Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse takes on climate change deniers that claim God will magically solve everything:
Time to Wake Up: Magical Thinking on Climate Change
As delivered on the Senate floor
Wednesday, May 8, 2013:
Mr. President, as I’m sure you suspect, I am back on the Floor again to urge that we awaken to what carbon pollution is doing to our planet, to our oceans, to our seasons, to our storms.
And I wonder, “Why is it that we are so comfortable asleep, when the warnings are so many and so real?” What could beguile us away from wakefulness and duty? I was recently at a Senate meeting where I heard a member of our Senate community say, “God won’t allow us to ruin our planet.” God won’t allow us to ruin our planet. Maybe that’s why we do nothing: we are comfortable that God somehow won’t allow us to ruin our planet. That seems such an extraordinary notion that I thought I would reflect on it in my remarks this week.
First of all, the statement refers to God: it is couched in religious terms. But is it really an expression of religious inquiry? I think not. It is less an expression of religious thinking than it is of magical thinking. The statement that God won’t allow us to ruin our planet sweeps aside ethics, responsibilities, consequences, duties, even awareness. It comforts us with the anodyne assumption that—no matter what we do—some undefined presence will, through some undefined measure, make things right, clean up our mess. That is seeking magical deliverance from our troubles, not divine guidance through our troubles.
So is God really here just to tidy up after our sins and follies, to immunize us from their consequence? If that is true, why does the Bible say in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived . . . whatever one sows, that will he also reap”? If God is just a tidy-up-after-us God, why does the Book of Job 4:8 warn that “those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same”? If God is not a god of consequences, why does Luke 6:38 tell us, “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you,” and Proverbs 22:8 tell us, “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity”?
Jeremiah 17:10 says, “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” So it seems that we should not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or sit in the seat of scoffers, and then expect there will be no bitter fruit of our deeds, no consequence. We are warned in the Bible not to plow iniquity, not to eat the fruit of lies; where in the Bible are we assured of safety if we do? I see no assurances of that. The Bible says at1 Samuel 2:3 “the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed,” and that at 2 Thessalonians 1:6 “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict.” Those who “sow the wind,” the Bible says, “they shall reap the whirlwind.”
And look at our own American history. If God is just here to tidy up after our sins and follies, how could Abraham Lincoln say this about our bloody Civil War to free and redeem us from the sin of slavery? Here’s what Lincoln said about that war: “Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said: ‘The judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.’” That was Abraham Lincoln. Blood, drawn by the sword, in equal measure to that drawn by the lash, as the true and righteous judgment of the Lord—that doesn’t sound like a God of amnesty.
Go to the very beginning. If we live in a state of God-given general amnesty from consequences, why were Adam and Eve expelled from Eden for their sin? Why was Cain sent into the wilderness, condemned to wander, for the crime against his brother? If it is your assertion that God’s love has no measure of tough love, wander a bit through the Old Testament before getting too married to that idea. And if the Old Testament is too bloodthirsty for you, look at Revelations 11:18: “And thy wrath is come, and the time . . . that thou . . . shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.” Destroy them which destroy the earth.
If we believe in an all-powerful God, we must then believe that God gave us this Earth, and we must in turn believe that God gave us its laws of gravity, of chemistry, of physics. We must also believe that God gave us our human powers of intellect and reason. He gives us these powers so that we his children can learn and understand Earth’s natural laws, which he also gave us. So that, as His children, we can use that understanding of Earth’s natural laws to build and create and prosper on His Earth. And hasn’t that in fact been the path of human progress? We learn these natural laws, and we apply them, to build and create, and we prosper.
So why then, when we ignore His plain natural laws, when we ignore the obvious conclusions to be drawn by our God-given intellect and reason, why then would God, the tidy-up God, drop in and spare us? Why would He allow an innocent child to burn its hand when it touches the hot stove, but protect us from this lesson? Why would He allow a badly engineered bridge or building to fall, killing innocent people, but protect us from this mistake? Why would He allow cholera to kill in epidemics, until we figure out that the well water is contaminated? The Earth’s natural laws and our capacity to divine them are God’s great gift to us, allowing us to learn, and build great things, and cure disease. But God’s gift to us of a planet with natural laws and natural order has, as an integral part of that gift, consequences. Consequences when we get that law and order wrong. The child’s hand burns; the bridge falls; the disease spreads. If it didn’t matter whether we got it right or wrong, there’d be no value to God’s creation of that natural law and order in the first place.
