30 November 2006

Climate Change: Can Climate Change Save the Environmental Movement?

My question tonight goes back to a conversation with colleagues last month. Can Climate Change Save the Environmental Movement?

The "Death of Environmentalism" caused a stir last year when it was published on Change This! And there has been a lot of dialogue about everyone from Wal-Mart to the Evangelicals going green.

But there continue to be lingering doubts about whether environmentalism can survive its fractured and many-splendored state. Let's face it, there's just too much noise and too many complicated messages out there. The general public -- hell, even the committed -- have a hard time keeping it straight.

Enter Climate Change (or global warming or climate crisis or climate pollution or whatever you want to call it). It is happening. It is real. We should all be very afraid. Or we should we stop worrying and do something about it?

And because it will effect us all and touches all aspects of our work, can this be the rallying cause that brings the movement together. Can Climate Change save us from ourselves?

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28 November 2006

Climate Change: Climate Exchange May Get Boost from U.S. Elections, claims CCX Boss

Reuters/Planet Ark reports that Richard Sandor, founder of the Chicago Climate Exchange is confident, "The debate over global warming will likely move to center stage with the return of Democratic Party control in the US Congress, and that should boost trading on fledgling 'climate' markets."

"Clearly the wave at least in Washington is much more oriented toward cap-and-trade, market-based solutions to climate change," CCX founder Richard Sandor told Reuters on the sidelines of a Futures Industry Association meeting here.

Three key US senators, Barbara Boxer of California, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut -- who are to lead powerful environmental committees in Congress -- wrote to President George W. Bush on Nov. 15 asking him to reconsider his long-held opposition to mandatory US caps on emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) like carbon dioxide.

"The recent elections have signaled a need to change direction in many areas, including global warming," the senators wrote to Bush. "When the 110th Congress begins in January, we pledge to work to pass an effective system of mandatory limits on greenhouse gases."

Most scientists have linked greenhouse gases to global warming. Rising temperatures could increase storm intensities and melt glaciers, which would threaten low-lying nations with flooding.

Sandor, a pioneering economist credited with building the US financial futures market in the 1970s, founded the Chicago Climate Exchange three years ago.

Read the full story by Christine Stebbins: Chicago Climate Exchange

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23 November 2006

Blogging: Two Years of The Green Skeptic

Two years ago, on a Thanksgiving evening, I started this web log. Really, I started it as an experiment. I wanted to find a venue to write about issues I care about in a way that was quick, immediate, and reached a wider audience than the print journals or online publications for which I was writing.

There have been times when I wondered if there were any readers out there, when I thought, "Well, it's been a good run, but am I reaching folks?" And yet, when I have those moments of despair -- doesn't every writer? -- I will hear from some stranger about something I've written or learn that one of my posts has been picked up by a class as part of a syllabus.

Or the time I mentioned Walter Lowenfels, whose words I continue to keep before me: "One reader is a miracle; two, a mass movement," when I heard from one of his grandchildren from somewhere out in cyberspace. Or I'll get an email from a challenging reader who wants to take issue with something I've written or continue a dialogue I started but didn't know it. Or the loyal readers, you know who you are, who show appreciation for a particularly erudite post.

Somehow, in those moments, it all seems worth it. Over the past year, I've tried to narrow the focus of my posts to write about climate change, social entrepreneurs, and microfinance, hoping that will sharpen my knowledge but also generate a kind of niche-interest compatible to mine. Lately I've been wondering if that was a good move. It certainly helps focus me when I sit down to write a post, and yet my interests are broader -- am I cheating myself or my readers?

I've toyed with the idea of writing about poetry on this web log, and wondered if that was worthy content for "The Green Skeptic." Or music or pizza or breadbaking or books. (I've done one well-received book list and am planning another for this year.) Is it better to go broad or deep? I'm not sure I have the answer

The beauty of this medium is you can make of it what you want. I never wanted to post for the sake of posting; rather, I've preferred to post only when I had something to say or when some news item or another caught my eye.

This approach isn't winning me the highest readership or phenomenal traffic, but if you're reading this now (and if you've read this far, I salute you) then somehow the whole experiment is worth it. And if you decide to comment or contact me all the better. I want this to be a dialogue not a one-way street.

Two years of blogging. It doesn't seem like a long time -- 163 posts or so; if this were a small business I would not yet be past the threshold to know whether my business was a success, a survivor.

So, I'll stick with it, as I hope you will too. I want to take some time this next year to improve the site and my posts. Any advice or assistance you can provide is most welcome. Thank you for reading.

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20 November 2006

Climate Change: More Hot Air from Nairobi; or Why We Deserve to Fry

We deserve to fry and have our planet heat up to a point where our life-support systems collapse and we can't survive.

