Archive for December, 2009

Biochar, Population and Anti-Coal

December 29th, 2009


Biochar is a type of charcoal that’s the result of burning plant matter with very low oxygen. It’s a sooty, black substance that holds great promise for not only slowing down climate change – but actually reversing it. In this encore episode of Earthbeat, host Mike Tidwell discusses the promise of biochar with Durwood Zaelke, the president and founder of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.

The connections between population and climate change go far beyond the recent comments by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh. Kathleen Mogelgaard of Population Action International speaks about how giving women the control they want over the size of their families ends up being a win-win for them, and the climate.

Finally, we hear about a rock that naturally traps carbon dioxide right out of the air. It’s kinda like the ‘anti-coal;’ we speak to researcher Sam Krevor of Stanford University’s Energy Resources Engineering Department.

Music used in this edition of Earthbeat is ‘Charcoal’ by Mrs. Tanaka.

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

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Winning More Than Losing

December 28th, 2009


In Copenhagen, reasons for hope outweigh those for despair — if only barely.

Editorial by Earthbeat Host Mike Tidwell – printed in the Baltimore Sun, December 28, 2009

President Barack Obama’s chief science adviser, John Holdren, had this to say at the end of the rough-and-tumble climate talks in Copenhagen this month: “I think we’re winning more than we’re losing.”

Really? How? Diplomats had just failed to produce a binding treaty to control global warming in any meaningful way.

But maybe Mr. Holdren’s right. I attended the climate conference myself, representing Marylanders concerned about sea-level rise and the need for clean energy. And I think – just maybe – we did win more than we lost in Copenhagen.

First, the winning. If there were any doubts that the “climate movement” had matured into a vibrant, worldwide phenomenon, they were put to rest in Denmark. More than 100,000 activists marched through the streets of Copenhagen on Dec. 12, led by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other distinguished leaders, demanding action.

Elsewhere during the two-week conference, Buddhist monks fasted side by side with college kids from Baltimore. Danish rappers performed next to Bolivian pan pipers. In Arabic and Russian, in English and Tshiluba, the demonstrators spoke with one voice: Save the climate! There were vigils, speeches, chanting, drumming and peaceful civil disobedience almost every day, involving thousands of people, creating a buzz that drew the constant attention of more than 5,000 journalists and as many politicians. Many of us are returning home imbued with new hope, thanks to our shared experience with activists worldwide.

Also on the “winning” side, the world’s rich nations agreed to raise $100 billion in “climate aid” for poor nations already hit hard by global warming. And China reluctantly agreed to a framework allowing international monitoring of its pollution cuts. Both of these features – finance for poor countries and carbon monitoring for big polluters – need strengthening, but negotiators made genuine progress.

So, where did we lose in Copenhagen? In several serious ways. First, there was no binding treaty to turn “agreements” into concrete international law. Second, all the talking about reducing greenhouse gas pollution didn’t match the target laid out by recent scientific findings.

Officially, at least, Mr. Obama’s negotiating team was committed to stabilizing carbon pollution at 450 parts per million in the atmosphere by 2100. Unfortunately, leading scientists – including James Hansen of NASA – now say that the only safe level for carbon pollution is much lower: 350 parts per million. This new number is based on terrifying new measurements of rapid Arctic ice melt and other signs of faster-than-expected warming.

If you want to risk even deeper despair, consider this: A team of computer wizards in Copenhagen, using a program developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, added up all the greenhouse gas emission cuts “pledged” by the 193 nations attending the treaty conference. These pledges included Mr. Obama’s woefully inadequate promise that America will cut its own emissions 17 percent by 2020. When you add up all the pledges made by all the nations, the MIT program spits out this number as the carbon level worldwide by 2100: 780 ppm.

That number bakes the planet. It dooms Maryland and the rest of the world to probably 20 feet or more of sea-level rise. In this sense, it’s actually good that there was no binding treaty locking us into this doomsday scenario.

The math is simple: We need to do twice as much. When world leaders meet next December in Mexico City to again attempt a planet-saving treaty, the goal must be 350 ppm. That might require the United States to cut its current emissions in half by 2020. Can it be done? Europeans, right now, use half the fossil fuels per capita as Americans. So do the Japanese. Surely we can match them by 2020, even if it takes hard work.

