Several hundred bottlenose dolphins, porpoises, and pilot whales are hunted and slaughtered in Taiji Cove annually. Among those slain so far this year were infant dolphins (whom the fishermen view as too small to be worth much in meat), and a rare albino dolphin.
On Jan. 24, activists held a rally in downtown Tokyo, decrying this abuse and calling on officials to stop the sale of marine animals to aquariums and as meat. They declared that the practice is tarnishing Japan's reputation, especially as Tokyo prepares to host the 2020 summer Olympic Games.
"The government had argued that the practice of dolphin hunting is part of Japanese tradition and food culture," said Noriko Ikeda, a member of Action for Marine Mammals who organized the demonstration. "But the reality is that most Japanese people do not know about dolphin hunting, and it is extremely rare to find Japanese people who wish to eat dolphins. The real problem is that this hunt is driven by a demand for live dolphins from aquariums wishing to put on dolphin shows."
Satoshi Komiyama, who is the leader of Action for Marine Mammals, noted that their group is relatively new, having arisen from a grassroots movement, and is indicative of a new uprising against these cruel practices. He remarked, "There have always been discussions about the pros and cons of dolphin issues in Japan. But arguments and discussions do not save dolphins. Now, we think action is important. Many foreign groups come to Japan and are active in protecting dolphins. However, since they are not permanent residents of Japan, there are various limitations and difficulties in regard to their activities here." If enough people protest, he remarked, "we have the potential to start a larger movement [based] right here in Japan."
Animal rights and rescue organization In Defense of Animals added that not only is dolphin hunting a cruel sport, it is also unhealthy for people. "How the Japanese government can knowingly allow the human consumption of dolphin meat is beyond reason," stated the group. "It contains dangerous levels of mercury and other industrial pollutants."
According to Carl Safina, Stony Brook University professor and founder of conservation group Blue Ocean Institute, it's notable that Japan's own slaughter guidelines for livestock are superior to that of the U.S.'s torturous factory farming, in that Japan requires animals to be killed in the quickest, most painless way possible, or else lose consciousness before being killed. Efforts must also be made to minimize anxiety and depression in the livestock.
None of these guidelines, however, apply to whale and dolphin killing, and since 2010, a new, more vicious killing method has been employed, one which involves piercing the animals' spinal cords with metal rods. Essentially, this results in a more prolonged, painful death for these highly intelligent mammals. The reason for doing so is because it apparently shortens the "harvest time" and makes the job easier for the fishermen.
The uproar over the slaughter has extended beyond that of mere animal rights and environmental groups: It drew a firm rebuke from U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, who on Jan. 17 tweeted, "I am deeply concerned by the inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing. The U.S. government opposes drive hunt fisheries."
And according to a report by Whales.org, "The treatment of dolphins in [these] hunts sharply contradicts current animal welfare standards employed in most modern and technologically advanced societies. The systematic mistreatment of dolphins, allowed and sanctioned by a highly developed country such as Japan, is in striking contrast to the European Union, the United States, and even existing Japanese livestock legislation."
This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
The European Greens select their top candidates for the 2014 European Elections in first ever EU-wide online election
Ska Keller, from Germany, and José Bové, from France, have been selected to lead the European Green Party in their upcoming European campaign. After closing the polls yesterday, the election result was presented at a press conference earlier this morning.
"I’m looking forward to an enthusiastic election campaign, for the whole of the European Union," Ska Keller said during today's press conference. "It will be our task as top candidates to bring a European dimension to the national Green campaigns."
"In our campaign, we Greens will be clear about what our Green alternatives are for Europe: a fair and Green way out of the crisis, putting youth unemployment on the top of the agenda, protecting the rights of refugees and migrants, fair trade not free trade, more ambitious climate targets, and more democracy," Keller said.
The European Green Party, which is a transnational political party consisting of 40 green parties from throughout the European Union, asked people whom shared their "values" to choose their party's two green leading candidates for the upcoming European Elections, which are held between 22 and 25 May later this year.
This was the first ever Europe-wide online election for a parliamentary group in the European parliament. But the election had quite a low voter turnout with only 22,676 people participating. It's therefore doubtful that the result is representative for the members of the green parties in Europe.
