Category Archives: Pollution
By Rocky Kistner – Media Associate, NRDC
This Columbus Day, there is little rejoicing among the fishermen of the Gulf Coast. Although this fishing-rich region is close to the Cuban shores Columbus first visited 500 years ago, there is not a lot to celebrate these days. The aftermath of the BP oil disaster hangs like a pall over the fishing communities of the Gulf, and people are only certain of one thing; it will get worse before it gets better.
Most Americans are unaware of this. The country remains gripped in unshakable economic doldrums. Millions are hurting and many have lost their homes. But along the Gulf coast, fishermen are even more desperate. Their livelihoods have been destroyed and they have no idea if their culture will return. They see the oil continuing to wash up on their shores while no one seems to be paying attention.
Their future lies in the hands of men like government BP claims czar Ken Feinberg, yet people here have little idea when or if they will receive a check to compensate them for their ruined way of life. Government officials pronounce the fish clean of oil when fishermen themselves say they are seeing oil in some of their catches. Even NOAA representatives have gone into schools to try to convince kids their seafood is safe when some fishermen refuse to feed seafood to their families.
The media has gone AWOL. Last week at a meeting in Buras, LA, fishermen gathered to talk about ways to show the public the oil is not gone. They felt abandoned and desperate. Some have had to accept free groceries and school supplies because they have run out of money to feed their families or buy gas for their trucks. They are incensed by million dollar ad campaigns aired during Saints games touting how BP “will make it right.”
They know what’s coming. The cleanup boats are being pulled off the job and their only income will be handouts from government and charities. And those sources are drying up too.
“It’s time to standup,” local shrimper Darla Rooks told the assembly of fishermen in this fishing town still devastated by Katrina. “This is my land and I cannot let me children fish here anymore. We need to stand up and fight or there will be nothing left. If you say nothing, you get nothing.”
Fishermen in this community agreed, but there’s still great uncertainty about what they can do. Even as the meeting took place, reports came in over cell phones to fishermen whose friends still working for BP describing thick peanut butter oil slicks coming into Barataria Bay, one of the hardest hit areas of the Gulf. It comes in at night and sinks during the day, they say.
“People out there don’t have a clue what’s going on,” says Acy Cooper, an official with the Louisiana Shrimp Association. No one wants to buy our shrimp. We can’t say for certain it’s safe while there’s still oil coming in here.”
Meanwhile, the lawyers are circling. As the government claims process grinds on, fishermen and business owners along the coast will be put in the position of trying to decide between accepting whatever the government gives them or getting a lawyer to represent them, a process that could take years — perhaps decades.
Mike Brewer, an oil cleanup expert who ran for a local council seat here, says a fisherman friend from Alaska just received a check from the Exxon Valdez disaster, more than 25 years after the fact. “It wasn’t even worth the money for him to fly to Alaska to get it,” Brewer says.
So as the six-month anniversary of the oil blowout approaches next week, I can vouch for the fishermen of the Gulf coast. I have been here with them since early May, following their various stages of shock, anger and grief over what has happened to their livelihoods. I have watched proud fishing families struggle with a seemingly unassailable foe, an army of oil, powerful PR and an aura of government complicity that exacerbates this ongoing disaster.
If history is any lesson, this culture and these people will not be easily defeated. They have a lot of fight left in them to survive. But it’s important for all Americans who celebrate Columbus’ discovery of the America’s to know that a culture that lived here before the Europeans is in danger of extinction. The tribe of the United Houma Nation still live by these waters where they have fished for centuries, as do the Italians, French and African Americans who came later and fish them now. For them and for all of us, we need to preserve the culture and environment Columbus found when he first sailed into our world. We need to restore the Gulf coast and make sure this oil disaster never happens again.
It’s being billed as the meeting that will determine the future of humanity. Come early December, we will be inundated with news from the Copenhagen summit. Can it really save us from climate catastrophe? Catherine Brahic and Fred Pearce sift through the mass of science and policy to pick out the key points to watch
Why this year? Two years ago in Bali, member nations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is convening the Copenhagen summit, agreed that they would accelerate their efforts and draft a long-term plan to avoid dangerous climate change. Their deadline for doing so is the close of this year’s summit, on 14 December.
