the table. I have not seen anything mentioned anywhere that the formal process of the UNFCC had created a document that was ready to be signed at the end of the meeting. If you know otherwise, please let me know via the comments. And, worthless as it is in practise, it is nonetheless significant that America and China have both signed even so weak a document as they did.

In the aftermath, the inevitable finger-pointing has taken place, with most people blaming someone half the world away for the failure. It’s difficult for an observer like myself to know what really happened, who is at fault, and why the process broke down. There was clearly a lot of good intention from many places, I doubt so many world leaders have ever been assembled in one place before. They wouldn’t all go there to look bad, I’m sure many of them wanted to come away with something real. Many countries went to Copenhagen having made pledges which, while inadequate, were much stronger than anything they have comitted to in the past. So what happened?

President Obama was clearly a key player, and he went there empty-handed. He didn’t offer anything new, much to the disappointment of many. The offer of ‘mobilising a fund of $100 billion annually for mitigation’ by 2020 is not worth much. Americans spend that much each year on bottled water, so it’s not exactly digging deep into their pockets. Besides, the International Energy Agency estimates that, for each year we delay action, the cost of tackling climate change will increase by $500 billion. So having $100 billion per year by 2020 really isn’t impressive.

It seems likely that, had America made a bigger comittment to cutting its own emissions, the conference could have gained a lot of momentum. With one of the highest levels of emissions per person in the entire world, America, like many western countires, has a clear debt to pay for the wealth it has accumulated. People were looking to President Obama to take the leading role he claimed he would when he was sworn into office. He failed to do that. To be fair, when you see the political pressure and tactics wielded by the fossil-fuel industries in America, it’s hardly surprising that President Obama couldn’t offer more. He simply doesn’t have that much power.

George Monbiot of the Guardian points out that Obama demanded concessions, despite offered nothing in return. On the other hand, Mark Lynas blames China for systematically blocking all attempts to name concrete targets. In Mark’s own words:

it was China’s representative who insisted that industrialised country targets, previously agreed as an 80% cut by 2050, be taken out of the deal. “Why can’t we even mention our own targets?” demanded a furious Angela Merkel. Australia’s prime minister, Kevin Rudd, was annoyed enough to bang his microphone. Brazil’s representative too pointed out the illogicality of China’s position. Why should rich countries not announce even this unilateral cut? The Chinese delegate said no, and I watched, aghast, as Merkel threw up her hands in despair and conceded the point. Now we know why – because China bet, correctly, that Obama would get the blame for the Copenhagen accord’s lack of ambition.

China, backed at times by India, then proceeded to take out all the numbers that mattered. A 2020 peaking year in global emissions, essential to restrain temperatures to 2C, was removed and replaced by woolly language suggesting that emissions should peak “as soon as possible”. The long-term target, of global 50% cuts by 2050, was also excised. No one else, perhaps with the exceptions of India and Saudi Arabia, wanted this to happen. I am certain that had the Chinese not been in the room, we would have left Copenhagen with a deal that had environmentalists popping champagne corks popping in every corner of the world.

You can read more on Mark’s views of Copenhagen at the New York Times dotEarth blog, it’s worth reading.

I think that both George and Mark make good arguments, as do many other writers, but I have to say I give a lot of weight to Mark’s analysis. Mark was in the room for the negotiations, he saw it all first-hand. I’ve read Mark’s book, Six Degrees, and was impressed at how well he took such a large body of research and summarised it in terms we can all understand. He’s also one of the few environmentalists who has come to understand the importance of nuclear power in addressing climate change. That’s why I trust him as an observer and a critical thinker, and take his opinion seriously.

So, given that the UN framework didn’t yield a result, and that those who wanted to do something were prevented from doing so by those that don’t, what does that mean for the future? Here, the blogosphere seems to be more in agreement, people-power still matters, and there are a lot of people who aren’t giving up.

People from all walks of life have been calling for action on climate change. George Monbiot, in that same article above, is quite blunt about blaming people for complacency.

For the past few years good, liberal, compassionate people – the kind who read the Guardian – have shaken their heads and tutted and wondered why someone doesn’t do something. Yet the number taking action has been pathetic.

I guess he’s right. I know I came late to the party, and wish I had acted sooner.

At the other end of the scale, a group of international investors managing $13 trillion in assets also called for strong action (full report (PDF)). You can bet that they wouldn’t be asking for strong legislation to attack global warming unless they thought that it was needed for the global economy to survive.