This is the first ever Europe-wide online election for a parliamentary group in the European parliament. José Bové, Monica Frassoni, Rebecca Harms and Ska Keller are the four contenders in the Green Primary and have participated in live-chats and debates in several European cities, such as Berlin, Prague and London. All four of them are green politicians from across the EU who want to represent the Greens on a European level in the European elections 2014. Before they become contenders of the Green Primary, they were nominated by their national Green party and their candidacy had to be supported by at least four Green parties from across the EU.
In an effort to counteract declining trust in the EU, the European Greens wants to give people a stronger voice in European decision-making. And they see the Green Primary as a way to reinvigorate European democracy.
“This is an important step in European democracy,” EGP Co-Chair Reinhard Bütikofer MEP said. “Amidst the declining trust in EU institutions, we need new ideas. The Greens are the first to invite citizens to select our two leading candidates in an open Europe-wide online primary. Our innovative e-democracy project promotes the idea of giving Europe back to the people.”
Voting ends tomorrow (Janurary 28) at 18:00 CET. So if you are an EU citizen, over the age of 16, and you share “the values, goals and work of the European Green Party” you can help choose the two leading candidates for the European Green Party. To vote, just go to www.greenprimary.eu and register. You will need an email address and a mobile phone. You can also vote with your smartphone or tablet. The contender with the highest number of votes will be elected. The second winner will be the person with the next highest number of votes who is from another national list to ensure that the two leading candidates represent different parts of Europe.
Meet the four candidates:
My political work began in 1975 in the German anti-nuclear movement. As Co-Chair of the Greens/EFA Group in the EU Parliament, I have always fought hard for our ideals and aims. The continuing dispute over energy transition and climate protection tells me that we Greens, being a relatively small party, need not just passion, but a lot of patience for our big ideas. This also applies to Europe. We want and we need to take new steps on the path towards political union. We need passion and patience to regain the trust of the people for this idea. In our European campaign, I want to speak out against shortsighted policies and campaign for sustainability, solidarity and a good quality of life.
Learn more about Rebecca Harms.
I grew up in the Eastern Bloc, but have lived Europe for as long as I can remember. Anti-racism and internationalism became guiding principles as I worked on cross-border solidarity in my home on the Polish border. Young Greens and Green Parties of Europe spoke to this in a way that never quietened, but still calls me today. For our shared environment, for a united Europe of peace and freedom, capable of facing social, economic and international challenges, for the things that hold us together. A Europe of solidarity of generations and regions; for all people, against austerity. With your support, I will campaign in all parts of Europe to convince people that now is the time to vote green.
Learn more about Ska Keller.
Member of the European Parliament since 2009, I am first of all, a farmer of the world. On the Larzac, where I milked sheep for years, I struggled to save my land against the army. From Seattle to Porto Alegre, with NGOs, I claimed that our world is not for sale! Since 1970, when my opposition to nuclear power started, my life has been guided by ecology. I fought GMO with civil disobedience and ended up in jail, but in the end, we secured their banning. Years of mobilisation forced the French government to ban fracking. With the Greens, I am ready to be one of the 2 leading candidates for 2014 for an ecological Europe, the only subversive dream which empowers citizens and protect our planet.
Learn more about José Bové.
To restore our self-confidence and have a positive influence on world affairs, we have to transform the next EP Elections into a real competition. We must do it noisily by stirring controversies and debates with the other parties, by mobilising our members and finding new support. We have to convince citizens that they have a say in EU affairs and that, unless they speak up, EU will split again. If they don't, we will not solve the crisis and our collective irrelevance will be inevitable. My decision to run in this Primary stems from an ambition to participate in a team with the other contenders to make our proposals visible and credible across the EU, well ahead of the EU elections.
Learn more about Monica Frassoni.
In fact, says science writer Andrew Zimmerman, if the climate had not warmed so much during the past few decades, it's possible that the current freezer-like weather would be even colder in those areas. Yikes!
Meanwhile, there have been above-average temperatures across parts of the Arctic, Scandinavia, Europe and Asia this past week, Zimmerman reports. Last month, the northern Alaska coastline, above the Arctic Circle, had the warmest temperatures on record in at least 70 years. It's part of an overall trend of warming in the Arctic area.
But yes, brrrrr, every state in the continental U.S. has had sub-freezing temperatures this week. It's attributed to the behavior of the "polar vortex." The polar vortex (also known as a polar cyclone) is a large swirl of very cold air that sits over the polar regions year round. It intensifies in the winter and weakens in the summer. The jet stream from the Arctic polar vortex sometimes brings extremely cold weather southward into Europe, Asia and the U.S.