It's time to buy land in the far north -- I hear there are still good deals to be had on the slopes of the Brooks Range -- and start building the bunker to keep out the hordes of climate refugees who will storm our shores and knock at our doors. Time to stockpile canned goods, nonperishable items, and arms like some wacko from Waco.

Okay, maybe I'm being a little extreme. But it's pathetic how hopeless we are as a species. So intelligent and yet so asinine. We're worse than the proverbial frog in the pot of slow-boiling water.

Am I being unfair? Faced with the greatest single threat to our well-being since nuclear proliferation, we choose to do nothing. Nothing, but talk. And talk about what? About having more talks!

Forget the UN Climate talks. It's a waste of time. Posturing and pontificating is getting us nowhere. Oh, sorry, that's too harsh. The talks ended with an agreement to review the Kyoto Protocol by 2008, including the targets for 2012 when it is set to expire. And that represents progress?

We need to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at between 500 and 550ppm and we do what? We talk about taking another look at the Kyoto Protocol...?

I'm ashamed. The cost of the UN Climate talks: US $4M. The fund that was established to help developing nations adapt to climate change: US $3M. Richard Branson's commitment to address climate change, made at the Clinton Global Summit two months ago: US $3B. What's wrong with this picture?

Now I understand and am even beginning to support President Bush's refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol. It's just a lot of hot air. Everyone knows the cuts are not enough to make a dent in the impending climate disruption, but no one wants to admit failure. Of course, if the review determines the cuts are not enough, then we need a whole new round of talks to set new targets. And that will no doubt be scuttled by the next president, even if it is John McCain.

If environmentalists won't take on climate change, it's time for President Bush to turn his global legacy around by tackling climate change with a five-point plan:

1. Launch a market-based greenhouse gas permit trading program, modeled on the acid-rain trading program.

2. Call for a mandatory greenhouse gas reduction program, as well as voluntary "deep emissions cuts" by industry.

3. Dramatically increase the incentives and subsidies for and reduce barriers to alternative energy development, including zero-greenhouse gas technologies such as wind, solar, nuclear, and zero-emission coal-burning power plants, with the goal of reducing the costs of existing technologies and fostering R&D to develop new low or no-carbon technologies.

4. Convert all US government fleets to hybrid or clean-diesel vehicles and ensure all US government departments are carbon-neutral by 2010.

5. Refuse to allow US government officials to produce any more CO2 by flying to another UN Climate session.

Your move, George.

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14 November 2006

Microcredit: Nobel Peace Laureate Yunus Calls for Making Access to Credit a Human Right at Summit

Several new announcements and commitments were made at the Global Microcredit Summit in Halifax today, where lenders and microfinance institutions are gathered to address the fight against poverty.

Nobel Peace Laureate, Muhammad Yunus, called for "creating a more peaceful world through ending poverty, noting that access to credit is a major problem across the world in developed, as well as developing, countries."

Professor Yunus claimed that "despite being one of the richest donors, the World Bank still only spends around one percent of its budget on microcredit. He called on the World Bank to pay earnest attention to the world's poorest people through microcredit."

Ten of the largest microfinance institutions, including BRAC, FINCA International, Opportunity International and the Association of Asian Confederation of Credit Unions, pledged to work with the Microcredit Summit Campaign to find and implement methods to measure and report on the progress of their clients in the fight to rise above the dollar-a-day poverty threshold.

"On issues from health to wealth and everything in between, the world continually fails the poorest people," said Sam Daley-Harris, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign. "As we set bold goals and introduce new innovations in microcredit we must be absolutely sure that we are reaching the poorest people and we could not be happier that ten of the world's premier microfinance institutions have pledged to do just that."

The Grameen Foundation also announced the launch of a software initiative called Mifos, to address the microfinance industry’s information management challenge. The Mifos Initiative delivers an open source information management system for the global microfinance industry via a collaborative development and support community.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and FINCA International announced a new multi-million dollar expansion of rural lending in Afghanistan. The program is designed to foster economic stability by enabling rural Afghans to start small businesses. USAID will provide a grant of US$10 million to FINCA International to open five new branches and increase client outreach to 45,500 in several Afghan provinces.

"The initiatives launched today will take microcredit to the next level," said Mr. Daley-Harris. "What started with a few dollars in loans in a Bangladeshi village more than three decades ago has transformed into the foundation upon which we will build the Museums of Poverty."

And finally, Prime Minister Driss Jettou of Morocco sent a message to Summit delegates expressing his government's support for their important work: "The Microcredit Summit Campaign has played a determining role in the worldwide success of microfinance." Prime Minister Jettou was unable to attend the Summit due to previous commitments.

