Weekly Mulch: Was Cancun Climate Conference a Success?

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

The United Nations-led Climate Conference at Cancun was not a diplomatic disaster, but for climate activists and grassroots groups, it wasn’t a success either. Representatives sent from around the globe to hammer out an agreement on climate change were unresponsive to grassroots concerns about how to lower carbon emissions quickly, and how to ensure fairness in the process.

“Some grassroots groups are losing their faith in the U.N.’s capacity to produce meaningful results,” Madeline Ostrader reported for Yes! Magazine. “After the United Nations expelled Native American leader Tom Goldtooth from the meeting last week, the Indigenous Environmental Network called the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change ‘the WTO of the sky.’”

While gloomy reports before the conference worried that international negotiations could veer entirely off course, the representatives at the conference did come up with an agreement that fleshed out last year’s Copenhagen Accord. It became clearer, though, that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process will not ultimately guard the interests of less powerful players.

Climbing over a low bar

Although diplomats congratulated themselves for their accomplishments, not everyone was so pleased,  Stephen Leahy reported at Inter Press Service.

“It’s pathetic the world community struggles so much just to climb over such a low bar,” commented [Kumi] Naidoo, [executive director of Greenpeace.] “Our only real hope is to mobilise a broad-based climate movement involving all sectors of the public and civil society before Durban.”

Indeed, this year’s conference saw a greater mobilization of outside forces than Copenhagen did. But by the end of the conference, activists were frustrated with the UN-led process, Democracy Now! reported, and began protesting in the area near the conference, under the close watch of UN guards:

When the demonstrators continued their vigil past the time allotted to them, U.N. guards moved in and dragged them towards a waiting bus. The protesters linked arms, and the scene quickly became chaotic. As they wrestled activists onto buses, U.N. guards also seized press credentials from the necks of journalists, and detained a photographer while seizing his camera.

Running REDD

There was one issue in particular, Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation or REDD, a financial tool that allows countries to offset their emissions, that caused concern among climate activists. As Michelle Chen explained at ColorLines, “From a climate justice standpoint, the deal lost credibility once it was tainted with REDD, a supposed anti-deforestation initiative that indigenous communities have long decried as an assault on native people’s sovereignty and way of life.”

The program would seek to set aside forests, through financial incentives that would make it more profitable to preserve forests than to harvest them. The problem, in essence, is that the program would take away resources in developing countries, particularly in indigenous communities, in order to mitigate negative actions in developed countries.

At IPS, Stephen Leahy reported, “REDD remains very controversial. It is widely touted as a way to mobilise $10 to $30 billion annually to protect forests by selling carbon credits to industries in lieu of reductions in emissions. … Many indigenous and civil society groups reject REDD outright if it allows developed countries to avoid real emission reductions by offsetting their emissions. “

Developed vs. Developing

Balancing the interests of developing and developed countries has always been the thorny tangle at the center of climate negotiations, and the Cancun Agreement, critics say, favors developed countries.

As Tom Athanasiou writes at Earth Island Journal, “There’s an even deeper concern, that, in the words of the South Centre’s Martin Khor, ‘Cancun may be remembered in future as the place where the UNFCCC’s climate regime was changed significantly, with developed countries being treated more and more leniently, reaching a level like that of developing countries, while the developing countries are asked to increase their obligations to be more and more like developed countries.’”

REDD is an example of that sort of bargain: Developing countries have to sacrifice, too. But developed countries have, in this conference and at its predecessors, refused to make any real sacrifices. This round, it became clear that, in addition to the United States, other key countries, like Japan, would not be willing to commit to binding legal targets for carbon emissions.

Who benefits?

What’s worse, developed countries benefit, indirectly, from the financial mechanism proposed to regulate carbon, Madeline Ostrader writes.

“Many of the proposals for financing and regulating climate are designed to earn profits for the same banks that brought the global economy to its knees,” she explains. “Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have been vying for a stake in the global carbon offset trade—a proposed economic model for cutting emissions around the world.”