According AccuWeather.com, cold outbreaks like the one this week occur "on average once every 10 years. The last far-reaching, bitterly cold blasts occurred in the mid-1990s, during February of 1996 and January of 1994." AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson said, "We were overdue for a large Arctic outbreak of this intensity."
This time the polar vortex has spread unusually far south into the U.S., giving us the record frigid conditions we've been experiencing.
Is global climate change a factor in this unusual intrusion of the polar vortex? Some scientists say yes; others say the jury is still out. Scientific studies have tied abnormally cold temperatures in the U.S. and Europe to warmer than usual conditions in the Arctic - they dub this the "Warm Arctic/Cold Continents Pattern." This could be driven by the loss of polar sea ice which has been documented over the past few decades. That in turn is spurred by human-caused global warming. Research is ongoing.
"The research linking climate change impacts in the Arctic to more extreme jet stream patterns is still very new, and we need several more years of data and additional research before we can be confident that this is occurring," writes Weather Underground scientist Jeff Masters. "But if the new research is correct, the crazy winter weather we've been seeing since 2009 may be the new normal in a world with rapid warming occurring in the Arctic."
But one thing is sure, scientist agree: cold weather does not contradict the well-established fact that the Earth has been warming overall due to human activity, in particular the massive use of oil, coal and other fossil fuels. The consequences of this, scientists say, include more extreme weather of all kinds.
For a break from the cold, you might want to consider a trip Down Under. Australia has experienced record-breaking scorching hot weather this past year. It's been so hot that mapmakers have had to add a new color to temperature maps to signify the blistering heat there. Australia's winter, which is during our summer months, was "only" the third hottest on record. But its spring temperatures, starting in September, were the hottest ever. January 2014 is starting off with similar heat extremes. Walgett, in New South Wales, recorded 120 degrees Fahrenheit, the second hottest temperature ever measured in the state.
One of the reasons for Australia's record heat in 2013 was very high ocean surface temperatures, the third warmest on record according to preliminary data.
If you are not up for a trip to Australia, not to worry. The record cold in the U.S. will be ending this week, weather forecasters say. Temperatures are predicted to be up to 50 in places like New York and St. Louis.
This article was first published in People's World by Susan Webb.
The well-funded deniers have taken advantage of the great amounts of uncertainty about climate science, climate change, and the interlocking web of life that is nature, the nature on which humanity depends for its existence.
And they have been correct that there has been and continues to be much uncertainty. Climate models and projections are guesstimates, not absolute proof. The world's climate system is complex and interacts in sometimes unexpected ways.
But the climate change deniers imply, or state outright, that all this uncertainty means that things might not be so bad. They want people to conclude that there is nothing but upside to it.
The problem is that uncertainty can work the other way too. It can mean that things are much worse than we thought - and we already thought they were pretty bad.
For example, one of the uncertainties about climate change has been about exactly how the systems of cloud formation affect climate. Do clouds reflect, deflect, or absorb the sun's rays? To what degree? Does cloud cover make climate change better or worse? We haven't known.
But a new study, published in Nature, a scientific establishment journal of record, peer reviewed and fact-checked, shows that as the climate changes and warms significantly, cloud formation changes as well, and a warming climate will decrease our cloud cover. As a result there will be fewer lower-level clouds to ameliorate the earth's warming.
What this means is that the predictions up til now, based on calculations that did not include any cloud-related factors, have underestimated how much the climate will heat up by the end of the century.
As we learn more, some of the uncertainty disappears. It is replaced by a certainty that if we don't act soon and in radical fashion to address the causes of climate change, we will sweep past the conservative estimates of 2 degrees Celsius of climate change. That figure might (there's that uncertainty again) keep climate change from affecting humanity and natural systems in catastrophic ways. But the new calculations, taking into account the new certainties about clouds, project an increase of 4 degrees Celsius (about 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, double the already-dire predictions of mainstream climate scientists.
As other studies have suggested, the most drastic impacts of climate change will likely come from those effects we don't fully understand yet.
Realistic optimism needs to be based on facts, on reality, on demonstrated understanding of how the world works. The laws of physics can't be repealed or annulled by legislative action. And the uncertainty about how bad climate change is going to get can mean it will get a lot worse a lot sooner than even the most dire projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Nobel Prize-winning United Nations body of scientists charged with evaluating the latest in climate science.