So, is that then to be our answer to polluting our atmosphere with carbon by the megaton and changing our climate and changing our seas? Is it to be our answer to that that God would not allow us to ruin our planet?
We are to continue to pollute our Earth, with literally megatons each year of carbon, heating up our atmosphere, acidifying our seas, knowing full well by His natural laws what the consequences are, and instead of correcting our own behavior, we’re going to bet on a miracle? That’s the plan?
Excuse me, but that’s not really the American way. President Kennedy described the American way as he ended his inaugural address connecting our work to God’s: “. . . let us go forth,” he said, “to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”
That is the order of things. We are here to do God’s work; He is not to do ours. How arrogant, how very far from humility, would be the self-satisfied, smug assurance that God, a tidy-up-after-us god, will come and clean up our mess; that on this Earth God’s work need not be our own.
Remember the story of the man trapped in his house during a huge flood. A faithful man, he trusted God to save him. As the waters began to rise in his house, his neighbor offered him a ride to safety. And he said, “I am waiting for God to save me,” so the neighbor got in his pick-up truck and drove away. As the water rose, the man climbed to the second floor of his house. And a boat came by his window with people who were heading for safe ground. They threw a rope and they yelled at the man to climb out and come with them. He told them “No, I trust in God to save me.” They shook their heads and they moved on. The floodwaters kept rising, and the man clambered to his roof. A helicopter flew by and a voice came over the loudspeaker offering to lower a ladder to the man and let him climb up, and fly to safety. The man waived the helicopter away, shouting back that he counted on God to save him. So the helicopter left. Well, eventually the floodwaters swept over the roof and the man was drowned. When the man reached heaven, he had some questions for God. “God,” he asked, “didn’t I trust in you to save me? Why did you let me drown?” God answered, “I sent you a pick-up truck, I sent you a boat, I sent you a helicopter. You refused my help.” Just as God sent the pick-up truck, the boat, and the helicopter to the drowning man, He has sent us everything we need to solve this carbon pollution problem. We just refuse. We just refuse. Some of us even deny that the floodwaters are rising.
Mr. President, as I’ve indicated in previous speeches, climate denial is bad science, indeed it’s such bad science it falls into the category of falsehood. Climate denial is bad economics, ignoring that in a proper marketplace the costs of carbon pollution should be factored into the price of carbon. Climate denial is bad policy in any number of areas: bad national security policy, bad environmental policy, bad foreign policy, bad economic policy.
Though I’m a Senator not a preacher, from everything I’ve learned and believe, it seems to me that climate denial is also bad religion, and bad morals. Hopes for a nanny God, who will with a miracle grant us amnesty from our folly, that’s not aligned with either history or text of the Bible.
We need to face up to the fact that there is only one leg on which climate denial stands: money. The polluters give and spend money to create false doubt. The polluters give and spend money to buy political influence. The polluters give and spend money to keep polluting. That’s it. That’s it. Not truth, not science, not economics, not safety, not policy, and certainly not religion, nor morality. Nothing supports climate denial. Nothing except money. But in Congress, in this temple, money rules; so here I stand, in one of the last places on Earth that is still a haven to climate denial. In our arrogance, we here in Congress think that we can somehow ignore or trump Earth’s natural laws, laws of chemistry, laws of physics, laws of science, with our own political lawmaking, with our own political influence. But we’re fools to think that. The laws of chemistry and the laws of physics neither know, nor care, what we say or do here. So we need to wake up. We need to walk not in the counsel of the wicked, nor sit in the seat of scoffers, but with due humility awaken to our duty and get to work. Because here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.
Thank you very much, I yield the floor.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog
Your handy flow chart to bluff your way in a climate change conversation with someone not convinced.
Though in practise I would invite them to read “Cool It” by Bjorn Lomborg the skeptical environmentalist.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog
The Dirty Weather Report is streaming right now 24 hours of live reporting on climate change. Al Gore among others discuss the challenges, the facts and solutions while looking at the impact across the globe.
Started 1am GMT today (8pm EST yesterday) but between live reports recapping the early hour reports.
Start watching here.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog
The storm that is threatening 60 million Americans in the eastern third of the nation in just a couple of days with high winds, drenching rains, extreme tides, flooding and probably snow is much more than just an ordinary weather system. It’s a freakish and unprecedented monster.
