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Global warming talks: Why Doha will do nothing

John Bell

December 2, 2012

A few people have been making a lot of money building new communities along the North Carolina coast. Oceanfront vistas translate into big dollars. But someone was about to rock the yacht. Some pesky scientists came along with predictions about rising ocean levels due to global warming, and warnings that such development was dangerous and irresponsible. Science-based models (which in fact probably underestimate the problem) showed a probable 39 inch rise by 2100, as opposed to the eight inch rise predicted by corporate interests. State lawmakers sprang to action and did the only sensible thing: they proposed a law making it illegal to predict rising ocean levels due to global warming.
In fact Bill 819 would mandate that sea level forecasts would have to be based on past data, not future predictions.
Word got out and North Carolina was subject to ridicule by people who recognize that global warming is real–that is, by just about everybody not wearing a tinfoil hat. Chastened, the lawmakers in Raleigh did the smart thing: they passed a compromise motion delaying a decision until 2016. In the meantime, it called for more studies but none that take climate change into account.
Harper hypocrisy
This would be funny if it was just one rogue, reactionary legislature refusing face an increasingly frightening reality. But the only difference between North Carolina and Stephen Harper’s Tory government is one of naked honesty. The Tarheels shamelessly proclaim to the world, “We deny scientific facts in order to make a quick buck.” Harper et al do the same thing–what is Tar Sands fever except ignoring a dangerous reality in order to make a quick buck?–but they hide their mendacity behind hypocritical hand wringing and hollow words.
Preparing to go to UN sponsored climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar, where he will fulfill Canada’s traditional role of obstruction and delay, Environment Minister Peter Kent told the press: “You don't have to convince me that climate change is a very real and present danger and we need to address it.”
This from the Minister who during the past 18 months has met with oil industry lobbyists 48 times, compared seven meetings with environmental groups. In case you think he is leaving meetings with enviro-NGOs to his deputies, Michelle Rempel, Kent’s Parliamentary Secretary has met with petro-lobbyists 41 times versus four meetings with environmentalists. (Thanks to Greenpeace Canada for keeping score.)
This is the Minister who joined with Harper and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver in attempting to discredit the voices of environmentalists opposed to their beloved Northern Gateway pipeline. Kent accused: “Some groups with charitable status have been going well beyond the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) guidelines for what is acceptable practice as a charitable agency. And there has also been concern that some Canadian charitable agencies have been used to launder off-shore foreign funds.”
The slanderous accusations accompanied attempts to revoke charitable status for ForestEthics and the Suzuki Foundation.
Nothing reveals Harper and Kent’s two-faced approach better than their spring 2012 budget omnibus bill. Hidden in the voluminous legislation were measures to scrap many environmental protections in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
The new law allows government to cut short environment review processes like the one around the Northern Gateway pipe. It gave the Environment Minister more power to exempt resource extraction developments from any environmental impact review. It gave federal cabinet the final say over building any oil or gas pipelines. It weakened the power of the Fisheries Act to remove scrutiny over our lakes and rivers. It gutted the Species At Risk Act, allowing federal Ministers to put profit making ahead of biodiversity. And it formalized Canada’s ultimate betrayal of the environment, becoming the only nation to withdraw from the Kyoto Treaty.
Preparing to go to Doha, Kent said: “We are taking our obligations seriously. But we are balancing our obligation and engagement on climate change with sensitivities to the realities of Canada’s still-recovering economy, job creation and job growth, and we will continue on that course.”
In other words: profit trumps all.
Domestically the Tory course is to encourage full-speed-ahead exploitation of the Tar Sands. Internationally, at meetings like Doha, the Tory course is: to block consensus on real immediate action; to deny appointing special responsibility for climate change to the developed industrial nations; and to call for more talks and studies, postponing action until some unspecified future date.
Stephen Harper’s Canada is just North Carolina with window-dressing, and both are symptomatic of capitalism's insatiable drive, in Marx's words, to "accumulate for accumlation's sake, produce for production's sake."--regardless of the impact on the planet.
A warming world heads to the “tipping point”
Attention North Carolina beachfront property owners: those International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predictions that sea level would rise more than 30 inches by 2100 were wrong. The bad news is that sea levels are rising 60 per cent faster than predicted.
The rapid disappearance of Arctic ice cover, and the faster than expected melting of Greenland glaciers are to blame, according to the latest studies. Stefan Rahmstorf, lead researcher of the study performed at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said: “This study shows once again that the IPCC is far from alarmist, but in fact has under-estimated the problem of climate change. That applies not just for sea-level rise, but also to extreme events and the Arctic sea-ice loss.”
Many environmentalists worry that the alarming disappearance of Arctic ice cover–bad enough in itself–is proof were are reaching the ecological “tipping point”. This is the point beyond which climate change will go beyond our ability to keep global warming to a manageable two degree (Celsius) increase.
To date most global warming has resulted from human activity, burning fossil fuels that leaves CO2, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere. Warming land and seas result in shrinking sea ice and glaciers. This reduces the albedo effect, whereby white surface area reflects some of the sun’s energy back into space. The cycle of warming picks up pace.
Most IPCC global warming predictions are based on rising CO2 levels. But there are other greenhouse gases. Methane is particularly dangerous; while it does not naturally remain in the atmosphere as long as CO2, it traps heat more effectively while it is there. There are massive amounts of methane in the Arctic regions. Until now the gas has been trapped in the ground and under the sea by permanently frozen conditions.
In the lead-up to Doha, the UN Environment Programme warned that release of methane through warming permafrost could take global warming to a “tipping point” and “radically alter ecosystems and cause costly infrastructural damage due to increasingly unstable ground.” Until now most global warming research has focused on CO2. Doha will call on Arctic nations like Canada to invest more in researching the release of methane. That isn’t likely to happen.
Harper will continue to slash funds from the Environment Ministry so he can balance its budget while giving massive tax breaks and subsidies ($1.4 billion per year) to the oil and gas industry. Besides, Harper and his ilk see the warming Arctic as a business opportunity rather than a planetary disaster. “Much of that growth will be here in the North,” Harper said on a recent trip to Yukon. “Indeed, such is the magnitude of the North’s resource wealth that we are only, quite literally, just scratching the surface.” And he can’t wait to start scratching up the surface.
Global warming reveals the ecocidal impact of capitalism's insatiable drive to profit, which can only be stopped by a revolutionary transformation of society and our relationship with the planet.


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