All these predictions can be depressing. But the hopeful signs come from the growing movements around the world for curbing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing the many related environmental problems we face. The divestment movement, the anti-fracking movement, the many cities and states as well as countries that are taking real action, the positive steps from the Obama administration such as regulating existing and future coal-powered plants and increasing auto standards, all will help, even though they are not yet anywhere near enough to address the enormity of the problems. What is needed is a massive worldwide movement, inclusive of many organizations, many strategies, and many fronts.
Photo credit: Arbyreed (cc).
This article was first published in People's World by Marc Brodine.
Wolves were under attack this year, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed in June to strip federal Endangered Species Act protections from them. The population is already at an all-time low. Experts believe that doing more to protect these animals, not less, is in our best interest, and that we would benefit economically and ecologically from such an endeavor. Fortunately, on Dec. 17, one million Americans stated their opposition to removing wolf protections, via conservation groups that collected their comments and sent them along to the Fish and Wildlife Service. So while wolves were certainly a hot topic in 2013, if enough people stand up for them, this issue need not devolve into a disaster.
Residents in southeast Chicago are lamenting the continued nuisance of petcoke (short for oil waste called "petroleum coke"), which is currently piling up near their neighborhoods. The smoke from the stuff is drifting into their homes, disturbing family events, and causing endless health concerns. It's disconcerting to know that the billionaire Koch brothers have been technically responsible: KCBX Terminals, which has done some of the dumping, is a division of Koch Industries, which has been implicated in numerous other environmental disasters.
Fracking, a process through which natural gas is extracted from the ground, has not proven too popular with residents affected by toxic water, towns enduring small earthquakes from the drilling, and environmental activists who have come to realize that fracking is anything but safe. The process has persisted throughout 2013 and, even more worrying, the fossil fuel industry is increasingly setting its sights on natural gas, seeing it as a cheaper alternative to coal. But there are better alternatives.
Though average Americans seem not to realize it, an all-out war is being waged on the rhinoceros, particularly in South Africa, where they are prized for their horns. Poachers have evolved with the times and grown more dangerous, now wielding high-powered rifles and assault vehicles. The western black rhino is now extinct, and other species, like the northern white rhino and the Javan rhino, are at risk. The illegal wildlife trade is growing to such an extent that experts believe more rhinos will soon be slaughtered than born.
They continue to burn in California even now, as winter approaches. This has been a particularly bad year - amidst a whole string of recent bad years - for areas at risk for wildfires. A look back at California's Rim Fire, which began on Aug. 17 and burned 257,314 acres, is sobering. The third largest wildfire in the state's history, its rapid spread was certainly made worse by a climate change-fueled drought and heat wave, as well as Forest Service budget cuts. It was also one of 17 major brushfires (burning 1,000 acres or more) in the U.S. this year.
5. Carbon emissions
On a more positive note, the Environmental Protection Agency, bolstered by the willingness of President Obama to confront climate change head-on, has done a number of good things in 2013. One of the most important has been the curbing of carbon emissions from new coal-fired power plants. This is part of a long-term series of safeguards enacted by the Obama administration this year, a followup to the EPA's 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which sought to reduce mercury output.
Possibly the number one word on the tip of every environmental activist's tongue this year, for a variety of unpleasant reasons. Numerous pipelines have burst and spewed oil. The most severe of these occurred in Mayflower, Arkansas, where the town was plagued by pools of tar sands oil after the 65-year-old ExxonMobil-owned Pegasus pipeline ruptured. Meanwhile, things were no safer by train. One recent disaster involved an Oct. 19 derailment in Alberta, Canada. But the worst was a June 6 derailment and crash in Quebec, in the town of Lac-Mégantec, which caused major explosions and killed 47 people. Finally, the other oil-related issue haunting environmentalists is the fact that 3 million barrels of crude are currently being loaded into the southern section of the Keystone XL pipeline - operations for that leg of the project are supposed to start next month. One can only hope another Mayflower-scale accident does not occur.
3. Solar energy
If there has been progress made in any department this year, it's that of solar energy. It is seen as increasingly viable by companies, and there have been a number of good developments in solar on the East Coast. New Jersey, ranked in 2012 as number one in solar, is turning 800 landfills and 10,000 abandoned industrial areas into massive solar farms. This is a big win for a state with a messy history of pollution and environmental damage. Meanwhile, New York is installing a 47-acre solar plant in Staten Island's Fresh Kills Park, which is currently the site of the world's largest landfill. Less pollution zones and more solar power is a win-win for the environment, and the reason why solar energy was on the minds of many East Coasters in 2013.
Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown is creating a panic years after the fact, due to the disaster's ripple effect. It will not only have dire consequences for the environment, but for human health and livelihoods as well. When Typhoon Wipha lashed Tokyo in October this year, it only made the situation worse. The still-leaking radioactive output from the Fukushima plant increased twofold after the storm hit, with spillage over 14,000 times what is considered safe pouring into the sea. The Fukushima cleanup deadline has been extended to 2017, but the fallout will have repercussions for decades to come.
1. Climate change
And finally, the root of many of the problems on this list. Republican politicians continue to deny its existence in the interest of corporate profits. Scientists continue to warn that if we don't take measures soon, it will be irreversible. Others maintain that it's already too late to undo the damage. And the odd weather - with snow on the Egyptian pyramids for the first time in 112 years - serves as a constant reminder of the severity of global warming. The threat is imminent and the need for response through collective action is urgent. Most would argue, in fact, that climate change not only was the largest issue for environmentalists this year, it was the largest issue for everyone. And, sadly, we can surely expect it to go the same way in 2014.
The photo shows a camel experiencing snow for the first time in Cairo, Egypt (source: Twitter).
This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
“Because the Earth’s climate may be near a tipping point to major climate change, multiple approaches are needed for mitigation,” said William Ripple, a professor in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University and co-author of the analysis. “We clearly need to reduce the burning of fossil fuels to cut CO2 emissions. But that addresses only part of the problem. We also need to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gases to lessen the likelihood of us crossing this climatic threshold.”
While acknowledging the dangers of CO2, the authors say that much more should be done to reduce releases of methane and nitrous oxide, two non-CO2 greenhouse gases that trap more heat than CO2 does. Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas and recent studies have shown that methane releases could be much higher than previously thought.
Methane release comes from a variety of sources, but it’s estimated that ruminants form the largest single human-related source of methane. The authors write that the most effective way to combat climate change is therefore to reduce the world’s populations of ruminant livestock, which are mostly associated with cattle and the production of beef. Research has shown that greenhouse gas emissions from cattle and sheep productions are 19 to 48 times higher (per food produced) than the equivalent production of non-meat foods such as beans, grains, or soy products.
So although CO2 is the most abundant greenhouse gas, the world could see a much faster reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the near-term through a substantial reduction in the number of ruminants globally. Individuals can do this by adopting a more vegetarian diet which cuts down on meat and dairy products.
“Reducing demand for ruminant products could help to achieve substantial greenhouse gas reductions in the near-term,” said co-author Helmut Haberl of the Institute of Social Ecology in Austria, “but implementation of demand changes represent a considerable political challenge.”
Both the UN and World Bank sees the positive benefits of sustainable electricity. For the latter, electricity sparks social and economic development which creates improved lives and economic progress. The UN believes access to clean and modern energy is key to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The two international organizations therefore recently appealed to governments, international agencies and the private sector for money to help finance their universal energy plan.
“Energy is the golden thread that connects economic growth, increased social equity, and an environment that allows the world to thrive,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said during a press conference.
It has been estimated that around $600-$800 billion a year till 2030 is needed to reach the campaigns target of universal access to electricity. The money will go towards efforts to double energy efficiency, with a special focus in the world’s highest-energy consuming countries, and doubling the world’s share of renewable energy by 2030.
“Financing is the key to achieving these objectives,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “To reach our goals for access to energy, energy efficiency, and renewable energy, we need to mobilize an additional $600-$800 billion a year from now to 2030. We will now start moving in countries in which demand for action is most urgent. In some of them, only one in ten people has access to electricity. It is time for that to change.”
But not all energy sources are welcomed. “We don't do nuclear energy,” said Kim while he and UN Secretary-General unveiled their universal energy plans at a press conference this past November. Instead, the World Bank and UN wants to increase investments in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.
"Nuclear power from country to country is an extremely political issue," Kim told reporters. "The World Bank Group does not engage in providing support for nuclear power. We think that this is an extremely difficult conversation that every country is continuing to have. And because we are really not in that business our focus is on finding ways of working in hydro electric power in geo-thermal, in solar, in wind," he said. "We are really focusing on increasing investment in those modalities and we don't do nuclear energy."