(Above quote from here)
At 7pm GMT (3pm local time New York) this is what Sandy was doing:
Matt Frei (Channel 4 reporter UK based in DC) has mentioned in a local store there was a run on things from bottle water to condoms. The fear is that power will be disrupted for days, and the storm brings freezing conditions as well as potential destruction. In New York 375,000 people have been ordered to evacuate.
[UPDATE: 29/10: Matt has blogged on Sandy here. I have already tweeted him that perhaps MacMillan's "wind of change" quote is as apt as "events dear boy, events" regarding political implication of Sandy.]
The worse of the weather will hit about 2am local time Tuesday in New York, though flooding has already happened in Virginia.
For those of you that have to batten down the hatches hope you get through this. Times like this you hope communities come together.
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website, Barcelona
The seas are one of the ecosystems threatened by human activities
At least 25% of the world’s mammal species are at risk of extinction, according to the first assessment of their status for a decade.
The Red List of Threatened Species says populations of more than half of mammalian species are falling, with Asian primates particularly at risk.
The biggest threat to mammals is loss of habitat, including deforestation.
But there is good news for the African elephant, whose recovery leads to removal from the high-risk list.
This year’s Red List looks at 5,487 mammals, and concludes that 1,141 are currently on the path towards disappearance.
Within our lifetime, hundreds of species could be lost as a result of our own actions
Julia Marton-Lefevre, IUCN
This may be an under-estimate, the authors caution, as there is not enough data to make an assessment in more than 800 cases. The true figure could be nearer to one- third.
“Within our lifetime, hundreds of species could be lost as a result of our own actions, a frightening sign of what is happening to the ecosystems where they live,” said Julia Marton-Lefevre, director-general of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) which publishes the Red List.
“We must now set clear targets for the future to reverse this trend, to ensure that our enduring legacy is not to wipe out many of our closest relatives.”
The report’s authors said the current concern with financial matters must not be allowed to obstruct the decline in the Earth’s natural systems.
“The financial crisis is nothing compared with the environmental crisis,” the deputy head of IUCN’s species programme, Jean-Christophe Vie, told BBC News.
“It’s going to affect a few people, whereas the biodiversity crisis is going to affect the entire world. So there is a risk that because of the financial crisis, people are going to say ‘yeah, the environment is not that urgent’; it is really urgent.”
About 40% of mammal species are compromised because human expansion is putting a squeeze on their habitat.
This is especially important across the tropics, the regions with the highest diversity of land-based mammals.
South and Southeast Asia are identified as regions where extinctions are especially likely in coming years, as that is where the size and living standards of the human population are rising fastest.
Demise of the devils and other mammals under threat
The second biggest threat on land is identified as hunting, for food or medicines.
However, where hunting has been controlled and conservation programmes implemented, as with southern and eastern populations of the African elephant, populations and entire species can recover.
The elephant’s risk status is lowered from Vulnerable to Near Threatened.
Some species are included for very specific reasons, such as the Tasmanian devil which has been decimated by a viral cancer.
In the seas, bycatch – entanglement in fishing nets, which is usually although not always accidental – emerges as the biggest factor behind current declines, affecting a staggering 79% of marine mammals.
The assessment – which is also published in the journal Science – warns that lack of data about marine mammals may be masking a bigger decline.
“Whales, dolphins, porpoises, and sirenians (manatees and dugong) are so difficult to survey that declines that should result in a Vulnerable listing would go undetected at least 70% of the time,” the authors write.
Outside the mammal arena, the Indian tarantula enters the Red List for the first time, a consequence of over-harvesting for the pet trade.
A further 366 amphibians have been added to the list. This is the most threatened animal group of all, with about one-third on the high-risk list.
A new assessment of climate impacts on the natural world suggests that many species not currently on the danger list will enter it as temperatures rise, particularly in East Africa and parts of South America.
RED LIST DEFINITIONS
Extinct – Surveys suggest last known individual has died
Critically Endangered – Extreme high risk of extinction. Some Critically Endangered species are also tagged Possibly Extinct
Endangered – Species at very high risk of extinction
Vulnerable – Species at high risk of extinction
Near Threatened – May soon move into above categories
Least Concern – Species is widespread and abundant
Data Deficient – not enough data to assess
The Red List is published approximately once every year. Although designed as the definitive global list of threatened species, in practice the rankings come from assessments covering different types of plants and animals, and some areas of the list will be more up to date than others.
An assessment of sharks, originally slated for inclusion this year, was delayed and will probably be released later in the year.