Young people are getting in on the act too. Take a look at the video below, produced by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. Their message to world leaders is load and clear:

Those of you who say it can’t be done should get out of the way of people already doing it. Our future will not be written for us, but by us. You’re not done yet. And neither are we.

It’s great to know so many people from such different levels of society want action, but it won’t be enough to simply tell governments to act. It’s important that people both understand what is needed and agree on how to act, so a clear, unified, and sensible message is sent to political leaders. One of the biggest problems here is that a lot of people think that renewable energy sources can solve our energy needs, and many environmental groups remain opposed to nuclear power.

Advocates of ‘renewable energy’ regularly fail to consider the cost or effort required to satisfy demand. Replacing conventional electricity production with renewable sources is simply not sensible when you look at the amount of raw material (e.g. concrete and steel) that is needed, or at the amount of land that would be needed for the installation. Never mind the fact that solar or wind power are useless in a cold spell of weather like we are having at the moment, so we would still need something reliable to provide power when we need it most. See David Mackay‘s free ebook, Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air, for some clear discussion about the theoretical limits of renewable energy and decide for yourself if you think it’s really a viable option.

I’ve written before about green-groups misguided opposition to nuclear power. Few of them seem to understand the realities of modern nuclear power, which is cheaper, cleaner, safer, and more reliable than it was during the cold-war days of the nuclear arms race. By perpetuating this myth, they are supporting the fossil-fuel industry. How? as Steve Kirsch said recently:

If you want to get emissions reductions, you must make the alternatives for base-load electric power generation cheaper than coal. It’s that simple. If you don’t do that, you lose.

Needless to say, weather-dependant renewable energy cannot provide that base-load, and the only real competition to fossil-fuel is nuclear power. If I were a fossil-fuel CEO, I would certainly want to spread fear of nuclear power, and would happily let the green-groups do my dirty work for me!

If you want a good idea of what it takes to replace fossil-fuel with either renewable or nuclear power, take a look at bravenewclimate.com. They consider the practicalities of cost and build-rate for a range of options, and conclude that anything other than massive deployment of nuclear power simply won’t cut emissions in time.

Until green-groups embrace the need for nuclear power instead of renewable energy, we are not sending a coherent or useful message to world leaders, one that they can use to enact legislation that will genuinely cut emissions. Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu surely understands this, so President Obama must know it too. Small wonder that he couldn’t offer much at Copenhagen when the environmental movement don’t want the changes that will work, and the coal and oil industries are spending a fortune to mislead and misinform the American public.

That’s not to say that this problem is specific to America, it’s a drama that is repeated the world over. The sooner we realise that, the sooner we can start making the changes that matter. Maybe then we can persuade others to do the same too.

Free Petrol? Free Pizza!

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

At the end of 2008, I explained how changing my driving habits had effectively given me free petrol for the month of December. Time to review the figures for 2009!

In 2008, my car travelled 10400 km, using 621 litres of petrol. That works out at 47.3 mpg if you’re British, 39.3 mpg if you’re American, and 6.0 litres per 100 km if you’re French. In 2009, the same car travelled 9440 km on 552 litres. I’ll let you do the math, but by my calculation that’s about 2% better on the mileage. More importantly, the total fuel consumption went down by 11%, which is quite a chunk. The difference is worth about $100 (70 euros), enough for another good meal out with Dweezeljazz.

Free pizza for driving less, I can handle that!

According to the 538 blog, the average American family of 4 uses about 2000 US gallons of petrol per year. That’s over 7500 litres. Imagine how many free pizzas they could get if they saved 10% of that?

I’ve also been following my electricity consumption for the past year, and have found that we average about 30 kWh per day. According to Wikipedia’s list of electricity consumption per country, we’re a fair bit lower than the average for France, which would be 40 kWh/day for the two of us. Not bad at all.

I only monitor our electricity use by reading the meter once per week, but that’s enough to start getting useful information on where it all goes. For example, our water-heater broke down in summer, allowing me to estimate how much goes into heating water for us. Some people go much further. Tom Harrison uses a TED 5000, a gadget that can show electricity use by the second as it happens. That’s how he found out that his gas oven uses 300W of electricity. How many people would even guess that a gas oven uses electricity, never mind as much as that?