Hasn’t the Kyoto protocol shown all this to be pointless? Not necessarily. The Kyoto protocol was always intended as a first step. There are a number of differences this time around, most notably that the US opted out of the Kyoto protocol but is very much engaged in the Copenhagen process.
Why 250,000 megatonnes? We have already emitted over 500,000 megatonnes of carbon – equivalent to about 1,800,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide – mostly by burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests. This year, climate scientists calculated that if we emit no more than 750,000 megatonnes in total, we will have a 75 per cent chance of limiting global warming to 2 °C.
What is the significance of 2 °C? The objective of the UNFCCC is to prevent “dangerous” climate change. Although any amount of warming may have consequences – including biodiversity loss, changing weather patterns and disappearing coastlines – many climate scientists predict that some of those changes will be irreversible beyond 2 °C and others will pose a serious threat to millions of people. As a consequence, 2 °C has been adopted by politicians as the threshold for dangerous climate change.
Is 2 °C little enough? That all depends: little enough for what? No amount of warming is risk-free, and modelling studies indicate that at 2 °C an additional 1 billion people will suffer water shortages and most of the world’s corals will be bleached. The world’s poorest nations, which include a number of island states that are particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise, are campaigning to limit warming to 1.5 °C. Given the effort that is going to be required to reach the 2 °C target, this is unlikely to be achieved. Moreover, lags in climate systems, plus the removal from the atmosphere of the fine aerosol particles now cooling the world, mean past emissions are likely to result in a 1.9 °C warming.
There are no two ways about it: to have any chance of avoiding the disastrous consequences of exceeding our carbon budget, we must usher in a new era of low-carbon societies.
How this is done will depend on what deal can be reached between rich and developing nations. Both must agree to cut emissions according to their means and historical responsibility.
Developing nations will also need money and technology to green their industrialisation. Where this will come from will be a key preoccupation for the Copenhagen negotiators
It could cost the poorest nations hundreds of billions of dollars a year to curb their emissions and adapt to inevitable climate change.
Rich nations are responsible for most of the gases that are already heating the planet, and have a duty to help foot this bill. Negotiators in Copenhagen will have to agree on how.
Funds could be raised through taxes on emissions permits, for instance, or on international airline tickets. Or there could be a levy on all carbon emissions above certain national thresholds – as proposed by Switzerland.
The European Union agreed last week to push for a fund worth €100 billion a year by 2020.
Around 15 per cent of emissions come from deforestation. WWF believes this could be cut by three-quarters by 2020, but that requires giving governments, landowners and forest communities incentives to stop destroying their forests.
Two years ago, climate negotiators promised to sign such a deal – dubbed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) – in Copenhagen.
The cash could come from rich nations buying carbon offsets to meet their emissions targets.
Brazil and Indonesia – which account for 60 per cent of emissions from deforestation – are keen. But close monitoring is essential to ensure loggers claiming cash for a forest do not continue chopping down individual trees or move their operations elsewhere.
Also, countries such as Costa Rica that have protected their forests say it unfairly rewards those who got rich destroying theirs.
Two billion people worldwide do not have access to mains electricity.
To bridge that gap and power industry in developing countries, the International Energy Agency says $13 trillion must be invested in the developing world in the next 20 years.
In Copenhagen, negotiators must seal a deal to ensure this goes mostly into low-carbon technologies – but how?
Western engineering firms want an open door to developing markets, perhaps secured by a “green free trade” deal. Countries like India and China want deals with rich nations that would give their own companies free access to western know-how.
Who might thwart a deal?
The US may not be able to make credible promises if Congress has not passed a climate change bill in time.
If China and India think the US is not serious, they will hold back on pledges to green their own economic development.
Others might wield a veto, too. Some newly industrialised countries – Malaysia and South Korea for instance – now have emissions higher than many European countries. They may protest if asked to sign up to firm targets.
Malaysia’s emissions are four times what they were in 1990 and, per head of population, equal to the UK’s.
Saudi Arabia’s emissions have doubled and, per head, now beat all European countries except Luxembourg.
Qatar’s per-capita emissions are four times those of the US.
Gulf states tried to torpedo Kyoto because they felt it threatened oil exports. Copenhagen could threaten their internal industrialisation plans.