In an attempt to make species assessments more certain, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is developing what they colloquially term a “Dow Jones index” for biodiversity.
The idea is to take a random sample of all the world’s species, which will be representative of the whole, and revisit it regularly – perhaps once every five years – to gain a better idea of global trends.
“We are now emerging from the dark ages of conservation knowledge, when we relied on data from a highly restricted subset of species,” said Jonathan Baillie, ZSL’s director of conservation programmes.
The first group to be assessed this way is the land-dwelling vertebrates, but the project will eventually encompass insect, fungi, plants, and various types of marine creatures.
Today sees the kick off for Vegetarian Awareness Month on what is known today as World Vegetarian Day (WVD) – which unlike WMD has the capacity to make the world a better place for everyone, humans and animals alike.
Started in 1977 it is a chance to get involved, whether it is just going veggie for the day, holding a party, getting to know the issues, or to make a positive change beyond the month. Thing is to have fun with it, and celebrate a life style in harmony with sustainable living and being green. Whatever you do enjoy, and get involved. Here are some ideas.
To see events happening in the world check out the International Vegetarian Union.
Leave a comment to say how you will be celebrating and share ideas.
Prince Charles – take your pick whether he is concerned about marginal farmers that may be forced out with technological advances, promoting organic farming (with himself as a big producer) or that GM crops will be the biggest environmental disaster the world has ever seen – despite not producing any scientific evidence for these conclusions and that trials for nearly ten years are not supporting such alarmist claims.
It is a political contribution to the debate given that the Government supports the development of GM crops, while saying that it wants a public debate. Whether a future constitutional monarch should lead a political debate, let alone one against the elected government, is one that will annoy republicans but hardly bring down the monarchy unless he were to choke on some GM nuts.
Small farmers are struggling but trying to stop technological innovation is not the way to help marginal farmers who are barely making ends meet. Rather EU and Government policies that inequitably favour big landowners (like for example, at random, the Prince of Wales) benefit disproportionately.
What is happening through in the bio-tech world is that while the use of genetically modified crops has increased 70 fold in the last ten years to 114m hectares Britain is loosing out on research due to vandalism and public fears – with trials that do take place happening in secret which is not exactly helping promote a rational scientific debate on the subject.
The potential benefits of GM crops are worth looking into if they can bring better yielding crops, increase productivity, ultimately increase a more secure supply of food and reduce the negative impact of modern agriculture on the environment. That is not to say that research should not be conducted into the impact of GM crops, nor that there should be a debate on the subject. But the way that Prince Charles has addressed the issue does not help the debate be as cool headed as it could be, and with his self interest in organic farming and the political connotation with agricultural policy he would be best being behind the scenes and promoting the science to assess the impact. As was said when there was criticism of the Royal Society when it covered GM Crops:
In reply to criticisms made of the Royal Society, a Fellow and former Vice-President said that the day’s meeting was based on scientific evidence and fact and he felt that the meeting had been well designed. “To say that Royal Society is losing trust of the community it serves is wrong. It would be better if people listened dispassionately to the evidence and the science and used it to address the questions.”
Below from BBC News:
Charles in GM ‘disaster’ warning
Prince Charles has his own organic farm at his Gloucestershire estate
Companies developing genetically modified crops risk creating the biggest environmental disaster “of all time”, Prince Charles has warned.
GM crops were damaging Earth’s soil and were an experiment “gone seriously wrong”, he told the Daily Telegraph.
A future reliance on corporations to mass-produce food would drive millions of farmers off their land, he said.
The government said it welcomed all voices in the “important” debate over the future potential role of GM crops.
However, Dr Julian Little, chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, said he was “disappointed” by the Prince’s comments because “they do not seem to be based on any solid evidence”.
“Our experience from over 10 years of GM cultivation shows that GM technology has been found to deliver real environmental and economic benefits,” he said.
Mr Little added: “At a time when demand for food and fuel is rising and in the face of growing environmental challenges, we need to find ways to feed an ever-increasing global population.”
BBC royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell said the Prince’s “robust” comments were “likely to rankle with the government”, which has given the go-ahead to a number of GM crop trials in the UK since 2000.
“Even for a prince who’s a long-established champion of organic farming and critic of GM crops, these are comments which verge on the extreme,” our correspondent said.
Prince Charles told the newspaper that huge multi-national corporations involved in developing GM foods were conducting a “gigantic experiment with nature and the whole of humanity which has gone seriously wrong”.