If you’re interested in checking your own use of resources such as petrol and electricity, there are a number of ways of going about it. You can get an idea of your petrol use by looking at the service-records for your car, the total number of miles on the clock is typically recorded there. If you know how often you fill up your petrol tank (credit-card receipts, perhaps?) you can get a fair estimate of your mileage that way. For electricity or gas, you can look at your bills over the last year to get a starting point (make sure they’re actual readings, not estimates).

Once you know how much you’ve been using in the past, you have a good incentive to reduce it in the future. You can compare your petrol consumption with others by recording your results at fuelly.com. My Astra is there.

link to 10:10 websiteIf you’re serious about wanting to reduce your consumption, why not sign up with the 10:10 campaign (there’s a separate link for people in the UK). The 10:10 campaign wants people, businesses, and other organisations to reduce their carbon footprint by 10% in 2010. That’s a modest but significant goal which is easy to achieve, and is intended to focus on actually doing the things that are needed, rather than just talking about them. Over 50,000 people have signed up so far, including Pete Postlethwaite, star of the Age of Stupid film.

It has to be said, the 10:10 website is not very well laid out. It took me ages to find the 10:10 blog, for example. They’re looking for a web developer if you’re interested in helping them improve it. You can actually get a better idea of what it’s about from the Wikipedia 10:10 page, which also lists some of the people and organisations that have comitted themselves to action. They include the British cabinet, the Science Museum, Microsoft UK, the Guardian, and a whole bunch of celebrities. I’ll be checking there again in a few days to see if they’ve added my name to the list.

The Guardian are throwing a lot of their weight behind the 10:10 campaign. It’s worth reading their articles by Andrew Simms, Chris Goodall and Ian Katz, among others. I’m convinced 10:10 is worth doing, so I signed up. After all, you can look at it differently, and just think of it as free pizza.

World Oceans Day, June 8th

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

The Aegean

The Aegean


Next Monday, June 8th, is World Oceans Day. At the risk of turning this blog into a diary of global eco-events, I’d like to draw your attention to it.

The idea to have a world-day for the oceans came in 1992 from Canada, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It’s been celebrated every year since then, but this year marks the first time it has official U.N. recognition. Henceforth, World Oceans Day will be celebrated on June 8th, every year.

You might think that since I live near Geneva, about as far away from the sea as it is possible to get in Western Europe, I would not have much to say about the sea. If you think that, you must be new to this blog (welcome!), the sea is one thing I can talk about for hours. I grew up in England, closer to the coast than most people there. Nobody in England is more than 70 miles from the sea, I grew up much closer than that, about one mile away from the shore, on an island, no less. I spent many a childhood summer day freezing in the cold water, picking my way over the stony beaches, trying to see what I could through the opaque grey-green waters of the north Kent coast (not much, as it happens). I collected foraminifera (tiny shells, less than 1 mm across) and looked at them under a microscope. I remember the first time I saw sea-anemones, on the beaches of Jersey on a family holiday. I’ve seen octopus and nudibranchs on crowded Greek beaches, and sharks and dolphins in the Maldives. Oh yes, I can safely say I love the sea.

The oceans are huge. They cover almost three-quarters of the surface of the earth, and something like three fifths of the earth is over a mile below the surface of the sea. There is an awful lot of seawater out there. So why do we need a world-day event to draw attention to the oceans? Well, as it turns out, the seas and oceans of the world are not in good shape, and it’s our fault, again. You can find out more about the threats to the oceans on the Marine Conservation Society website, here are a few of the highlights.

Everyone knows about global warming, and the melting of the polar ice-caps. That’s bad news for penguins and polar bears, but also for people. A large fraction of humanity lives near the coast, making a substantial part of their living from what they can haul out of the sea. Rising seas and warming waters will change that. Not only will islands and low-lying regions be lost under the waves, the ecosystems at the coastal fringes will suffer too. Coral reefs, for example, provide living space and nurseries for a great many species, and are essential to the marine environment. Even creatures that don’t live on or in them directly often depend on the animals that do. Excessively warm water leads to ‘coral bleaching’, which can kill it if the water stays warm for long enough. Bleaching events are more common than they used to be, and are predicted to become much worse over time. Despite some research showing that some corals may adapt to warmer waters, there is strong reason to believe that most corals will be killed by warm seas by the end of this century unless we make big cuts in our emissions of greenhouse gasses. Scientists are working to find ways to help coral survive, but they’re racing against the clock.

