Agreement in Copenhagen Leave Something to be Desired

In this article from the New York times, the conclusions drawn in Copenhagen are discussed. An agreement was reached between 5 nations, including the United State but Obama says it falls short. In seems like nothing concrete was set, nothing to committ industrialized nations or developing nations to firm up green house reductions. Obama does say that this is the first time that "all major economies have come together to accept their responsibility to climate change". But these outcomes were messy and unclear, which reflects how the convention was run. Many thought it was an inconclusive end to a 2 year goal to put together a specific treaty of goals and plans. 

It was descried as s good start. Which is what the Kyoto Protocol was described as. It seems like this will solve little. In relation to class discussions, we have talked about unequal distribution of the world's resources. Here it is an unequal distribution of undesirable factor associated with global warming; small countries that do not contribute to rising carbon dioxide very much may feel the effects the most. This is one thing that was solved in Copenhagen: it calls for wealthy nations to compensate them. 

Global Warming a Tough Sell for the Human Psyche

This article captures the main problem with attempts to form environmental policy in developed nations throughout the history of environmentalism.  It is unfortunately true of the human psyche that if we do not see with our own eyes the effects of an environmental problem or are not somehow affected by it personally, it seems too distant in time and space to be relevant to our present, daily lives.  Americans think this way especially in regards to global warming, since they tend to conceptualize climate change as the weather they experience on a day-to-day basis, which evidently has not changed palpably enough for people to detect a difference.  This ambivalence about global warming has only been perpetuated by skeptics who cite their own analyses questioning whether greenhouse gas emissions are really that urgent, or whether global warming is even a problem at all.  What can the scientific community as a group of enlightened individuals do to make issues like global warming appear more “real”, in other words, more like the immediate threats that they actually are?

Old-Growth Forests Get New Life

Last Wednesday, the proposal of a bill that would protect 8.3 million acres of old-growth trees in Oregon signaled a dramatic shift in the attitudes of both federal legislators and the executives of timber companies in the U.S. If passed, the bill would codify and expand protective laws for the oldest trees in six national forests in Oregon owned by the federal government. At a conference in Washington, Senator Ron Wyden, flanked on either side by both environmentalists and timber lobbyists, announced that support for the bill was coming from both sides and that the specifics of the bill included a ban of cutting trees more than 21 inches in diameter and provisions for protecting "delicate watershed areas." To gain their support, timber executives were promised access to younger trees, and their financial support will go towards forest management.

This announcement was a signal that changing times, both political and economic, had influenced a dramatic change in attitude by Oregon representatives as well as the timber companies. In 1991, a judge blocked all logging of old-growth timber in the Pacific Northwest, citing protection of the habitat of a Northern species of spotted owl. Those expansive restrictions forced many logging companies out of business and spurred countless lawsuits. However, this bill represents progress not only in legislating environmental protection measures but also in the relationship between economic and preservation interest groups. 


People vs Fish

Fewer than 500 of North America's largest freshwater fish, whose ancestry hearkens all the way back to the period of dinosaurs, are still in existence. The Kootenai River White Sturgeon takes thirty years to mature and bear young. And it has been quite some time since this mating cycle last occured. This stoppage in procreation, coincided with the construction of the libby dam which significantly lowered water levels and protected against flooding in the region. Unfortunately it also destroyed the nearly 10,000 sturgeons that lived in that location.

Nonetheless, to save this prehistoric species, the Army Corps of Engineers will spill a large amount of water over the dam this coming spring. Sadly the water levels will not even get close to as high as it had before the dam was constructed. As some people have pressed for even more concessions to preserve the sturgeon Jason Flory, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claimed, "But the spring flows that were pre-Libby Dam were what flooded Bonners Ferry. You just don't do that, you don't flood towns."

This small concession might not be enough to preserve this age old creature, but would you advocate a human price. I'm not sure if I could justify the death of even one person if it were to somewhow guarantee the sparing of this species from endangerment.

How Much can the US Commit to Copenhagen?


Even with the support of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, how much will the United States accomplish in Copenhagen?

Obama has already pledged $1 billion for rainforest protection.  By 2102, the goal of the US is to pledge $10 billion for climate-change needs in developing countries.  While these are commendable acts, how much will we change in our own country?  As evidenced by one of the other recent blog posts, we provide 20% of the world's emissions.  Cooperation with the global community would imply a reduction of emissions on our part.  Yet Congressmen such as Republican James Inhofe have firmly stated that they would not accept policies such as cap-and-trade programs.  With internal debate and resistance in our country, how much can we realistically expect to change about our emissions habits?  What can we do to reach a compromise that will satisfy both the American people and the international community, especially at a time when the economy is struggling?

