Copenhagen Countdown & Painting the World White

June 9th, 2009


Earthbeat host Mike Tidwell discusses the behind-the-scenes negotiations leading up to the crucial Copenhagen climate meeting being held by the United Nations in December.

Joining the conversation is Carroll Muffett, Greenpeace USA’s deputy campaigns director, and David Doniger, the policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Deforestation accounts for almost 20 percent of global warming emissions – more climate pollution than all of the world’s cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships – combined. Lindsey Allen is a forest campaigner for Greenpeace. She’ll discuss their new report connecting the leather used for Nike, Adidas, and Reebok sneakers – and the Brazilian cattle farms that are destroying the Amazon.

Recently the head of the Department of Energy Steven Chu suggested ‘painting the world white‘ – creating roof covers that are light-colored and moving from dark asphalt to lighter concrete for roads. It turns out there’s a considerable amount of math and science that supports this simple-sounding idea. Dan Leistikow of the Department of Defense joins us to discuss the details.

Image used courtesy of via Flickr.

Music for this edition of Earthbeat comes from the album Sangria by Mariah Parker

Our theme music is Baladi by Tony Anka, Bellydance Superstars vol. 2.

If you’d like to hear this edition of Earthbeat – please send us an e-mail

2 Responses to “Copenhagen Countdown & Painting the World White”

  1. David Lewis Says:

    I wish we’d all be more precise in our use of words around this issue. Perhaps we could then find a way to support this historic Waxman-Markey bill even as we describe it as the very limited step that it is.

    For instance, Mike Tidwell talked a few times about “stabilizing the climate”. You could pass everything Obama ever talked about or campaigned on and no one would assess the net effect if translated globally as “climate stability”. It wouldn’t even translate into stability of the atmospheric composition. Do the math.

    Mike used words like “high expectations that the US will… actually begin to seriously solve the problem of climate change”.

    Again, no one is aiming at “seriously solving” the problem of climate change, even if they say they are aiming at 450 ppm or 2 degrees C. Serious action it may well be, but Waxman-Markey before it was modified, and Copenhagen in people’s wildest dreams is not a “solution”.

    People are alarmed at how things might look if greenhouse gas levels are allowed to accumulate to levels higher than 450. We’re blithely moving from the preindustrial 280 ppm to 450 with all the other gases thrown in, a change bigger than the type of thing that has caused a transition from an ice age to the present day in the past, and we pretend this isn’t catastrophic. Moving to 450 ppm is not going to result in stability.

    The problem, which is too late to avoid unless we actually do what so many think is impossible now, i.e. stabilize the atmospheric composition and start taking greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere to move its composition back toward what it once was, is we face rapid change from one relatively stable climate that civilization evolved on Earth in, to one that is always changing on any time frame relevant to human beings.

    The guy facing up to what his research has indicated to him is Hansen, and he is saying that his study of paleoclimate indicates that beyond 350 ppm there is no ice on the poles, while below that there is. He’s trying to bring some clarity to the debate, to the way we talk about this issue.

    He’s talking about leaving more than 350 ppm in the atmosphere for any appreciable length of time as a “recipe for global catastrophe”. Its the end of this age of life on land and in the ocean and its more than 200 feet of sea level rise because of the no ice on the poles. We are committed to this now. This is what Hansen’s research means.

    So we could discuss Waxman-Markey being so watered down China thinks it can get by with an initial position of it will commit to nothing at all, and we could act disappointed and say there goes the chance to achieve the “recipe for global catastrophe” we were all hoping for.

    We could say they didn’t listen to us, so now things will be worse. Its the “bigger global catastrophe” for us.

    We’re so used to a political climate where people blithely pretend civilization isn’t killing its home planet as fast as it can we’re losing our ability to use words meaningfully.

    Muffett dances around this issue when he talked about the “general agreement within the IPCC and within the international community that the upper limit for warming should at most be 2 degrees C”, when he states “science is increasingly telling us it should be substantially lower than that”, but even he isn’t clear. He speaks as if it suddenly happened that Waxman-Markey passed into law much stronger, in line with a Copenhagen agreement that would produce 450 ppm by 2050, he’d be enthusiastic. Or, we could dismiss Hansen, call him “unhelpful”, or say that he is “misleading the public”, the way some do. Muffet doesn’t dismiss Hansen, I can see that. So he should speak about his work, incorporate it into his perspective, and then say what all this talk about 2 degrees or 450 ppm looks like.

    If Waxman-Markey had incorporated everything Obama said he ever wanted and you accepted that the rest of the world’s citizens would demand the same right to emit what a US citizen would be allowed to emit under the terms of that hypothetical bill by 2050, the forces driving global warming will have increased in every year from now until then, and they would still be increasing.

    This isn’t stability, and it isn’t a solution.

    I agree with Doniger though. It is real. It makes a good start. Its so much better than what Bush was serving up I wonder sometimes if I woke up on a different planet.

    But I agree with Muffett as well, “if it doesn’t get us on the road to real science based reductions then what have we gained”?

    One more point: The Montreal Protocol analogy only goes so far. The protocol was signed, as Doniger would agree, as a not good enough first attempt at a solution, in 1987. The ozone hole over Antarctica had been discovered, but there was still official doubt about it. The whole treaty had been conceived at a time before the ozone hole appeared. People should go back and research those times. The prevailing scientific consensus had been that yes, ozone depletion was a worry, the gases involved should be controlled, but no observations of depletion had been generally accepted anywhere and none were seriously expected for another generation. There was this guy Rowland wandering around mumbling and causing trouble, but he was the Hansen of this issue, and people tried to ignore him. Suddenly, Farman announced his discovery of the Antarctic hole. It was a bombshell that caused hysteria in the relevant scientific community.

    What it showed was they had all been wrong, they didn’t have a clue how to predict what would happen in the ozone layer as a result of civilization emitting ozone depleting gases. I bring this up to say it wasn’t political activism that caused the “tightening” of the Protocol, it was civilization being overtaken by events.

    An equivalent in climate terms might be the drying up of the interior of North America so it suddenly became a continent sized desert, or the sudden disintegration of the whole of the Antarctic ice sheets with the consequent hundred and more foot sea level rise. Science is very sure this can’t happen tomorrow, but blowing that certainty out of the water is exactly what happened to “tighten” the Montreal Protocol. That’s how far out of then current scientific understanding the appearance of the ozone hole was.

    So whether or not there was a Montreal Protocol, I wonder how hard it would suddenly have been to come up with something, given how scared everyone was, and without the Protocol, which was hammered out when everyone did not have the fear of God front and center in their minds, the replacement agreement might well have been better.

  2. David Lewis Says:

    PS. Fantastic climate coverage. Thank you very very much.

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