Coral

Coral

Globally, there’s an even bigger threat, ocean-acidification. The oceans absorb a great deal of the excess carbon dioxide that we are pumping into the atmosphere, and this is slowly turning the seas more acidic. This slows coral growth because it is harder for the coral to form its chalky skeleton. Other creatures, many of which are right at the bottom of the marine food chain, will suffer the same fate. Acidification of the oceans is a global problem by its very nature. It will affect reefs and other ecosystems worldwide, not just those near to cities and industries.

Overfishing is another major problem for the oceans. By depleting stocks of even a few species, we change the way entire ecosystems behave, often seriously. Tuna have been fished almost to extinction in the Mediterranean sea, and there is little sign that common sense will prevail to reduce the pressure on them. Tuna are predators, high up in the food chain. When you remove top predators, often the result is that a few species lower down the food-chain start to dominate, out-competing other creatures. The ecosystem becomes unbalanced, and may change its nature completely. It may not be enough to simply stop hunting the predators, the ecosystem may no longer be able to recover on its own.

Floating garbage is another serious problem. On the tiny atoll of Midway in the Pacific ocean, albatross often mistake floating plastic garbage for food, which they then feed to their chicks. That kills many of them, not surprisingly. Albatross aren’t meant to digest golf-tees, toothbrushes, and lego blocks.

Even the efforts we go to to protect the oceans and their inhabitants can often be misguided. I’m sure we’ve all heard of dolphin-safe tuna, it even got a mention in Lethal Weapon 2, released some 20 years ago. I’m fond of dolphins, like many people, but I was shocked to learn about just how much damage dolphin-safe tuna-fishing can do. The methods used to catch tuna without harming dolphins have a much higher rate of bycatch than other methods. ‘Bycatch’ is another word for ‘collateral damage’, animals accidentally killed while hunting a specific species at sea. Much of the bycatch in dolphin-safe tuna is in itself seriously endangered, far more so than dolphins themselves. No, dolphin-safe tuna is not a good thing for the marine environment.

Sunset on the Beach

Sunset on the Beach

More and more people are becoming aware of and involved in environmental issues. They are paying attention to the environmental cost of the goods they purchase, insisting on packaging that can be recycled, lower power consumption from electrical goods, or higher mileage from their cars, for example. But what can you change in your daily activities to help the oceans, especially if you live far from the sea? The Marine Conservation Society have some advice, and there’s also a page of hints at The Ocean Project. One obvious thing is to be more informed and cautious in your seafood purchases, both sites have suggestions there. If you prefer to avoid seafood altogether, simply buying organic food is a good idea. That encourages farmers to produce more of it, which means less pesticide in use. Reduced pesticide use means less of it getting into our rivers and from there into the sea, finally ending up in marine mammals like that dolphin we were trying to save a moment ago.

You can find out more about World Ocean Day at the World Ocean Network site. Maybe one of the events that they list is taking place somewhere near you. If not, there are plenty of web-based resources available, like the 24 hours in the Ocean online event from the Musée Nausicaä. I’ll certainly be following that for some of the day.

Celebrating Wildlife

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Field of dandelions

Field of dandelions


Last Friday, May 15th, was ‘Endangered Species Day‘ in America. This event is aimed at encouraging people to learn about endangered species and what they can do to help them. Endangered Species Day is coordinated by StopExtinction.org, and is held on the third Friday of May every year. It was first celebrated in 2006, so this year sees the fourth edition. The event was created by the US Congress, this year a resolution was introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein encouraging schools to spend time teaching students about endangered species and conservation efforts, among other things. Senator Feinstein has been mentioned on this blog before in the context of another endangered creature, namely, Patricia Rattray.

Blue flower

Blue flower

StopExtinction.org had all sorts of events on their list for this year, educational, inspirational, hands-on, the lot. If you went to any of them I’d love to hear about it. Here’s a quick sampling.

The Wyoming Children’s Museum and Nature Center held presentations on how even one degree of warming can affect wildlife (and what you can do about it). Few climatologists today would say we can avoid one degree of warming, so this is setting the bar low. Even one degree can cause a great deal of harm to ecosystems, and it’s already happening. If you’re in any doubt about that, read these articles about Cedar Canyon Road and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge from The Clade.

