28 November 2005

A Party in Montreal: Hot Air or Fresh Air?

The UN Climate Change Conference got underway today in Montreal with many people talking and praising each other's participation, statements, and proposals. Those of us on the sidelines hope there is more fresh air than hot air at this conference, but don't count on it.

The US government has, according to some, declined to participate but there they are, making a nuisance of themselves, saying how they are doing more than any other country to reduce pollution in the air, yadda yadda yadda...until they are virtually shouted down and then critics like Sierra Club Canada jump all over them and try to shame them for not participating in the Kyoto Protocol.

As my childhood friends back in Rhode Island might say, "Fuhgetaboutit." They will never change their minds on this one so give it up, folks, and move on. Don't invite 'em to your party, or boycott the country if you want (as Mark Lynas suggested in the Independent today), but why bother worrying about them anymore?

On the other hand, you could listen to them, because maybe some of the ideas are not that off base after all. In fact, as Iain Murray suggested in an Op-Ed on the Competitive Enterprise Institute web site last week, even "Tony Blair, for all his faults, has recognized that the approach is fundamentally at odds with securing economic growth," and who among you out there is going to trade economic growth for potentially unreachable targets at this point? Stalemate is always a no-win situation.

Meanwhile, according to The Guardian the small island nation of the Carterets became the first to be officially evacuated because of climate change. The authorities will move 10 families at a time to Bougainville, an island 62 miles away. Within two years, the six Carterets will be uninhabited and undefended. By 2012 or 2015, they are likely to be completely submerged. So what are we waiting for? In management and art, you try a bunch of things and keep what sticks. Maybe it's time to try a few new things.

But in more hopeful news, a new report from the Pew Center for Global Climate Change offers some useful suggestions for what to do beyond Kyoto. It calls for a "more flexible international framework that can engage the world's major economies." Some of that flexibility would be in the manner in which countries achieve their target reductions, such as having groups of countries coming together to explore like-minded tracks. For example, steel-producing countries could hammer out a sector agreement. This would provide a voluntary approach, which is something both industry and the Bush administration have been asking for.

As Linda Fisher from Dupont, one of five corporations engaged in the study, noted, "one of the things I found unique about is that [this report] recognized that there might not be one common end, but you can still make a lot of progress in the ultimate goal, which is reducing these emissions."

The report also calls for a high-level political dialogue outside the UN process, which demonstrates a lack of confidence that the UNFCCC can deliver. But more to the point, the Pew report calls for adaptation strategies to complement any mitigation strategies, a more robust carbon trading market, including "no-regret" conditional targets, as well as greater investments in new technologies.

Another important point the Pew study suggests is to integrate climate and development projects in a way that is fair and consistent with economic development. This is important because many view climate mitigation as an impediment to achieving the already hard to achieve millennium development objectives of developing nations.

One hopes the Pew suggestions get an airing at this forum. We'll see. I'll be monitoring the progress of the talks over the next two weeks.

You can listen in at: Live Webcast


21 November 2005

You Are a Miracle, Reader: A Year of Blogging Life

I've been writing this blog for a year on Thursday. When I embarked on this journey, what I really wanted to do was to begin a conversation about how we live on this earth and how we go about protecting our environment. Along the way, this experiment has taken me into commenting on the oil business, hurricanes, market-based conservation, climate change, poverty and, perhaps most importantly, what we talk about when we talk about conservation.

The comments my work has received -- directly either in the blog or separately to me via email -- lead me to believe this is worth continuing. The most common question I receive from friends who learn about this blog is, "How do you know anyone is reading it?" My answer is similar to the one that keeps me writing poetry: "One reader is a miracle; two, a mass movement."

Walter Lowenfels said that. Lowenfels was born in New York City in 1897, and lived for extended periods in Europe. He was one of the expatriate poets of the 20s and 30s. Upon returning to the United States, he became editor of the Pennsylvania edition of the Daily Worker and gave up poetry. In the mid-50s, he was arrested for advocating the overthrow of the government and later released for lack of evidence. He then resumed his career as a poet. Walter Lowenfels was what would be called in modern management circles a "change agent."

I'm no Lowenfels and have no interest in sedition or even political posturing. In fact, I'm probably more conservative in my political leanings than many of my poet friends and colleagues. And I do not intend to give up poetry for punditry. Neither do I claim to have all the answers, as did another politically oriented poet, Ezra Pound. No, I'm more concerned about being the fly in the ointment, the sand in the oyster, the spanner in the gear. If my skepticism, something to which I come naturally, leads to questions in the minds of my readers, however few or many you may be, then I have succeeded. In part.

As I've become familiar with blogs as a form, I have noticed several things. One, there is a lot of blather on the blogrolls. Some use it as a public diary of their daily thoughts, which like most diaries only occasionally (and accidentally) lapse into brilliance. Two, the blogs that get the most attention are the ones set for attack mode. And three, for a blog to reach a large audience, there needs to be some sex in there.

Well, my dear reader, The Green Skeptic maintains that there is room for thoughtful, well-reasoned argument in the blogosphere. In the coming year, I hope to hone in on more questions along the lines of those I've raised thus far. You'll seldom see me condemn another, I'm just not interested in backbiting, but I'll try to offer solutions and to continue the line of concern I've laid out for myself. I do hope that more readers will comment or challenge some of the thoughts I offer. Only through dialogue will we advance our cause, only through believing in the power of words can our actions be thoughtful and our aim made true.

Thank you for being among the "mass movement" your Green Skeptic has engendered. I value your mind and your eyes and your very existence. You are a wonder to behold, even if only twice a month or for the time it takes to read these few paragraphs in the wilderness.

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10 November 2005

Enlightened Energy Policy Not Oil Profits Tax

Oil companies have reaped enormous profits in this past summer's run up of oil prices. We've also seen greater noise about hybrids, alternatives, and greater fuel economy in the wake of escalating prices at the pump. But should the oil industry be socked with a tax to address "excessive" profit-taking? No.

Rather politicians should take advantage of these times to encourage conservation by consumers, call for an enlightened energy policy, and improved vehicle fuel-efficiency. This would be a better long-term solution than taxing this momentary windfall.

Oil prices will continue to fluctuate -- it's the nature of the business. At some point, a few speculate, we'll see oil top $100 a barrel. But already the price is dropping and people are starting to take the FOR SALE signs off their SUVs. While this may be a reaction to scrutiny on the part of the oil companies, more likely it's the usual reaction caused by unseasonably warm weather in the northeast driving down demand or increased productivity and the efforts of companies to pump up refining in the aftermath of the hurricane season. There's more oil available. That won't always be the case.

So why not seize this opportunity to make a real difference by addressing the demand side of the equation? Reduce our consumption through conservation measures and improving our energy use per unit of economic output, which most agree is abysmal, and we may be able to create long-term impact and incentives. (This is always better for an economy than increased taxes.) Some are calling for an economy-wide carbon tax (more on that later) and greater energy-efficiency requirements.

In the long run, such solutions may provide much more traction than any tax on windfall. Besides, one person's windfall is almost always someone else's loss. Where will it end? Is your business gleaning excessive profits? What if you made a bundle on the sale of your house in an insane market? You could be next.

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