But given all these high-profile setbacks in Copenhagen, are we really winning more than we’re losing? Again, I come back to the creative and ubiquitous activism on display throughout the city. And the most visible group of all, with their memorable signs and song-like chants, was an outfit called “” Launched by a small group of Americans barely a year ago, it now has a staggering international following.

Founder Bill McKibben insists that a treaty committing us to 350 ppm carbon is our only hope. But, he says, ‘ppm’ doesn’t just stand for parts per million. “It stands for a ‘people-powered movement.’”

With that sort of movement on full display in Copenhagen, I think there’s a real chance we’ll see a binding treaty – one that wins a victory for the planet – in 2010.

Mike Tidwell is director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. His e-mail is

Image courtesy of – This action in Istanbul, Turkey was just one of the over 5,200 events occurring on the October 24th International Day of Climate Action.

Recapping Copenhagen & Can Cantwell Cap Climate?

December 22nd, 2009

FOE VA Chapter Director Glen Besa

Coming down from Copenhagen – we review what happened, and what didn’t at the recent United Nations Climate meeting in Denmark. Host Daphne Wysham speaks to Erich Pica, the President Friends of the Earth, and Janet Redman the co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies in our studios; and joining us on the telephone just having returned from Copenhagen is Earthbeat co-host Mike Tidwell.

Washington Senator Maria Cantwell introduced a bill seeking to plug some of the problems with carbon cap and trade. The Friends of the Earth’s Erich Pica stays in our studios to discuss the bill with David Bookbinder, the senior climate counsel for the Sierra Club.

Then a conversation about the largest World Bank loan ever to Africa – for building two new coal-fired power plants. We speak to Sunita Dubey of the U.S. offices of the South African environmental justice group Groundwork.

Image via the Sierra Club’s Glen Besa, all rights reserved

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President Obama Speaks in Copenhagen

December 18th, 2009

revkin polar bear Image by Andrew Revkin, all rights reserved.

Friday in Copenhagen:

President Obama made his long-awaited speech here in Copenhagen just a few minutes ago and there was nothing encouraging about it. “The time for talk is over,” he said, and then failed to commit the U.S. to any new climate-saving actions.

“After months of talk, and two weeks of negotiations, I believe that the pieces of an accord are now clear… Mitigation. Transparency. And financing. It is a clear formula – one that embraces the principle of common but differentiated responses and respective capabilities.”

Unfortunately, there was nothing really clear or new about his speech. The President stuck to the previous U.S. weak commitment of a 4 percent reduction in carbon emissions below 1990 levels. This commitment practically assures climate collapse worldwide in coming years. He also simply repeated Hillary Clinton’s Thursday pledge that the US would “help secure” $100 billion per year by 2020 for poor nations coping with global warming.

The huge problem with Obama’s speech today was this: there was no commitment to a binding treaty leading the world to 350 parts per million carbon in the atmosphere. That’s the only level that Dr. James Hansen of NASA says is safe by the year 2100.

What Obama SHOULD have said is that the U.S. stands in solidarity with the 112 nations who on Thursday endorsed 350 ppm — or no more than 1.5 degrees warming by 2100 — as the goal for any meaningful climate treaty.

Here was the immediate reaction to Obama’s speech from founder Bill McKibben:

“In the face of leaked UN documents showing that this agreement is a sham, we were hoping for some movement from the President. Instead, his response was take it or leave it. 100 other nations are not making reasonable demands because they want to make the President’s life harder. It’s because they would like their countries to actually survive the century.”

Late Thursday I interviewed the prime minister of Tuvalu, a Pacific Island nation that will totally disappear with three feet of sea-level rise. Apisai Ielemia was fasting along with his entire diplomatic delegation here for 24 hours as part of the “International Climate Fast” called for by McKibben and others (I fasted too!). Ielemia made it clear that he would not sign a treaty that doesn’t commit to a pathway to 350 ppm. “Why sign something that guarantees my nation will drown?” he asked.