This is not surprising. Nuclear is a highly controversial energy source, and the UN and the World Bank are wise to refrain from supporting it. While some environmentalists, such as Mark Lynas and George Monbiot, has called for increased investments in nuclear energy, many others, such as Al Gore, has said that nuclear is not the answer to our energy and climate crisis. It’s also hard to ignore the high costs and dangers involved in nuclear energy.
Brazil, Norway, the Bank of America and OPEC has committed to support renewable energy and energy efficiency activities. Energy assessments have been launched in 42 countries with the first reports scheduled to be finished in April.
The Venezuelan government calculates that the country’s gasoline subsidies cost up to $12.5 billion every year and has called for a national debate to discuss the future of these subsidies. “There have to be big debates in Venezuela about the price of gasoline,” Vice President Jorge Arreaza told Venevision earlier this month. “We will open this up for discussion with the whole country, including organisations and private companies.”
And last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said he is in favor of raising the country’s gas prices. Maduro said that the revenue gained from increasing the gas prices could help fund various social projects and build homes and schools. “As an oil nation, Venezuelans should have a special price advantage for hydrocarbons compared to the international market,” Maduro said. “But it has to be an advantage, not a disadvantage. What converts it into a disadvantage is when the tip you give is more than what it cost to fill the tank.”
Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver and now President of Venezuela.
The obvious negative environmental effects from the low gas prices also worries. The government hopes that by reducing the gasoline subsidies more Venezuelans will open up their eyes for cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles.
This is not the first time increased gas prices is on the topic in Venezuela. In 2007, former President Hugo Chavez called the low price of gasoline “obscene” and ordered a study into the possibility of raising prices. But no increase was ever implemented. It’s clear that increased gas prices is a sensitive subject in Venezuela – especially considering its past. Large protests and riots, which resulted in an estimated 300 deaths, shocked Caracas in 1989 when President Carlos Andres Perez raised gas prices as part of an austerity package pushed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Despite the country’s haunting past, several lawmakers, ministers and congressmen, including Adel El Zabayar from the socialist party (PSUV), has voiced their support for the proposal to raise gas prices. “Raising the price of gasoline is an undisputed necessity,” Zabayar has said. The country’s Minister of Energy and Petroleum, Rafael Ramirez, has said that “it’s absurd what is being paid” at the pump. Although a bit more tacit, the head Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce, Jorge Roig, has given the support to a debate regarding the countries gasoline subsidies. “It would be interesting to know what would be done with the new price of gasoline,” Roig has stated.
Commuters who use the country's public transportation system should be safe from any potential price hikes. Transport minister Haiman El Troudi has promised that public transportation will be exempt from any gasoline price increases.
Obama declared, "In order to create a clean energy economy that will increase our nation's prosperity, promote energy security, combat climate change, protect the interests of taxpayers, and safeguard the health of our environment, the federal government must lead by example."
This statement is in line with other positive environmental moves the president has made on the federal level, both during this year and in 2012. These include implementing a mercury reduction measure called the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, enacted by the EPA; cutting carbon output, which could decrease U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by up to 40 percent; and developing a climate change response plan that aspires to double renewable energy usage for the nation as a whole.
Federal agencies have already reduced their total greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent since Obama began his campaign to phase out their reliance on fossil fuels. That figure is, according to EcoWatch, the equivalent of taking 1.5 million cars off the road.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) commended the president for his bold step forward on this matter. SEIA president Rhone Resch remarked, "From an environmental perspective, few things threaten our nation's future prosperity and way of life more than climate change. That's why it's so important for the federal government to lead by example. We applaud President Obama for standing firm and following through on a key commitment he made as part of his Climate Action Plan.
"Moving forward, we also encourage the administration to develop a modern procurement process that allows solar to compete evenly with fossil fuels. Federal agencies should have the authority to adopt long-term power purchase agreements in order to maximize savings for U.S. taxpayers."
The solar movement is indeed catching on in the U.S., with New Jersey, California, and Arizona being the top states to implement the technology. Conversely, there are more solar companies in the state of New Jersey than tanning salons. Arizona, meanwhile, installed more "utility-scale solar" technology than any other state in 2012, according to SEIA. And Maryland and Massachusetts saw sharp declines in the cost of solar installation during 2011 and 2012. Given these developments, it would seem logical that federal agencies should follow suit.
The push to move the Obama administration on to a clean energy path began, at least partially, last year, when the Pentagon committed to establishing three gigawatts of renewable energy on Army, Navy, and Air Force installations by 2025. That's enough to power 750,000 homes.
The president's executive order, however, gives the overall clean energy push some much needed thrust.
