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Copenhagen

(Update: Newspapers in 45 countries ran an editorial urging countries to forget their differences at the Copenhagen climate conference, and come together in an honest effort to address climate change and its consequences. Here are editorial comments from around the world.).

As the international conference on climate change opens today in Copenhagen, expectations are much lower -- call them more realistic -- than what had been hoped for a few months ago.

That's not necessarily bad, if the major countries can come up with political agreements that lead to binding treaties in the next year or so. Moderate success may be measured on the basis of emissions targets agreed to  by the U.S., China and other major polluting countries; agreements on the implementation of green technologies replacing polluting ones; and, at least a handshake by wealthy countries to help poorer, developing countries deal with global warming.

Earthjustice attorneys Martin Wagner and Erika Rosenthal will be blogging from the conference, which runs until Dec. 18.

Here's an interesting climate change observation reported by the BBC—over the last 800,000 years, up until industrial revolution times, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere never rose above 300 ppm. Since then, and particulary from the 20th century on, CO2 concentration has steeply climbed to where it is today, nearing 400 ppm. Many scientists believe significant global warming consequences are inevitable above 350 ppm.

The historical data cited by the BBC come in part from ice core samples taken in Antarctica and Greenland. Bubbles of air trapped in the ice show cycles of 100,000 years, during which air temperatures and CO2 levels fluctuate in parallel. As humankind grew in population and started heavily relying on fossil fuels, the cyclical pattern was broken. Now, CO2 and temperatures are simply going up.

This bad news is actually good news of a sort as the world prepares to meet next week in Copenhagen to deal with climate change. The recent hacked email scandal is being used by deniers and contrarians to weaken the chances of getting anything done at the conference. A good dose of solid science like this could help keep things on track.

 

Some top stories from the last two weeks at Earthjustice...

The Copenhagen Climate Conference begins next week. President Obama will lead the U.S. delegation, and in anticipation of the conference, the Dalai Lama spoke about the need for governments to put global priorities first.

Studies on the effects of global warming abound; few offer good news. Polar ice is thinner than previously thought, and polar bears are struggling more than ever to survive—only one of many species seriously threatened by climate change. 

Our addiction to coal-fired power is at the heart of global warming. And as we know, coal plants are responsible for much more destruction. Almost a year ago, 500 million gallons of toxic coal ash flooded 300 acres along Tennessee’s Emory River. Now, despite this disaster, some companies are claiming that the location and contents of their toxic coal ash ponds should be left a mystery. Earthjustice disagrees.

Other mysteries, however, are quite welcome—like lonely stones sailing quietly across the desert.

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?

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.

 

After weeks of speculation from Al Gore and others, we have the first indication from President Obama himself that he may go to the Copenhagen climate conference. In an interview with Reuters, Obama said he will travel to Copenhagen if he feels there is a chance of progress:

If I am confident that all of the countries involved are bargaining in good faith and we are on the brink of a meaningful agreement and my presence in Copenhagen will make a difference in tipping us over the edge then certainly that's something that I will do.

President Obama's statement of intent may signal the beginning of increased pressure on the Senate from the White House to continue pushing climate legislation forward, even as the health care debate—which has eclipsed global warming recently—rages on. Last week, the Kerry-Boxer global warming bill was passed out of the Environment and Public Works committee by a vote of 11-1. No Republican committee members were present for the vote.

Your move, Congress.
 

Bill McKibben, founder of the 350.org campaign, took to the pages of the latest Mother Jones to offer a great primer on the Copenhagen climate conference. McKibben's article is clear: the world needs to stabilize carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at 350 parts-per-million—the threshold of life on planet earth as we know it, according to scientists like James Hansen.

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About the Earthjustice Blog

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.