For information: Microcredit Summit Campaign

For information on the Halifax Summit go to: Global Microcredit Summit 2006

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13 November 2006

Social Entrepreneurs: Kiva on FRONTLINE WORLD

One of the most innovative approaches to microcredit these days uses the power of the Internet to link together lenders and recipients. I wrote about Kiva several months ago after a friend pointed me to their site. A couple of weeks ago, while many of us were taking our children out trick-or-treating, FRONTLINE World ran a feature on Kiva, focusing on its lending program in Uganda. You can view the 15-minute video here: FRONTLINE World: Uganda

The broadcast was so inspiring that the Kiva site jammed with potential lenders wanting more information or to make loans. The site is now back up and running. Be thinking about Kiva and its loan recipients this holiday season. It's a fantastic experiment and one that is working (their loan repayment rate is currently 100%; that means you can make a loan to one individual who wants to start-up or expand their small business in developing country and, when it's repaid, turn the loan around to others. Absolutely brilliant.

Here's a description of the show, Uganda - A Little Goes a Long Way:

Radio reporter Clark Boyd first reported about Kiva.org for Public Radio International's news program The World. He now travels to Uganda for FRONTLINE/World, where the first recipients of money collected through Kiva's Web site are building and expanding businesses.

Kiva, which means "agreement" or "unity" in Swahili, would allow people with a little bit of extra cash to use their credit card or the online money transfer company, PayPal, to lend directly to African entrepreneurs. Kiva got its start a little more than a year ago in Uganda, where it forged partnerships with local microfinance institutes so that each business would be vetted and approved before being posted on the site.

Boyd travels to Uganda to find out more about the real-world impact of these micro loans, He arranges to meet Grace Ayaa, whose peanut butter business received a micro loan through Kiva. When she fled a brutal war between government and rebel forces in the north, she took refuge in the capital. She takes Boyd to the Acholi Quarter, a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Kampala, where many people displaced by Uganda's decades-long conflict scrape together a living.

View the video here: FRONTLINE World: Uganda

Visit Kiva

Kiva Co-founder and CEO Matthew Flannery's blog: Kiva Chronicles

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12 November 2006

Microcredit: Global Microcredit Summit unites world leaders to slash poverty

This week's Global Microcredit Summit in Halifax announces new to lift half a billion people out of extreme poverty by 2015, according to press release by The Microcredit Summit:
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA, CANADA – World leaders including Queen Sofia of Spain, President Zelaya of Honduras and Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Muhammad Yunus were joined today by microcredit lenders, international banks, UN agencies and more than 2,300 delegates from around the world, to launch the Global Microcredit Summit 2006, an international conference that aims to contribute to the eradication of worldwide poverty by setting two new, bold measurable goals for global microfinance.

“The goals laid out this weekend in Halifax could potentially lift more than 500 million people out of extreme poverty by 2015,” according to Summit organizer Sam Daley-Harris. “Succeeding will require renewed effort and some new players, but if the commitment demonstrated in fulfilling earlier goals is matched, I have every confidence we’ll be successful.”

Established during this week’s Summit, the Microcredit Campaign’s two new goals are to: (1) ensure 175 million families have access to credit, and (2) help 100 million of the poorest families move above the $1/day threshold by 2015.
Speaking at the Summit’s opening ceremony, Microcredit Summit Campaign Director Sam Daley-Harris remarked on the progress made toward the Summit’s original goal, set in 1997, of reaching 100 million of the world’s poorest families with microloans. “113 million families took out microloans last year and 82 million of those families were among the world’s poorest when they did.” Daley-Harris said, “We’ll likely hit our original goal of reaching 100 million of the world’s poorest with a microloan by the end of this year; one year late, but still a remarkable achievement!"

Read the entire press release: Global Microcredit Summit

Check out the Global Microcredit Summit Campaign

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10 November 2006

Microfinance: Yunus vs. Omidyar in The New Yorker

Connie Bruck published a very good article on the current state of microfinance in the 30 October New Yorker. It details the gulf between two approaches, roughly exemplified by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Muhammad Yunus and eBay-founder Piere Omidyar. Omidyar argues that microfinance needs a dose of commercialization to build it into a profit-making sector, while Yunus sticks to the belief that "anyone, provided the means, can become self-sufficient--even successful" through his model of small loans.

It's a curious debate and I suspect there is room for both aproaches. Yet, thinking about Omidyar's for-profit approach may provide a better means toward sustainability for social entreprenuers. (See my article "Drayton's Conundrum" on the Social Entrepreneurs Group at Gather.com

Read the full article by Connie Bruck: "Millions for Millions"

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Climate Change: New Climate Report From Merrill Lynch and WRI

Merrill Lynch’s automotive research team, in collaboration with World Resources Institute’s Capital Markets Research team released a report this week titled "Energy Security and Climate Change: Alternatives for the Clean Car Evolution."