This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
The photo shows President Obama speaking to the Airman of Nellis Air Force Base Nev. during a visit to Las Vegas. The president spoke about issues concerning world energy and the importance of solar power. Photo Credit: Nellis Air Force Base (cc).
The Russian parliament has voted in favor of an amendment that extends an amnesty decree to people who have been charged with hooliganism. This amendment grants amnesty not just for the “Arctic 30”, but also for thousands of other Russians and high-profile people. These include Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhin, both members of the Russian feminist punk rock protest group Pussy Riot.
The amnesty grants freedom for the 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists who were arrested on international waters following a peaceful protest at a Gazprom-operated Arctic oil platform three months ago. This also means that the legal proceedings against the “Arctic 30” are over and that the 26 non-Russian Greenpeace activists will be able to leave the country and travel back home to their families.
“I might soon be going home to my family, but I should never have been charged and jailed in the first place,” Peter Willcox, the Captain of the Arctic Sunrise, said. “We sailed north to bear witness to a profound environmental threat but our ship was stormed by masked men wielding knives and guns. Now it’s nearly over and we may soon be truly free, but there’s no amnesty for the Arctic.”
But the amnesty could also be seen as an acknowledgement of guilt, especially for the Russian activists.
“I’m relieved, but I’m not celebrating. I spent two months in jail for a crime I didn’t commit and faced criminal charges that were nothing less than absurd,” Ana Paula Maciel from Brazil said. “Right now my thoughts are with our Russian colleagues. If they accept this amnesty they will have criminal records in the country where they live, and all for something they didn’t do. All because we stood up for Arctic protection.”
The photo shows an Arctic 30 vigil outside the Russian embassy in Mexico.
Greenpeace and the “Arctic 30” received massive support following the arrests. Famous names such as Paul McCartney, Madonna, Jude Law, and many others called for the immediate release of the jailed activists. More than 2.6 million people also wrote to Russian embassies and Greenpeace themselves held around 860 protests in 46 countries worldwide.
The campaign to free the “Arctic 30” also received political support from Angela Merkel, David Cameron, Dilma Rousseff, François Hollande, Ban Ki-moon and Hillary Clinton. Twelve Nobel Peace Prize winners, including Desmond Tutu, Aung San Suu Kyi and Lech Walesa, likewise supported the campaign.
Jim Leape, director general of WWF International, said that he was “relieved” to hear that the Greenpeace activists had received amnesty but stressed that “they should never have been arrested” in the first place. “The Gazprom Prirazlomnoye project poses a huge threat to this fragile region,” he said. “While the case against the protesters may no longer exist, the issue of risky Arctic development remains, and needs to be addressed honestly by government, business and civil society.”
It is still unclear what will happen to the Arctic Sunrise, the iconic Greenpeace ship, which is still impounded in Murmansk. An international court has ordered for its release following a case brought by the Dutch government.
Greenpeace says that they have not been deterred from future protests against Gazprom and has vowed to continue with its campaign against oil drilling in the Arctic.
A Forbes article mentioned that Gore, who they claimed was a “newly turned vegan”, was considering an investment in a San Francisco startup that works to replace eggs with a plant-based formula. The Washington Post caught up on this, investigated further and found “an individual familiar with Gore's decision” who told the paper that Gore had taken up a vegan diet several months ago.
Gore, whom in 2007 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for their efforts to inform the public about the dangers of climate change, have received a lot of criticism over the years for living in a big mansion and consuming meat. In 2009, during an interview on ABC, Gore said: “I'm not a vegetarian, but I have cut back sharply on the meat that I eat. […] And it's absolutely correct that the growing meat intensity of diets across the world is one of the issues connected to this global crisis -- not only because of the [carbon dioxide] involved, but also because of the water consumed in the process.”
Rajendra Pachauri, chairperson of the IPCC, have stressed the importance of cutting back on meat. “Among options for mitigating climate change, changing diets is something one should consider,” Pachauri have said. The meat industry is responsible for about one fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the world's transport sector pollutes. Livestock farming also use a lot of land, about 70% of the world's total agriculture landis dedicated today to livestock production - that's around 25% of the planet's total land area.
It’s not surprising that Gore has switched to a vegan diet due to environmental concerns. The environmental costs and damages done by the meat industry to our climate are obvious. But it’s surprising that he did not do this to bigger fanfare and publicity.
Photo credit: Center for American Progress Action Fund (cc)