What will happen in the final hours of negotiating here? Rumors at the Bella Center are that there might be a “political agreement” for a goal of 2 degrees Celsius and a commitment to figure out the specifics of who will pay what toward the $100 billion-per-year goal for poor nations. But if that’s all that comes out of Copenhagen, then it’s basically nothing meaningful. We’ll just be kicking the can down the road to the COP 16 in Mexico City a year from now. That is UNACCEPTABLE. As President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives said last night in Copenhagen, “We cannot keep moving the goal posts on a climate deal. We have to stick to a deadline and solve the problem. The deadline is now. The place is Copenhagen.”

Just before Obama’s speech I had the fascinating experience of interviewing a correspondent with the Greenlandic Broadcasting Corporation. Katja Nyborg lives in Nuuk, Greenland, and is here covering the talks. She told me the warming in southern Greenland is now so bad that hunters are killing their sled dogs because there is nothing to sled on. The snow and ice are vanishing.

Katja Nyborg is a radio journalist from Greenland. She tells Earthbeat Radio that hunters there are killing their sled dogs because of vanishing snow and ice. But the warming, perversely, is bringing a boom in tourists who want to witness the climate calamity first hand.

The prime minister of Tuvalu also told me that there were almost no major beaches left in his island nation. “When I was a child in the 1960s, there were wide, beautiful white beaches throughout my country. Now they are almost all gone due to sea-level rise from global warming. We’re now just asking the world to let us survive.”

With firsthand testimonials like this, and with the maddening lack of real progress from world leaders, it can get discouraging here in Copenhagen. One testimonial that gives me hope, however, is my conversation with Australian Anna Keenan. She is on day 42 of a “climate justice fast.” And despite losing 33 pounds, she is amazingly full of passion and energy. She said a lot of people have called her courageous for doing this fast, which will end Saturday. But she agrees it’s courageous only in the sense of the original French meaning of the word “courage.” It literally means “raging heart.” (Please see that video interview below)

She said her heart of was full of passion, of hopeful and loving rage, to solve the climate crisis as a matter of justice toward all living things and all future human generations.

Here in Copenhagen, it’s hard not to feel some rage toward the dysfunctional international process — with huge responsibility falling on the U.S. But despite the challenges and setbacks, it’s also hard not to have a full heart — full of love and abiding hope — as you see all the world’s countries here, all the races, all the languages.

Miracles happen. The world needs one here in Copenhagen today. Let’s hope our leaders have the courage it takes to make it happen.

Mike Tidwell
Earthbeat Host & Director, Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Steve Kretzmann of Oil Change International says America must finance clean energy development in poor nations by phasing out U.S. taxpayer subsidies to Big Oil and Big Coal. Watch the Earthbeat Radio interview from COP15 in Copenhagen.

Copenhagen: We need a real treaty, not a “drive-by hug” from Obama

December 17th, 2009

Mike Tidwell reports on how the U.N. is locking out activists as it opens its doors to the world’s leaders and how climate negotiators are suffering from ‘ADD’ – Ambition Deficit Disorder.

Okay, here’s what’s really, really positive about the Copenhagen treaty conference now nearing its second week of talks: the activism. There are tens of thousands of citizen activists here: students, indigenous leaders, faith leaders. They are colorful and noisy and have really left a mark on the proceedings. On Monday, on the downtown streets of Copenhagen, I met a young Congolese climate activist who spoke the same obscure African language I spoke 25 years ago as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I was in the snow, in Scandinavia, speaking Tshiluba with a fellow climate activist from the Congo. Wow. We’re making progress.

And indeed the whole world is paying attention. If you Google “Copenhagen” today you get 43 million hits. But it’s unclear, just 48 hours from the end of the talks, what will happen here. The negotiating nations are still far apart on global emissions targets and how to finance clean-energy development in poor nations.

And now, tragically, with heads of state from 115 countries now arriving in full, the UN has decided to expel from the Bella conference center just about all the activists and other “nongovernmental” representatives. The one really bright spot – the inspiration of grassroots voices — is being booted out of the room. Activists are now planning to gather elsewhere downtown for vigils, a “fossil” award ceremony that shames the most intransigent nations (the US has gotten two so far this week), and on Friday a giant aerial photo of activists forming the words “350 is Survival.” 350 of course is the level of carbon pollution leading scientists say is needed to save the planet. Right now, all the proposals from all the nations now officially on the negotiating table would actually lead the world by 2100 to about 770 parts per million carbon. It would be — literally — hell on Earth.