The movement of non-governmental groups and activists fighting to hold rich countries accountable has gained momentum in the past year. If international leaders are ever to move away from these imbalanced agreements, that movement will have to grow and convince a vocal majority of people around the world to support its calls to action. Only then will leaders feel pressure to write stronger, fairer agreements.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Ron Paul Goes Lone Wolf Again and Defends Wikileaks as Assange Calls for Obama's Resignation

(cross-posted on MyFDL)

The US Government isn’t too fond of Wikileaks, that much is obvious.  However, the US government isn’t the only one going crazy over the newest cable dumps with the Australian government up in arms as well.  Any chance of shutting down Wikileaks?  Doesn’t look like its going to be possible.  I checked Wikileaks’ twitter page today and found a hyperlink to a page containing over 200 mirror sites(EDIT: the number has been bumped up to 355 now 12/6/10) containing the files and documents the organization has leaked in the past.

The domain name of Wikileaks is under considerable watch, and has reportedly been changed at least once in recent weeks since the controversial cable release.  Wikileaks and their followers are determined to keep the site up and running.  Donating to the site, however tempting it may be given your views on the organization, would most certainly warrant some type of government attention.

 

There's more...

Record Number of Americans Seeking Government Help

That the private sector has failed should be obvious but the takeaway that conservatives will draw from the news that one in six Americans, or 17 percent, is now aid-dependent for some or all of their needs is that these Americans are somehow lazy. 

The four government social safety programs most being accessed are Medicaid, Food Stamps, Unemployment Insurance and Welfare. USA Today breaks down the numbers:

More than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid, the federal-state program aimed principally at the poor, a survey of state data by USA TODAY shows. That's up at least 17% since the recession began in December 2007.

The program has grown even before the new health care law adds about 16 million people, beginning in 2014. That has strained doctors. "Private physicians are already indicating that they're at their limit," says Dan Hawkins of the National Association of Community Health Centers.

More than 40 million people get food stamps, an increase of nearly 50% during the economic downturn, according to government data through May. The program has grown steadily for three years.

Caseloads have risen as more people become eligible. The economic stimulus law signed by President Obama last year also boosted benefits.

"This program has proven to be incredibly responsive and effective," says Ellin Vollinger of the Food Research and Action Center.

Close to 10 million receive unemployment insurance, nearly four times the number from 2007. Benefits have been extended by Congress eight times beyond the basic 26-week program, enabling the long-term unemployed to get up to 99 weeks of benefits. Caseloads peaked at nearly 12 million in January — "the highest numbers on record," says Christine Riordan of the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for low-wage workers.

More than 4.4 million people are on welfare, an 18% increase during the recession. The program has grown slower than others, causing Brookings Institution expert Ron Haskins to question its effectiveness in the recession.

As caseloads for all the programs have soared, so have costs. The federal price tag for Medicaid has jumped 36% in two years, to $273 billion. Jobless benefits have soared from $43 billion to $160 billion. The food stamps program has risen 80%, to $70 billion. Welfare is up 24%, to $22 billion. Taken together, they cost more than Medicare.

The necessity of jump-starting the economy should be obvious. Conservatives worry that government programs won't contract after the recession and that we're creating some of sort lasting dependency to government assistance. "They're much harder to unwind in the long term," says Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. I guess Mr. Tanner and his libertarian ilk would prefer that Americans line up for private charities and soup kitchens. This isn't just the poor that we are talking about. Increasingly those accessing these social safety net programmes are those who formerly comprised the middle classes.

In 2006, the SEIU and the Center for American Progress published a report entitled Middle Class in Turmoil (pdf) that warned that "despite an economic recovery well into its fifth year, middle class families are struggling to pay for a home, health insurance, transportation and their children’s college education due to a weak labor market and sharply higher prices. To pay for these necessary expenditures, middle class families are borrowing record amounts of money, leaving them unable to put away hardly any cash for a rainy day."

Well, guess what that rainy day is here and it's not just a deluge but a monsoon.

Copycat bills introduced in spite of a possible Federal lawsuit against Arizona law

From the Restore Fairness blog.                                                              

Last week we gave you a list of states that are going to great lengths to oppose Arizona’s anti-immigrant legislation and ensure that immigration enforcement remains in the Federal domain. Today, unfortunately, we have very different news. While human rights advocates, musicians, sports people, police officers and media personalities continue to provide us with endless reasons why Arizona’s harsh SB1070 bill needs to be repealed, lawmakers in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Colorado have already introduced similar bills in their state legislatures. Not to be left behind, similar legislation is being considered in Oklahoma, South Carolina, Idaho, Utah, Missouri, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Maryland, and Colorado.