Magpie

Magpie

For a more leisurely approach, there were events like the birdwalk on the Tijuana river in California, where you could see and learn about the birds that live there. This is actually a weekly event, so if you missed it last weekend you can go another time. Check the Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center calendar for details of all their upcoming events.

Then there’s at least one activity that can only be described as boring. That is to say, it takes place in the town of Boring, Oregon. No, I’m not making this up, the town of Boring really exists. Boring recently began a project to restore some parkland, and if you were there on Friday you could have participated in helping to restore the Boring Trail Station Trailhead Park (a note to the stopextinction siteadmins, you have broken links on that page). You can find out all you want to know about this project at their own webside, BoringStation.com.

The StopExtinction.org website has practical advice on things you can do to protect wildlife near you. They list some very simple things, like driving slower to reduce the chance of impact with animals. You’ll probably save yourself money that way too, I did. Another simple thing you can do is to plant native plant species in your garden. Many insects are poorly adapted to non-native plants, so planting native species can encourage them, and the birds and other animals that feed on them.

Butterflies

Butterflies

Coincidentally, across the Atlantic, ‘Fete de la Nature‘ took place in France at practically the same time. This is an all-weekend event, and again there are a variety of events. It’s a year younger than Endangered Species Day, having started in 2007, but boasts an impressive 300,000 participants in the past. Among the events taking place near me there was a chance to see chamois at the Col de la Faucille.

Of course, by now, those events have been and gone. Not to worry, there’s still plenty of opportunity to learn about the nature near you, endangered or otherwise. Many of the events organised for either Endangered Species Day or Fete de la Nature were organised by clubs or societies, who have an ongoing program of events. If you look them up, you might find something interesting. If they were one-off events, maybe you can contact the organisers anyway, and ask them if they plan to repeat it? If they get a demand, they might just do that.

If that doesn’t lead to something, why not just go out there and take a look for yourself? There’s plenty to see, and if you’re handy with a camera you can always find something worth photographing. Some of the best blogs out there are by nature-lovers, take a look at “Chipper’s Alley” in Oregon, “Everything is Permuted” in England, “2nd star to the right, straight on till morning…” in Malaysia, or “My birdpics” in Sweden for some of my personal favourites. Have fun!

dandelion flowers

dandelion flowers

Earth Day 2009, it’s here!

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Earth Day 2009

Earth Day 2009

Just to remind you that tomorrow, April 22nd, is Earth Day 2009. Earth Day has been around for a long time, the first one being in 1970, some 39 years ago. It is hailed by many as being one of the cornerstones of the environmental movement, and this year it’s still as important as ever. More so, perhaps, as the need to act on climate change and pollution becomes ever more urgent.

You can look for Earth Day events near you on their site. If you can’t find anything, why not just do something for yourself? Our dear friend Shannon Ryan took part in the very first Earth Day, all those years ago, by walking to school instead of taking the bus.

mushroom

mushroom

Of course, no gentleman would ever do the math, but this clearly makes her an experienced lover of nature! You need only read Shannons’ blog “Chippers’ Alley” to see that for yourself, it’s full of the beautiful photos she takes on a regular basis, such as these mushrooms. Nice one, Shannon.

Whatever you do to mark the occasion, I wish you a Happy Earth Day 2009!

“Don’t be Stupid” about climate change

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

Mohamed Nasheed, president of the Maldives, has recently given the best political speech I have ever heard. Released with the premier of “Age of Stupid“, his message to the world about climate change was very clear. If you’ve never heard a politician talking straight and making sense before, you may find it refreshing.

 

Come to think of it, that makes two politicians I know of who know how to make sense, Presidents Nasheed and Obama. Hopefully it’s catching.


Pete Poslethwaite as the Archivist

“Age of Stupid” was released on March 15th in the UK. Set in 2055, it’s a film about the consequences of global warming, made using a lot of real news footage from recent times. For example, one clip features French mountain guide Fernand Pareau reflecting on the way the glaciers and Alps have changed in his 82 years. The film stars Pete Poslethwaite as a man looking back at 2008 and asking “why didn’t we stop climate change when we had the chance?”. Pete is a lovely actor, highly charismatic and gloriously ugly (no offense intended, Pete). I just loved him in “Jurassic Park – The Lost World”, a role rather at the opposite end of the ecological spectrum. Pete clearly believes in the message of “Age of Stupid”, he has a wind turbine in his garden in Shropshire.