John Holdren, Obama’s own science advisor, told an audience here that the goal was to get the world toward 450 parts per million. The President’s science advisor seemed uninformed of the latest climate science.

Students staged a really big, inspiring demonstration in the middle of the Bella Center Wednesday to tell Holdren and other negotiators that compromise with the physics of climate change is not possible. We must commit to 350 now. Hundreds of students from over 40 nations sat cross-legged on the floor and read the names of 11 MILLION people worldwide who’ve signed a petition demanding a strong treaty. CCAN staffer Kat McEachern read the names of signers from Costa Rica, Latvia, and South Korea.

Many here believe — and I’m one of them — that a bad treaty is worse than a treaty that locks the world into 700 parts per million CO2 by 2100. Already, Vice President Al Gore on Wednesday seemed to suggest a binding treaty was not in the cards this week, and that we should all shoot for next year in Mexico City.

That’s better, in my view, than a dramatically compromised piece of paper. As May Boeve of said, “It’s not like compromise in the past has in any way slowed down global warming. Maybe we should try something different, like pushing for policies that match the science.”

In a valiant, last-minute attempt to push leaders toward “a real deal” that will fix the climate treaty here in Copenhagen, the group on Wednesday called on concerned Americans to phone Obama and to consider making a meaningful, profound, personal sacrifice: fasting for 24 hours. I’m going to do it. I’m going to skip food here in Copenhagen all day Thursday. It’s one more thing I can do to show solidarity with the African delegations here that brought bushels of shriveled, drought-decimated corn to show how climate change is already dramatically affecting that continent.

Consider phoning and fasting today. Learn more at

The real problem here, according the Jeremy Symons of the National Wildlife Federation, is that the Obama team suffers from ADD: Ambition Deficit Disorder. There really does seem to be much more citizen-based desire for action than the US delegation has ambition.

It’s too bad because the whole world is watching, hundreds of thousands are phoning and fasting, — and as recent as Tuesday polls showed over 70 percent of Americans believe global warming is a real problem in need of real solutions — now.

Bottom line: What we don’t need from Copenhagen is a weak compromise and a piece of paper — just paper — for Obama to sign Friday during a drive-by hug. We need a treaty that protects the poor nations, holds rich nations accountable, and gets us to 350 parts per million carbon in the atmosphere by 2100.

And we need it now, in Copenhagen, in 2009, not later, somewhere else, in some other capital city.

Now. Here. For all of us.

Mike Tidwell
Earthbeat Host & Director, Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Anna Keenan describes day 42 of her “Climate Justice Fast”. McKibben, Naomi Klein, Tidwell, thousands of others joined the fast for 24 hours in Copenhagen.

Activists & Police Standoff at Copenhagen Climate Talks

December 17th, 2009

Protesters at Copenhagen climate talks walk out on Wednesday, Dec 16th, over U.N. decision to dramatically limit participation by activists. Earthbeat Radio footage of a standoff with police outside the conference.

Copenhagen Mood Turns Turns Tense & Chaotic

December 16th, 2009

Jessy Tolkan speaks about the extreme frustration that U.S. treaty delegation is NOT listening to the voices of U.S. students. Tolkan is nationally recognized youth leader with the US based Energy Action Coalition

Copenhagen Update from Earthbeat Host Mike Tidwell:

As of Wednesday morning the international treaty talks have turned chaotic and discouraging. The summary: The United States is emerging more and more as the country blocking any meaningful progress. Despite efforts by activists worldwide to highlight the importance of 350 parts per million as the only safe level of carbon in the atmosphere, the US is doing its best to persuade all nations to abandon any talk of science-based reductions and simply wants to collect all the currently weak emissions reduction pledges and just crank out a watered-down treaty most convenient for America.

The scene here at the Bella Center in Copenhagen has been tense. Hundreds of activists and delegates walked out earlier this morning to protest the restriction of access. Many leaders of American climate NGOs are either already denied access to the center or will lose access soon. It’s a disgrace. Friends of the Earth activists and others have spent the morning sitting down in protest outside the center.

Security here and throughout the city is intense. Police dogs outside the center. Coming through the airport-like x-ray machines, I was asked to demonstrate that my water bottle was not poison by taking a swallow in front of security representatives.