Encouraged by the passage of Arizona’s immigration law, legislators and political candidates in these states are stating their frustration at the Federal government’s inaction in tackling immigration as their reason for introducing bills that increase local immigration enforcement. Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican who introduced legislation modeled on the Arizona law last week said that his bill would leave undocumented immigrants with two options, “leave immediately or go to jail.” He said-

With the federal government currently AWOL in fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities to protect American lives, property and jobs against the clear and present dangers of illegal-alien invaders, state lawmakers … are left with no choice but to take individual action to address this critical economic and national security epidemic.

In Minnesota the copycat legislation, drafted by state Rep. Steve Drazkowski and supported by five other state House Republicans, even has the same name as Arizona’s SB1070- “The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act”. According to the Minnesota Independent, this bill (HF3830)-

…would create a Minnesota Illegal Immigration Enforcement Team and require immigrants to carry an “alien registration” card. The bill uses the same “reasonable suspicion” protocol that has generated criticism against Arizona’s law.

This bill has been introduced in spite of the fact that the mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis (the areas in Minnesota with the largest concentration of immigrants) banned government travel to Arizona in protest of SB1070. Moreover, the police chiefs of both these cities have denounced the introduction of the bill in Minnesota, on the grounds that increased enforcement of immigration law by local police is detrimental to them carrying out their jobs of protecting the community-

As the police chiefs for Minnesota’s two largest cities, we oppose HF3830, the Arizona-style legislation recently introduced in the Minnesota House of Representatives that pushes local law enforcement officers to the front line on matters of immigration…We believe that mobilizing local police to serve as primary enforcers of federal immigration laws will throw up barriers of mistrust and cause a chilling effect in immigrant communities, impairing our ability to build partnerships and engage in problem-solving that improves the safety of all members of the community. The culture of fear that this bill will instill in immigrant communities will keep victims of crime and people with information about crime from coming forward, and that will endanger all residents.

It is frightening that state legislators are making their decisions in spite of repeated protests from mayors and police chiefs in Arizona and around the country. All we can do is take momentary solace in Attorney General Eric Holder’s consideration of filing a Federal Government lawsuit against Arizona’s Sb1070. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in Washington D.C. on Sunday, Holder said that  he was worried that enforcement of the law would lead down a “slippery slope” where people would be stopped based on their ethnicity rather than a crime they have committed. He said that the Justice Department was “considering of our options,” and could file the lawsuit either on the grounds that the Arizona law “pre-empted” Federal powers, or on the grounds that it violated Federal civil rights statutes.

According to a committee of human rights experts at the United Nations, the Arizona law not only violates Federal civil rights statutes, but possibly goes against international human rights treaties. Yesterday, a committee expressed serious concerns about the ways in which Arizona’s new law affects minorities, indigenous people and immigrants, potentially subjecting them to discrimination by local authorities. Referring to the clauses in the law that makes it a crime to be in the state without documents, and allows police officers to stop and question a person based on “reasonable suspicion” that they are undocumented, as well as the clause that targets day laborers and makes it a crime for them to solicit work, the UN committee highlighted the probability of the law leading to people being profiled based on their “perceived” ethnic characteristics.

The panel, composed of experts in the field of migrant rights and racial discrimination, critiqued the “vague standards and sweeping” language of the law and raised doubts about the law’s compatibility with International Human Rights treaties, which the United States is a part of. Further, they warned against the law as being allowing for a “dangerous pattern of legislative activity hostile to ethnic minorities.”

The rapidly introduction of bills similar to SB1070 is testament to the fact that this “dangerous pattern” is well on its way. We must ensure that the Federal government and the White House take this as an urgent call to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Write a letter to President Obama telling him to denounce SB1070 and repair the broken immigration system now.

Photo courtesy of flickr.org/dreamactivistorg

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

Weekly Mulch: Cochabamba Summit to Combat Climate Change Innovatively

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

On Monday, climate activists, nonprofit leaders, and governmental officials will gather in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to look for new ideas to address climate change. The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, organized by leading social organizations like 350.0rg, “will advocate the right to “live well,” as opposed to the economic principle of uninterrupted growth,” as Inter Press Service explains.  In the absence of real leadership from the world’s governments, the conferees at Cochabamba are looking for solutions “committed to the rights of people and environment.”