Back to President Nasheed, what did he say in his speech? Well, for one thing, he announced that the Maldives is going to be carbon-neutral within a decade. In his own words:

The cost of this probably will be high, but please understand, failure to act will cost us the world. If the Maldives, a small, relatively poor country, can achieve a big reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions, there can be no excuse from richer nations who claim that going green is to complex, too expensive or too much bother.

That’s a bold statement, but is it really such a big deal for such a small nation to achieve that? I think so, it’s not like they have a great deal of flexibility in going carbon-neutral, their choices are very limited. They import all their wheat, so it’s unlikely they can grow biofuel crops. They can’t relocate to higher ground to escape rising sea levels, because they don’t have any high ground to go to. They have no mineral resources and very little in the way of agriculture. As far as natural resources go, they have sand, sea, coral, fish, and tourists. That’s not a lot to work with.

The credit-crunch is already affecting the Maldivian tourist trade, tourism is down 14% on last year. They are calling it the ‘financial tsunami’, referring to the drop in tourism after the tsunami of December 2004.

Global warming will damage the reefs in many ways, such as bleaching through heat-stress, acidification from the extra CO2 dissolved in the ocean, and erosion from rising sea levels and extreme weather events. When the reefs suffer, the fish suffer too, so they get hit from all sides. No, small as they are, I reckon that going carbon-neutral has to be a lot harder for them than it would be for many other nations with more resources at their disposal.

President Nasheed is taking other measures to protect his nation. I’ve written before about some of the things the Maldivian government is doing to address climate change, but that’s not all of it. He’s reduced the cost of the presidency from $150 million per year to $4 million, and is selling the $7.5 million presidential yacht. He chose not to occupy the presidential palace, it may become a museum or a university. Instead, he shares an office with his secretary. Clearly he doesn’t want to squander the resources at his disposal.

The Maldivian government also recently introduced a total ban on shark fishing within their waters, extending a previous ban which only covered the tourist atolls. Sharks are top predators in the marine environment, and as such they are essential to maintaining the health of a coral reef ecosystem. The Maldivian Ministry of Fisheries is working to find alternate livelihoods for the shark-fishermen, so they will have no reason to defy the ban. This is important when you realise that these are not rich people killing sharks for fun, but just poor people trying to feed their families, and one shark-fin can be worth $100. There’s a very good discussion on shark-finning on the Southern Fried Scientist blog, but be warned, the video linked there is not for the faint of heart.

President Nasheed says “for untold fossil fuel consumption in our lifetime, we are trading our children’s place in an earthly paradise”. It would be understandable to think that the Maldives has more at stake than the rest of us, since they are such a small, island nation, but that would be totally and terribly wrong. If the world can’t save countries such as the Maldives today, we won’t be able to save places such as London, New York, or Hong Kong tomorrow. Much of Manhattan could be under water by the end of this century, and the longer it takes for us to act, the worse it will be.

The last part of President Nasheeds’ speech is directed towards the climate conference in Copenhagen in December of this year:

Copenhagen can be one of two things. It can be an historic event where the world unites against carbon pollution, in a collective spirit of cooperation and collaboration, or Copenhagen can be a suicide pact. The choice is that stark. My message to you, my message to the world, is simply this: Please, don’t be stupid.

Well said, President Nasheed, it seems to me the world could do with more leaders like you. Perhaps if we all send a clear message to our own leaders, we might get the message through in time.

Songs about Pollution

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

The oldest song about pollution that I know of about is by Tom Lehrer, a mathematician, pianist, and satirist, who wrote many fun songs. “Pollution” was written sometime around 1962-1963, coincidentally the same time that Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, a book which is often credited with having started the environmental movement.

It’s not just the English-speaking world that was singing about pollution, Johnny Hallyday released “La Pollution” in 1970, some 39 years ago. There’s a list of French songs on an environmental theme on Yahoo, if you want more.

More recently, the Australian group Midnight Oil have been actively campaigning in their music for aboriginal rights, and on environmental issues. Their singer, Peter Garrett, has taken his protests one step further. Since November 2007 he is the Environment Minister in the Australian government.

I was surprised when I first found out that people were singing about pollution over 40 years ago. If anyone knows of an older song about pollution, I’d love to hear about it please. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy Tom, there’s a lot of his stuff on YouTube if you want more.