CLIMATE TALKS: Absurdity, Urgency and the Battle for Our Future
By Daniel Mittler
My head is in Doha, but my body is not. My inbox is overflowing even more than usual, as rumors picked up in the vast corridors of the Qatar Convention Center are spread around electronically. The acronyms alone make it easy to make fun of the global climate negotiations. Sitting at my desk it's hard not to smile at questions such as “what happened on ADP?” or “who has the KP non-papers on eligibility?” And no, that's not about getting married ...
If I were in Doha, these are the questions I would be asking. I would be part of what The Economist has quite aptly termed the UNFCCC “theatre of the absurd.” In the evening I would lament with colleagues that the Doha theatre is failing to alter the disastrous play that is our business-as-usual future. Some old hands would recount how they used to think, that the negotiations would get less absurd once the urgency of climate action was more widely accepted.
Instead, today, one of the most disturbing absurdities of all is how the very leaders who are responsible for the crisis come to places like Doha to warn of the fossil-fueled future we face in the starkest terms. When even the World Bank President fails to “shock the world into action” by pointing out just how unattractive a much warmer world will be, you have to wonder whether governments will ever get real. Certainly, I have to accept, the bits of absurd theatre I, together with others, have engaged in at climate meetings over the years—such as the “wake up call for the climate” pictured here (from 2008)—didn't quite succeed in changing the power dynamics just yet Power. That is indeed the reason for the absurd situation we face. Too much of it, wielded—with brute grim reaper force—by the wrong people. If our governments were acting on behalf of their citizens we would not be watching them play childish “I won´t if you won't” and “I will, but only after you” games with our future.
Post Hurricane Sandy, even the vast majority of Americans back climate action. The fossil fuel industry, however, has captured too many governments in North and South. On Capitol Hill, just like in Caracas, Brasilia or New Delhi, oil, coal and gas still rule still, not the people.
There are victories—Petrobras is forced to abandon deep sea drilling in New Zealand; old coal-fired power stations in the U.S. are being decommissioned and new ones stopped by an unprecedented alliance of grassroots groups, federal regulators and investors who no longer believe the lie that “coal is cheap.” But at international negotiations, government positions illustrate who still holds the power overall. In this way, the absurd state of negotiations is instructive. It is also a sad and powerful reminder of how we as a movement are not yet making the difference we need to make. As things stand, governments clearly still fear Shell and Exxon more than you and me ...
The painfully wide gulf between the rhetoric and reality of the climate talks has led some to suggest that we can ignore the negotiations. The real fight, as Michael Jacobs argues in the Guardian, for example, is “being waged in energy and finance ministries around the world, and in the boardrooms of energy companies and their bankers.” On the importance of that battle between carbon-intensive energy and a clean energy future he is absolutely right (as right as he is wrong on nuclear power).
The key question for the next few years is whether we choose an energy future that leaves two-thirds of known carbon reserves in the ground. Greenpeace already in 1997 established this “carbon logic”—and when the Kyoto Protocol was agreed vowed “to ensure that the majority of remaining fossil fuel reserves stay below the ground and to remove the obstacles to increased investment in clean energy technologies.”
That's why we are working now to stop investments in Arctic oil and to end the age of coal everywhere—especially in the U.S., Poland, India and China, where the majority of new coal plants are planned. A few years ago, I personally took a break from following the UNFCCC madness to fight coal in my native Germany —and I know the thrill of finding out that another coal plant has been stopped.
But how is the battle for a clean energy future different from the battle for a decent global climate agreement? The enemies—the coal, oil, gas and nuclear industries—for sure are the same. And there is no question that the climate negotiations over the years have not only shone the public spotlight on business and government (lack of) action on climate change, they have also created an expectation to act.
The 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen failed to deliver the deal we still need. But the political energy generated by the talks helped to ensure cross-party support for the UK’s ground-breaking climate legislation (which we are now fighting to defend); contributed to DONG, Denmark’s nationally owned utility, abandoning coal investments; and delivered climate and energy targets in more countries than ever before.
The fact that all of this is not enough is true, of course. But the explanation for this failure lies primarily in power relations, not in too many acronyms, negotiation strands or windowless rooms in overly air-conditioned convention centers. Those who suggest that we need to choose between engaging with the climate negotiations or fighting for a clean energy future are creating a false dichotomy. We need to do both.
The chances of getting anything like a fair, ambitious and legally binding climate agreement will only improve when we see real change being made in Washington, Beijing, Brussels or Pretoria. If we get leaders to shift to a clean energy path at home, they will become less resistant to an ambitious deal at the global level. There is a reason that Germany has a better position on global climate action than many other countries: it has already started on a faster (though by no means perfect) energy transition to the renewables future we need.
So, sitting at my desk, I salute my colleagues in Doha—not just for not getting lost in the vast conference center, not just for speaking truth to power (“governments need to cut the crap and cut the carbon”), but especially for pushing for a way forward to a real deal in 2015—against some powerful enemies who hate our children.