The United States certainly isn’t stepping up. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), along with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), were supposed to release their climate legislation next week, just in time for Earth Day. But yesterday the word came down that the release was being pushed back by another week, to April 26.

No matter when it finally arrives, like other recent environmental initiatives, this round of climate legislation falls short. Even if Congress manages to pass a bill—and there’s no guarantee—it will likely leave plenty of room for the coal, oil, and gas industries to continue pouring carbon into the atmosphere. And a wimpy effort from Congress will hinder international work to limit carbon emissions: As a prime polluter, the United States needs to put forward a real plan for change.

Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman

Although the text of the bill is not public yet, it is likely that this attempt at Senate climate legislation will limit carbon emissions only among utilities and gradually phase in other sectors of the economy. On Democracy Now!, environmentalist Bill McKibben called the bill “an incredible accumulation of gifts to all the energy industries, in the hopes that they won’t provide too much opposition to what’s a very weak greenhouse gas pact.”

Climate reform began with a leaner idea, a cap-and-trade system that limited carbon emissions while encouraging innovation. The Nation’s editors document the transformation of climate reform from the Obama administration’s original cap-and-trade proposal to the behemoth tangle  it has become. Both the House and the Senate fattened their versions of climate legislation with treats for the energy industry. The Senate’s new idea to gradually expand emissions reduction through a bundle of energy bills only opens up more opportunities for influence.

“Some of these pieces of legislation may pass; others may fail; all are ripe for gaming by corporate lobbies,” the editors write. “Kerry-Lieberman-Graham would also skew subsidies in the wrong direction, throwing billions at “clean coal” technologies, nuclear power plants and offshore drilling, a questionable gambit favored by the Obama administration to garner support from Republicans and representatives from oil-, gas- and coal-producing states.”

Even with these goodies, the climate bill may not pass. The Washington Independent rounds up the D.C. players to watch as the next fight unfolds, including the Chamber of Commerce’s William Kovacs and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lisa Jackson.

Green leftovers

In theory, the climate bill should not be America’s only ride to a greener future. But the other vehicles for green change choked during start-up. The EPA was going to regulate carbon emissions, but Congress has reared against that effort. The climate bill could snatch away that power from the executive branch.

If companies won’t limit their carbon emissions, individuals still have the option for action. But as Heather Rogers explains in The Nation, carbon offsets, one of the most popular mechanisms for minimizing carbon use “are a dubious enterprise.”

“To begin with, they don’t cut greenhouse gases immediately but only over the life of a project, and that can take years–some tree-planting efforts need a century to do the work. And a project is effective only if it’s successfully followed through; trees can die or get cut down, unforeseen ecological destruction might be triggered or the projects may simply go unbuilt.”

The pull of carbon offsets should diminish as energy use in buildings, cars, food, and flights gains in efficiency and uses less carbon. But if the green jobs sector is any indication, that revolution has been slow in coming. ColorLines reports that “there are no firm numbers on how many newly trained green workers are still jobless. But stories abound of programs that turn out workers with new, promising skills—in solar panel installation and weatherization, in places like Seattle and Chicago—and who nonetheless can’t find jobs.”

Cochabamba’s unique approach

These failures and setbacks don’t just affect Americans; they keep our leaders from negotiating with their international peers. The United Nations led a conference last winter in Copenhagen that promised to hash out carbon limits, yet produced no binding agreement. This coming winter, the UN will try again in Mexico, but if the United States shows up with the scant plan put forward by Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman, those negotiations have little promise.

In Cochabamba, leaders from inside and outside the government will attend a summit to discuss the future of climate change action. In The Progressive, Teo Ballve writes that,

“One of the bolder ideas is the creation of a global climate justice tribunal that could serve as an enforcement mechanism. And conference participants are already working on a “Universal Declaration of Mother Earth Rights” meant to parallel the U.N.’s landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.”

With U.S. government action paling, it might take outside ideas like these to revitalize the push towards a green future. By the end of next week, we’ll see if the Cochabamba group made any more progress than the bigwigs at Copenhagen.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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