Throwback Friday…

… to when the first advertisement I saw in Asia (Bangkok, Thailand) was an anti-elephant poaching ad by Yao Ming. After four months of research on the intersections of elephant poaching, the illicit ivory trade, and terrorist groups last fall, this was super exciting! And there were more ads like this one, but with more educational information about the origins of ivory, throughout Suvarnabhumi Airport.

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Climate Change and Economic Inequality

Welcome back to my blog! Let’s get right back into it:

Oxfam International just released a study (called Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More) that states that by next year, the richest 1% will be richer than the rest of the world combined. Whoa. That is completely unacceptable. Oxfam is calling on governments to “adopt a seven point plan to tackle inequality:”

  1. Clamp down on tax dodging by corporations and rich individuals
  2. Invest in universal, free public services such as health and education
  3. Share the tax burden fairly, shifting taxation from labour and consumption towards capital and wealth
  4. Introduce minimum wages and move towards a living wage for all workers
  5. Introduce equal pay legislation and promote economic policies to give women a fair deal
  6. Ensure adequate safety-nets for the poorest, including a minimum income guarantee
  7. Agree a global goal to tackle inequality.

Climate change and many of the other global issues we are facing today are intimately connected with this stark economic inequality. These issues are the result of the political and economic system that is keeping people down and destroying our beautiful world. And, in fact, climate change is exacerbating inequality because poor communities are the ones that are on the frontlines of extreme weather and resource conflict. By fighting climate change, we are fighting inequality.

350.org

350.org

The Transition Town Movement

Throughout most of this semester I have written about the bad news – ranging from mass species extinction to climate change to elephant poaching. We all know there are many persistent, systemic, and overwhelming environmental problems. That’s a given. However, during the last few weeks of this course (but don’t worry – I hope to continue this blog after the course is over!) I would like to turn our attention to the courageous people finding solutions. And the Transition Movement is just the place to start.

The Transition Town Movement consists of local grassroots projects that aim to increase community self-sufficiency and resiliency. These projects also educate people about climate change and peak oil, and work towards decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels. The first Transition Town was created in Totnes, England, in 2006.

Common topics for discussion within these communities include peak oil and local energy resilience, transportation, food production, waste and recycling, environmental psychology, and economics (including alternatives to the current capitalist system). If you would like to know more about how Transition Towns are structured and some of the underlying theory, check out the Seven Guiding Principles and Twelve Ingredients of the Transition Model from the Transition United States website.

Transition Towns aim to foster community, educate residents about a wide range of topics, from local food to species extinction, and offer a concrete localized solution to the overwhelming climate crisis. Individual families and towns will face the brunt of climate change, which is why the Transition Movement aims to localize and democratize energy and promote climate solutions.

Transition Towns exist across the world, including right here in Massachusetts in Amherst and Hadley. As of September 2013, there were 1,130 Transition Towns officially registered with the Transition Network Directory, which is a UK-based organization that supports the international Transition Movement. There is also a specific website for the Transition Movement in the United States.

The Transition Movement acknowledges that it does not have all the answers, and that this effort alone will not solve all the world’s current problems. However, they firmly believe that:

  • If we wait for the governments, it’ll be too little, too late
  • If we act as individuals, it’ll be too little
  • But if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.

The Senate Voted Down the Keystone XL Pipeline

On Tuesday, November 18th, the United States Senate voted on the highly controversial Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL) that would bring Canadian tar sands 1,700 miles through forest, desert, and sand hills from Alberta’s boreal forest to the Texas Gulf Coast. The vote was proposed by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana), and it needed 60 votes in order to pass and permit construction of KXL. It failed by a close final count of 59-41. The bill was approved by the House of Representatives last week (the Sioux tribe declared this an act of war against their nation).

President Obama has said that his position on KXL has not changed. In fact, it seems he may be even more against the pipeline. He has said he will not approve the pipeline if it is shown that it will contribute to climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions (which it obviously does). Luckily, Obama will not see this bill on his desk, but there is still room for him to lead and reject Keystone for good. Regardless, the vote is a victory for environmental and climate activists who have worked hard for years to stop the construction of this destructive pipeline.

This issue is particularly close to my heart. In March 2014 I participated in XL Dissent, where more than 1,000 students marched from Georgetown University, where President Obama gave a speech on climate change in 2013, to the White House, where 398 people zip-tied themselves to the fence and got arrested. I was one of the 398, and I was arrested for my convictions and for my hope for the future. You can read more about my reasons for getting arrested here.

XL Dissent Protest in Washington, D.C. in March 2014 (http://bit.ly/11vW8ey)

XL Dissent Protest in Washington, D.C. in March 2014 (http://bit.ly/11vW8ey)

Jon Stewart on Elephant Poaching and the NRA

It’s almost Friday! I hope you enjoy this hilarious and incredibly informative video. In this clip, Jon Stewart of the Daily Show explains the dire situation facing African elephants and the shady relationship between the illegal ivory trade and terrorist organizations such as Boko Haram, al Shabaab, and al-Qaeda.

The video speaks for itself. I especially enjoyed it because I am writing a policy brief on the international security implications of elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade for a class called Global Resource Politics. Humor is often a necessary antidote to traumatic topics.

The U.S. – China Climate Agreement

Less than two months after the historic People’s Climate March, when 400,000 people marched for climate justice in New York City, world leaders listened to us and stepped up to the plate.

On the night of November 11th, 2014, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Beijing, United States President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a a new U.S.-China climate deal. President Obama stated that by 2025, the United States will lower greenhouse gas emissions 26-28% compared to 2005 levels. President Xi stated that China will reach peak carbon emissions by 2030, and then decline. To reach that goal, 20% of China’s energy will have to come from renewable energy sources by 2030.

The agreement was crafted in secret over the last nine months. Officials hope that it will inspire action at the climate talks in Paris in 2015. Prior to this ground-breaking agreement, many believed there was not much hope for a firm commitment in Paris. This is because the United States and China are the two largest economies, as well as the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, and without leadership from these two countries, other governments do not have as much incentive or obligation to cut greenhouse gases.

Although this agreement is an important step in the right direction, it has no enforcement mechanisms, and will not keep the world below the 2 degrees Celsius tipping point beyond which catastrophic climate change is inevitable. Bill McKibben provides interesting thoughts about the significance of the climate deal: what it is, and what it isn’t. McKibben notes that this agreement is an important victory for the grassroots and that it indicates that the grassroots should continue to put pressure on the international community. The Council on Foreign Relations also weighs in.

Let us hope that this agreement will push the world, especially the biggest polluters, towards climate solutions and a binding treaty in Paris.

Climate Inaction and the Midterm Elections

There was a paucity of serious talk about climate change during America’s 2014 midterm elections. Amid rising sea levels, landmark climate reports, and the hottest June, August, and September on record, the most common sentiment coming from Republican politicians was, “I’m not a scientist.” This refrain is used to deflect tough questions on climate and avoid the politically-charged subject of climate denial.

According to an article from the New York Times, environment and energy issues were the “third-most mentioned issue in political advertisements” during this campaign season. Through these ads, many Republicans, often backed by right-wing billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch of Koch Industries, attacked climate action such as the Environmental Protection Agency regulation of coal-fired power plants, funding for climate science, and political momentum moving toward the climate talks in Paris that are scheduled for late 2015.

Even though a plurality of American voters believe that climate change is occurring and that the government should curb greenhouse gas emissions, with Congress now solidly Republican, many believe that any hopes of a federal effort to address climate change are dashed.