I’ve talked to several leaders of the climate movement – including Gillian Caldwell of 1Sky and Jessy Tolkan of Energy Action – and everyone is sort of in a mixed state of anger, panic, and sadness. How can the US be so intransigent? Obama actually telephoned the presidents of Bangladesh and Ethiopia Tuesday to basically try to charm them away from science-based demands.

Danish diplomat Connie Hedegaard, official head of these treaty talks, told delegates yesterday you can leave on Friday in “fame or shame.” Tragically, the latter looks more likely at this point, although miracles can happen.

There appears to be some progress on rainforest protection today, according to the New York Times. But the two other main issues – financing clean energy development in poor nations and rich-nation commitments to serious emissions cuts – are totally unresolved.

I think Greenpeace International best described the current situation in the press release excerpt below. Also keep turned here to Earthbeat Radio for our continued coverage of the conference.

Mike Tidwell
Earthbeat Host & Director, Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Greenpeace International statement Wednesday morning from Copenhagen:

“This situation is ridiculous and unacceptable to the millions of people around the world demanding that heads of state agree a climate saving deal this week.

“The talks are still stalled – because the industrialised country Ministers appear to have left their political will at home. Let’s hope their heads of state don’t forget to pack theirs” said Kaisa Kosonen, of Greenpeace International.

At the heart of the problem was the US’s insistence that governments abandon any idea of science-based, legally binding targets and instead try to simply add up any targets on the table and make that the overall outcome for the talks.

The US was also trying to toughen obligations on developing countries, whilst trying to get away with a weaker obligation on themselves.

“The US, the world’s richest country with the largest historical emissions is holding these talks hostage. If Obama doesn’t put new targets and long term finance on the table this week, he will be the leader remembered for causing a breakdown in Copenhagen and guaranteeing climate chaos,” said Damon Moglen of Greenpeace US.

Action in the Streets – Inaction Inside: Copenhagen

December 15th, 2009


The UN Climate meeting is underway in Copenhagen. Outside, massive street demonstrations and alternative forums outside the Bella conference center focus the energy of tens of thousands of activists. Inside, developing countries push for action against the foot-dragging of the U.S. and a handful of wealthy countries.

In this special edition of Earthbeat, host Mike Tidwell reports from Denmark. We hear from representatives of the thousands of activists who have been locked out of the center. Then, the stirring words from the President of the Maldives Islands, Mohamed Nasheed and the founder of the group, Bill McKibben about the desperate need for true action on climate change.

More posts and updates will be coming, so keep tuning in right here for updates all week!

Indymedia Denmark is running a radio show daily with reports and interviews from the street in several languages, as well as a continuous loop of past content.

Image by Adam Welz for, used for media permission, all rights reserved

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The Climate in Copenhagen

December 8th, 2009


The United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark is underway. Joining host Mike Tidwell to discuss what’s occurring during the official meeting is author and climate activist Bill McKibben, the founder of And from the floor of the Copenhagen talks themselves is Jennifer Morgan, the director of the World Resources Institute’s Climate and Energy Program.

Peter Barnes joins us to discuss his views of the current status of climate action. Peter is is with the social justice group On the Commons based in San Francisco. He’s also the author of the book Who Owns the Sky? and a supporter of a cap and dividend way of combating climate change.

Then, we get a view of what’s occurring outside the official U.N. Climate meeting from George Marshall, the founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network from Wales, UK and from the Copenhagen meeting itself is Jihan Gearon of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Image from © Greenpeace / Christian Åslund all rights reserved

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The Story of Cap and Trade

December 1st, 2009

The debut of the new animated film The Story of Cap and Trade. Host Daphne Wysham, who recently penned an op-ed for The Huffington Post on cap and trade, speaks to narrator Annie Leonard and and the founder of Free Range Studios, Jonah Sachs, the animator. The Story of Cap and Trade is featured in The New York Times and creating a stir in the blogosphere.

Then Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi joins us to discuss how the investment bank Goldman Sachs stands to make a killing in the carbon market. And, how activists are planning to demonstrate at the upcoming Copenhagen climate meeting. We speak to Kim Wasserman, the coordinator of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Nadine Bloch of the Mobilization for Climate Justice, and David Solnit, who helped to organize the Seattle demonstrations and is the co-author of the book The Battle of the Story of the Battle of Seattle.

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