Yes, I even look forward to joining the absurd theatre of the negotiations again next year in Poland. There can surely be no better place than a climate summit in Poland (more than 90 percent dependent on coal!) to remind us that the fight for global climate action and the fight against coal are two sides of the very same coin.
Maybe then we will realize that the REAL theatre of the absurd is the fact that we have all the solutions we need, but we're allowing a few powerful players who caused the problem in the first place to block them.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
Daniel Mittler is the Political Director of Greenpeace International
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The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.
On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.
France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.
The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.
"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."
Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.
By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.
The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.
"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.
While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.
"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.
Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.
Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.
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By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
There are trillions of microplastics in the ocean — they bob on the surface, float through the water column, and accumulate in clusters on the seafloor. With plastic being so ubiquitous, it's inevitable that marine organisms, such as sharks, will ingest them.
Polyproylene fibers found in one of the sampled sharks. Kristian Parton
Spiny dogfish. NOAA / Wikimedia Commons<p>"There appear to be two routes for these particles to end up in the sharks," Parton said. "The first through their food source [such as] crustaceans. Their prey may already contain these fibers, and consequently it's passed to the shark through bioaccumulation up the food chain. The second pathway is direct ingestion from the sediment. As these sharks feed, they'll often suck up sediment into their mouths, some of this is expelled straight away, although some is swallowed, therefore fibers and particles that may have sunk down into the seabed may be directly ingested from the surrounding sediment as these sharks feed."</p><p>Some sharks only contained a few plastic particles, but others contained dozens. The larger the shark, the more plastic was in it, the findings suggested. The highest number of microplastics was found in an individual bull huss, which had 154 polypropylene fibers inside its stomach and intestines.</p><p>"It's perhaps likely this individual shark had swallowed a larger piece of fishing rope/netting and this has broken down during digestive processes within the shark, and also broken down into smaller pieces during our analysis," Parton said.</p>
Lesser-spotted dogfish caught as bycatch. Kristian Parton<p>While this study only examined the stomach and digestive tracts of demersal sharks, Parton says it's possible that plastic would be present in other parts of the sharks' bodies, such as the liver and muscle tissue. However, more research would be needed to prove this.</p><p>At the moment, there is also limited understanding of how microplastic ingestion would impact a shark's health, although microplastics are known to negatively influence feeding behavior, development, reproduction and life span of zooplankton and crustaceans.</p><p>"If we can show that these fibers contain inorganic pollutants attached to them, then that could have real consequences for these shark species at a cellular level, impacting various internal body systems," Parton said.</p>
Parton in the lab. Kristian Parton<p>This new study demonstrates how pervasive and destructive plastic pollution can be in the marine environment, according to Will McCallum, head of oceans for Greenpeace U.K.</p><p>"Our addiction to plastics combined with the lack of mechanisms to protect our oceans is suffocating marine life," McCallum said in a statement. "Sharks sit on top of the marine food web and play a vital role in ocean ecosystems. Yet, they are completely exposed to pollutants and other human impactful activities. We need to stop producing so much plastic and create a network of ocean sanctuaries to give wildlife space to recover. The ocean is not our dump, marine life deserves better than plastic."</p>
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By Loveday Wright and Stuart Braun
After a Japanese-owned oil tanker struck a reef off Mauritius on July 25, a prolonged period of inaction is threatening to become an ecological disaster.
<div id="bb0a7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e5aefc0fff61ab1aea2f4b03c5399864"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1291765757013983238" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The #oilspill is devastating but I want to honour the community mobilisation at the Mahebourg waterfront today (to… https://t.co/UWFkZFdjdi</div> — Fabiola Monty (@Fabiola Monty)<a href="https://twitter.com/LFabiolaMonty/statuses/1291765757013983238">1596815930.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"Booms are made of nylon mesh filled with #sugarcane straws all hand-stitched by Mauritian volunteers, empty plastic bottles used as buoys," described Mauritian journalist Zeenat Hansrod in a tweet. </p>
How to Tackle Oil Spills<p>The method for tackling oil spills depends on several factors, including the type and amount of oil in question, location and weather conditions.</p><p>"Once the oil comes to shore, the more intensive the cleaning technique. You can risk causing further damage," said Nicky Cariglia, an independent consultant at Marittima, who specializes in marine pollution. </p><p>"If you wanted to remove all traces of oil, the techniques available become increasingly aggressive the less oil that remains. In mangroves, you would have the added risk of causing damage by trampling," Cariglia told DW. Highly sensitive mangrove ecosystems line the Mauritius east coast that is threatened by the current spill.</p><p>Because oil normally has a lower density than water, it floats on the surface of the ocean. This means that for clean-up action to be most effective, it should happen very quickly after a spill, before the oil disperses. </p>
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