Relying on “gigantic corporations” for food would end in “absolute disaster”, he warned.
“That would be the absolute destruction of everything… and the classic way of ensuring there is no food in the future.”
What should be being debated was “food security not food production”, he said.
He said GM developers might think they would be successful by having “one form of clever genetic engineering after another”, but he believed “that will be guaranteed to cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time”.
If they think this is the way to go we will end up with millions of small farmers all over the world being driven off their land
Prince Charles, who has an organic farm on his Highgrove estate in Gloucestershire, said relying on big corporations for the mass production of food would not only threaten future food supplies but also force smaller producers out of business.
“If they think this is the way to go, we will end up with millions of small farmers all over the world being driven off their land into unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness,” he said.
The prince also told the Telegraph he hoped to see more family-run co-operative farms, with producers working with nature and not against it.
The Prince’s comments come at a time of rising world food prices and food shortages.
The biotech industry says that GM technology can help combat world hunger and poverty by delivering higher yields from crops and also reduce the use of pesticides.
In June, Environment Minister Phil Woolas said the government was ready to argue for a greater role for the technology.
But green groups and aid agencies have doubts about GM technology’s effectiveness in tackling world hunger and have concerns about the long-term environmental impact.
Responding to the prince’s comments, a spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Safety will always be our top priority on this issue.”
Anti-monarchy Campaign group Republic said: “Prince Charles is quickly making his position as heir to the throne untenable with his meddling in politics.”
I ended my blog The Way We Are by calling on us to recognise that we can use the fact that we have a common ancestor to embrace our common humanity in order for life to survive on this planet. Sam Harris’ article Mother Nature is Not Our Friend follows on from there that it really is up for us to do the best we can in the face of a non existent god and the indifference of nature.
Mother Nature is Not Our Friend
by Sam Harris
Like many people, I once trusted in the wisdom of Nature. I imagined that there were real boundaries between the natural and the artificial, between one species and another, and thought that, with the advent of genetic engineering, we would be tinkering with life at our peril. I now believe that this romantic view of Nature is a stultifying and dangerous mythology.
Every 100 million years or so, an asteroid or comet the size of a mountain smashes into the earth, killing nearly everything that lives. If ever we needed proof of Nature’s indifference to the welfare of complex organisms such as ourselves, there it is. The history of life on this planet has been one of merciless destruction and blind, lurching renewal.
The fossil record suggests that individual species survive, on average, between one and ten million years. The concept of a “species” is misleading, however, and it tempts us to think that we, as homo sapiens, have arrived at some well-defined position in the natural order. The term “species” merely designates a population of organisms that can interbreed and produce fertile offspring; it cannot be aptly applied to the boundaries between species (to what are often called “intermediate” or “transitional” forms). There was, for instance, no first member of the human species, and there are no canonical members now. Life is a continuous flux. Our nonhuman ancestors bred, generation after generation, and incrementally begat what we now deem to be the species homo sapiens — ourselves. There is nothing about our ancestral line or about our current biology that dictates how we will evolve in the future. Nothing in the natural order demands that our descendants resemble us in any particular way. Very likely, they will not resemble us. We will almost certainly transform ourselves, likely beyond recognition, in the generations to come.
Will this be a good thing? The question presupposes that we have a viable alternative. But what is the alternative to our taking charge of our biological destiny? Might we be better off just leaving things to the wisdom of Nature? I once believed this. But we know that Nature has no concern for individuals or for species. Those that survive do so despite Her indifference. While the process of natural selection has sculpted our genome to its present state, it has not acted to maximize human happiness; nor has it necessarily conferred any advantage upon us beyond the capacity raise the next generation to child-bearing age. In fact, there may be nothing about human life after the age of forty (the average lifespan until the 20th century) that has been selected by evolution at all. And with a few exceptions (e.g. the gene for lactose tolerance), we probably haven’t adapted to our environment much since the Pleistocene.
But our environment and our needs — to say nothing of our desires — have changed radically in the meantime. We are in many respects ill-suited to the task of building a global civilization. This is not a surprise. From the point of view of evolution, much of human culture, along with its cognitive and emotional underpinnings, must be epiphenomenal. Nature cannot “see” most of what we are doing, or hope to do, and has done nothing to prepare us for many of the challenges we now face.
