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Almost one year ago, a dyke holding back the 40-acre coal ash pond at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant broke, releasing more than 500 million gallons of toxic coal ash. The sludge (six feet deep in some places) spread out over 400 acres, damaged 12 homes, and wrecked a train. It was the largest human-induced environmental disaster since Chernobyl.

I just received two copies of a newsletter called Cool Foods: Countdown to Copenhagen & Beyond from the Center for Food Safety. The purpose of the effort is to remind negotiators and the public that industrial agriculture accounts for between 13.5 percent and as much as 32 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. "Particularly alarming," they write, "is that industrial agriculture is responsible for 60 percent of total global nitrous oxide emissions, largely from nitrogen fertilizer. Nitrous oxide is the deadliest of the three major GHGs, approximately 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide." And on in the same vein. Scary but vital information.

Lester Brown's Earth Policy Institute has a somewhat different take on the subject, but also provides compelling evidence and argument that climate change and agriculture are intimately linked.

As the Copenhagen conference approaches, our instinct may be to let politicians resolve the planet’s fate. But we’re also realizing more and more that we can’t just rely on politicians. Each of us needs to cut our individual energy usage. Dramatically. Now.

I’m the first to say that cutting down on the pleasures and convenience of heat and electricity is hard. It’s too easy to put off my goals for another day, or to console myself about the ways I do conserve. What will it take to get us all really saving?

A host of wildlife, plants and fish in America may not survive the current debates over global warming in Congress and among the world's nations. According to a report from the Endangered Species Coalition, the effects of global warming could be the coup-de-grace for species that are already endangered by other causes. Says Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition:

Global warming is like a bulldozer shoving species, already on the brink of extinction, perilously closer to the edge of existence...We need action now. Polar bears, lynx, salmon, coral and many other endangered species are already feeling the heat.

The report focuses on 10 endangered or threatened species that represent many other species jeopardized by a warming climate, and sets forth actions that Congress and the international community must quickly take to keep species from disappearing forever. Read the full report here.

The thin ice polar bears have been on because of global warming is actually thinner than we thought, according to a Canadian researcher.

A ship survey debunked recent satellite data that suggested an improvement in Arctic ice conditions. Instead of thick ice reported by satellite, the ship found thin ice -- too thin for polar bears to stand on. Consequently, there were fewer polar bears.

That alarming news was followed a report that, as a result of the lessening sea ice, starving adult polar bears are eating bear cubs.

 

Just one week before the Copenhagen climate change conference begins, the Dalai Lama is asking the world's governments to downplay their national economic interests and give priority to solving global climate change. At a news conference in Australia, he said:

Sometimes their number one importance is national interest, national economic interest, then global (warming) issue is sometimes second. That I think should change. The global issue, it should be number one.

The conference is Dec. 7-18.

 

(Update: Today, China announced that it, too, will pledge limits on greenhouse gas emissions.)

It's official -- President Obama will lead the U.S. delegation at the Copenhagen climate change conference, and he will promise the world a 17 percent decrease (from 2005 levels)  in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. His pledge mirrors the levels contained in climate change legislation being considered by Congress.

Although this will not improve chances of an actual treaty being reached at Copenhagen, the expectation is for a political agreement among the major nations. Such an agreement depends on what China brings to the conference, and that remains a mystery. China and the U.S. are the planet's two biggest contributors to global warming.

 

(Update: Energy lobbyists are hard at work in developed countries, pressing to make sure the Copenhagen conference doesn't harm the fossil fuel industry, according to an investigative report by the Center for Public Integrity. Check out the Center's interactive map of the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters.)

(Also: Here is a United Nation's report on what climate change is already doing to the earth and its inhabitants, along with a forecast of what's to come.)

Probably this week, President Obama will announce whether he will attend next month's international climate change conference in Copenhagen -- and what the U.S.will be offering up. The latest news scuttlebutt is that the U.S. delegation is set to propose greenhouse gas emissions limits similar to what Congress is considering.

No one is counting on a treaty to come from the conference, nor is there any hope that Congress will pass a climate change bill by then.

 

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.