Water Quality and Environmental Justice: Tap water in some communities may be legal, but not healthy

Environmental injustice apparently affects more people in the United States than just the poor and underrepresented. The E.P.A., which is responsible for the Safe Drinking Water Act, has concluded that millions of Americans have been exposed to drinking water that fails to meet a federal health standard.  However, the standards of the Act may not even be high enough, as legal levels of chemicals found in drinking water have been found to be seriously detrimental to human health.  Tests have shown that various communities all over the country have been exposed to drinking water that contains arsenic at concentrations that have been associated with cancer, and still others have been exposed to traces of uranium, which can cause kidney damage.  This is mostly because of new chemicals that have emerged since the Act was passed, that have not been included within the scope of the Act. 

In one area of Los Angeles, reservoirs contain chemicals that become cancer causing when exposed to sunlight. To stop the carcinogens from forming, the city covered the surface of reservoirs, including one in the upscale neighborhood of Silver Lake, with a blanket of black plastic balls that blocked the sun. Complaints started from owners of expensive houses around the reservoir. Since the water does not violate the standards of any law, they are more upset by the loss of aesthetic beauty than potential health risks.  It is important for the Act to be revised to include new chemicals and scientific findings on levels of those and other chemicals that are putting people seriously at risk.

Living in the Most Polluted City in the World

Due to Chinese negotiations in Copenhagen, towns such as Linfen have fallen under intense scrutiny from the global community.  One can barely see in an environment such as this, and seeing the sun is a rare gift.  Sheep are born with birth defects as industrial plants and mills pump smoke into the atmosphere.  Yet China does not see this as a bad thing; in fact, some government officials view Linfen as a success.

The government has indeed spent money in order to reduce emissions in the area.  There are fewer factories, and although the conditions are still bad, they are not as they once were.  Government officials proudly proclaim that Linfen is "no longer the most polluted city in the world" and that it is now "suitable for human inhabitance."  The people are happy because there are more jobs and the pollution is "much better than it was before."

Even if the Chinese government has spent money cleaning up the pollution, these living conditions are certainly not normal.  At what point do economic benefits from pollution like this cease to outweigh the consequences?  When people can no longer breathe, should this be seen as a violation of rights?

"Who’s at the Climate Talks, and What Do They Seek"

This article presents us with some disturbing evidence indicating that the United States unfortunately is not doing its part to help with global climate change.  Although it is evident that other Western countries are adopting green friendly policies and enforcing them, the United States continues to pump emissions and other pollutants out.

Hip-Hop Environmentalism?

For anyone who has ever watched a Rap music video, I doubt you have seen a plethora of images or many lyrics advocating for environmentally practices. In contrast, you probably have seen many stereotypical images displaying rappers polluting any given area by emptying out bottles of liquor, throwing paper money into the air, or driving gas-guzzling vehicles. Here's a music video that strays a bit from the norm.

An MC (or rapper) by the name of Dr. Octagon chose to take the lead in the movement of Hip-Hop Environmentalism two years ago in 2007 when he released his song "Trees." While it may have not caught onto mainstream America and failed to make any significant impacts on the Hip-Hop world, his message is a positive one and his creative choice of illustrating this message is noteworthy. But who knows, perhaps we may listen to conceptual lyrics like these in the near future if popular culture decides to advocate for environmentalism like it has with other issues.

-Anthony Mathieu

Global Electricity Consumption

Attached is a link to a world map of where electricity is being used. By taking a brief glance, you can easily see where energy is being most consumed and the disparities between underdeveloped and developed nations. I thought it was an interesting map considering socioeconomic and historical underpinnings of the images illustrated.

For instance, while Africa is indeed a well-populated, geographically expansive area of the Earth, it seems to consume less energy than any other continent with the exception of Antarctica. In contrast, North America and Europe undoubtedly consume much more even though less people inhabit these areas of the Earth.

When considering political action that needs to be taken pertaining to environmental reform, many people are looking towards underdeveloped nations to make changes in consumption and pollution production habits. The illustrations of this map in particular seem to draw upon many of the reasons as to why such attempts are futile and unfounded.

Anthony Mathieu

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