The report presents a framework for understanding the regulatory and market dynamics driving the demand for more fuel efficient and less polluting automobiles, and highlights investment ideas that are levered to this long-term theme.

The report is the second in an annual series produced by Merrill Lynch and WRI focusing on energy security and climate change in the auto sector.

Worth a look: Energy Security & Climate Change

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08 November 2006

Climate Change & Poverty: Wangari Maathai wants to plant a billion trees

NAIROBI, Kenya (Reuters) -- The United Nations and Africa's Nobel laureate, environmentalist Wangari Maathai, launched a project on Wednesday to plant a billion trees worldwide to help fight climate change and poverty.

Kenya's Wangari Maathai, who in 2004 became the first African woman and first "green" activist to win the Nobel Peace Prize, urged people from the United States to Uganda to plant trees to combat global warming and to make a long-term commitment.

"Anybody can dig a hole, anybody can put a tree in that hole and water it. And everybody can make sure that the tree they plant survives," she said on the sidelines of a U.N. meeting on climate change in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

"There are 6 billion of us and counting. So even if only one-sixth of us each plant a tree, we will definitely reach the target (next year)," she told reporters.

Read the full story at CNN.com

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Climate Change: UK Climate Group Responds to Stern Report

The Stern review, released on October 30th, stated that failure to tackle climate change could cost the world up to 7 trillion dollars, and leave 200 million people as refugees amid drought or flood. The Climate Group, an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing business and government leadership on climate change, has just released its commentary and analysis of the Stern report.

The group identifies the key message from the report,
the most extensive analysis carried out to date on the economics of climate change, is that the costs of taking action now (likely to amount to approximately 1% of GDP) are far outweighed by the costs associated with adopting a ‘wait and see’ attitude.

This macro-level analysis showing that taking early action to combat climate change is an economically sound course of action is backed up by much of The Climate Group’s work at the micro-level, which has shown how companies from a range of sectors have made significant emissions reductions and made or saved money in the process.

Steve Howard, The Climate Group’s CEO, said “The Stern Review provides clear evidence to support what many businesses, governments and the public have known intuitively for years; cutting carbon emissions is the only sensible course of action, both environmentally and economically.”

For The Climate Group's response and a link to the Stern report: Climate Group

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06 November 2006

Climate Change: Climate Talks Begin Today in Nairobi

Reuters/Planet Ark reports this morning on the UN Climate talks, which begin in Nairobi and will run through the 17th of this month:

NAIROBI - Spurred by a UN warning that Africa risks catastrophic damage from global warming, UN talks in Nairobi from Monday will seek to ease deep rifts over how to widen a fight against climate change beyond 2012.

Delegates at the 189-nation Nov 6-17 talks will try to find ways to widen the UN's Kyoto Protocol, capping emissions of greenhouse gases by 35 industrial nations until 2012, to include outsiders such as the United States, China and India.
"An essential challenge in the future is to create a mechanism that everybody will want to be part of," Yvo de Boer, the head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, told a news conference on the eve of the talks by 6,000 delegates.

He said no final breakthroughs were likely at the Nairobi talks in fixing a plan beyond 2012 for fighting warming that could spur more floods, droughts, spread disease and raise sea levels by almost a metre (three feet) by 2100.

The talks will separately try to aid Africa and the rest of the developing world to adapt to climate change -- with everything from drought-resistant crops to better flood protection.

A report issued on Sunday by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said Africa's vulnerability to climate change was "even more acute" than previously believed.

It said that the number of people in Africa at risk from coastal flooding would rise to 70 million by 2080 from 1 million in 1990 and that 25-40 percent of habitats could be lost. Cereal crop yields could fall by 5 percent by 2080.

"There is a very urgent need to move now" to help Africa to adapt, de Boer said. Kenyan Environment Minister Kivutha Kibwana will open the talks on Monday.


The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) urged citizens around the world to act to cut greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, rather than wait for negotiators.

"It is happening today and everyone across the planet can act now to do something about it," UNEP head Achim Steiner said.

At the talks, European nations will try to push the United States and developing countries to get more involved in restraining the growth of greenhouse gases.

Washington pulled out of Kyoto in 2001, saying caps on emissions would cost US jobs and that the plan wrongly left developing nations out of targets for 2012.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed in London on Friday to work to build a strong international alliance. A British report last week warned of apocalyptic long-term costs of ignoring climate change.

Of the top four emitters of greenhouse gases -- the US, China, Russia and China -- only Russia is bound by Kyoto.

Read the full story here: Nairobi Climate Talks

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