These concerns cannot be waved aside with adages like, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There are innumerable perspectives from which our current state of functioning can be aptly described as “broke.” Speaking personally, it seems to me that everything I do picks out some point on a spectrum of disability: I was always decent at math, for instance, but this is simply to say that I am like a great mathematician who has been gored in the head by a bull; my musical ability resembles that of a Mozart or a Bach, it is true, though after a near fatal incident on skis; if Tiger Woods awoke from surgery to find that he now possessed (or was possessed by) my golf-swing, rest assured that a crushing lawsuit for medical malpractice would be in the offing.
Considering humanity as a whole, there is nothing about natural selection that suggests our optimal design. We are probably not even optimized for the Paleolithic, much less for life in the 21st century. And yet, we are now acquiring the tools that will enable us to attempt our own optimization. Many people think this project is fraught with risk. But is it riskier than doing nothing? There may be current threats to civilization that we cannot even perceive, much less resolve, at our current level of intelligence. Could any rational strategy be more dangerous than following the whims of Nature? This is not to say that our growing capacity to meddle with the human genome couldn’t present some moments of Faustian over-reach. But our fears on this front must be tempered by a sober understanding of how we got here. Mother Nature is not now, nor has she ever been, looking out for us.
Article re posted from here.
One economist that I find very accessible, and recommend to people to read who have never covered it before, is Jeffrey Sachs who wrote The End of Poverty. He taught Bono and Bob Geldof about development economics. I mention this article because I happened to buy for the first time Scientific American from a superstore in the UK – in part because it had a CD with all the 2006 articles. Found this article in there available from their website here. Thought I would share with you.
and the Law
Even the Bush administration has started to recognize U.S. legal obligations to fight global warming
By Jeffrey D. Sachs
Global negotiations on stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions in the period after 2012 will commence in Bali in December. The main emitters—including Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Mexico, South Africa and the U.S.—have recently affirmed their commitment to reach a “comprehensive agreement” in these negotiations. They have also promised to contribute their “fair share” to stabilize greenhouse gases to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”
Of course, one of the biggest obstacles, if not the very biggest, to such an international agreement has been the U.S. itself. The U.S. not only has failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol—the international framework to limit emissions up to the year 2012—but also has failed to put forward any meaningful stabilization strategy in its place. One of the most shocking aspects of the U.S. failure has been the country’s disregard for both international and domestic law. Yet this lawlessness looks set to change.
In recent years the unilateralist foreign policy of the U.S. government has shamelessly ignored or contravened countless aspects of international law, ranging from the Geneva convention to multilateral environmental treaties to which the U.S. is a signatory.
This brazenness has infected the very core of policy discussions in our country. Consider an opinion piece by two distinguished professors of law at the University of Chicago, who argued in the Financial Times on August 5 that the U.S. has no obligations to control greenhouse gases and that if other countries don’t like how the U.S. behaves, they might think about paying the U.S. to cut its emissions.
Stunningly, the law professors completely neglected that the U.S. is already bound to take steps to stabilize greenhouse gases in the atmosphere under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed by President George H. W. Bush and ratified by the Senate in 1992. Their claim that the U.S. has no duty to avoid damaging the climate of others is flatly contradicted by the Convention, which declares in its preamble that “in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law…. [States have] the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.”
Ironically, those law professors are running away from international law even faster than the Bush administration. John B. Bellinger III, a legal adviser to the State Department, recently emphasized the administration’s commitment to international law and referred to its allegiance to a post-2012 climate change framework in that context.
The Supreme Court also weighed in recently to affirm that U.S. domestic law compels stronger federal action to mitigate climate change. Massachusetts, among a number of plaintiffs, sued the Environmental Protection Agency for its failure to regulate the emission of carbon dioxide by automobiles. The court firmly struck down all the EPA’s defenses for inaction: it noted that the EPA is obliged to regulate any deleterious pollutant emitted by motor vehicles; that carbon dioxide clearly falls within that category; that Massachusetts had standing to sue because climate change was already claiming part of the state’s coastline; and that the state was vulnerable to considerably greater coastal losses this century if climate change is not mitigated. Moreover, it emphasized that mitigating U.S. auto emissions would have a meaningful effect on the pace of climate change.
The obligation to limit greenhouse gas emissions is therefore already the law of the land, and it’s high time we began respecting those laws. We should do so not only because it is important that we honor our legal commitments but because we made those commitments for reasons of our own survival and well-being. Even an administration that has dragged its feet for seven years is finally beginning to face that reality.