Today one of the biggest global campaigns in history launches a new phase – the 10/10/10 global work party. During 2009, in the run-up to the Copenhagen conference on climate change, COP15, the 350.org campaign organised the “most widespread day of political action” on Saturday 24 October when 5,245 separate actions took place across 181 countries all calling for a commitment to a target of 350 parts per million (ppm) carbon dioxide (CO2) in the earth’s atmosphere. Present levels are above 385 ppm and rising. (more…)

For a while now I have been riding my bike to work on days when I go into the IofC office in Melbourne. It’s about 12km. While it took me a while to psych myself up to doing this journey – telling myself that it was too far or that the driving culture in Melbourne is too dangerous – the truth is now that I really love it and wouldn’t choose any other form or transport.

Bicycle Victoria is promoting the benefits of riding to work. The following extracts are from their website:

  1. Health – feel great and reduce your likelihood of suffering from obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Check out the health benefits of riding your bike.
  2. Save money – reduce the costs associated with driving to work or catching public transport. Click here to calculate how much you spend on petrol…and how much money you could save by riding to work!
  3. Help the environment – reduce your greenhouse gas emissions. Calculate your vehicle’s greenhouse gas emissions.
  4. Everyone is doing it! – avoid traffic jams and commuter congestion by joining the bike riders

It’s blog action day, and as the theme this year is climate change it is a no-brainer for me to participate.

First of all, if you are one of the people who is sceptical about humans causing climate change, get yo’ baddass over to the sceptical science website. It’s a website of scientists who are spectical about climate scepticism. (You might want to read that last sentence twice before you get it.) Also, be aware that the ‘business as usual’ lobby, made up of coal, petrochemical, tobacco and other serial polluters have poured millions into persuading people that either (1) there isn’t a problem, (2) the science isn’t clear, or (3) there is nothing we can do about it anyway. Want to know more about how they committed the crime of the century? Look here.

I’ve blogged previously about how to deal with climate sceptics, so let’s move on to the big question: What can we do about it?I’ve written previously that the most effective action we can take by far is to get engaged politically. Join Avaaz (and Get Up if you’re in Australia) and sign the petitions. Get informed (for example by reading Joe Romm’s excellent blog Climate Progress). Go and see your local political representatives. My friend Mary, who is in shall we say the ‘autumn of her life’, pounded the streets knocking on doors collecting signatures to a petition on climate change. Her petition was tabled in parliament, with one of the Senators mentioning Mary by name as an indication of the concern in the community. The local paper interviewed Mary and a feature story and photo appeared. (more…)

Birthday cake

Birthday cake

Today is my 46th birthday. I don’t normally like to draw attention to myself, but as it is my birthday I ask your permission for a few moments of your time to read this birthday message.

This year may well be the most important year in human history. An incredible statement I know, and not one that is original to me (it first came across my radar in a letter at the beginning of the year from Tom Burke, one of Britain’s influential campaigners on environmental issues).  Take a moment to think what that means. More significant than 1989, the year the Berlin Wall came down. More significant than 1969, the year we landed on the moon. More significant than 1945, or 1917, 1788, 1066 or any other significant date you can think of.

Why is this year so important?  Because what happens this year will largely determine whether our grandchildren live in an enhanced and stable world, or whether they toil, cursing us, in a kind of hell. The whole of human recorded history and civilization has occurred within a fairly narrow temperature range.

Sweet spot

Sweet spot

The signs now are that we are heading out of this range, and if we do not commit to taking serious significant action this year, we will set ourselves on an irreversible path leading to a 5-7C warming by the end of this century.  In December this year, in Copenhagen, a new climate treaty will be negotiated.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world must commit to halving CO2 emmisions by 2050 if we are to have a chance of keeping global warming within 2C.

But the signs are that we have to act soon.  So far global temperatures have risen by less than 1C, and we are already experiencing catastrophic droughts, floods, hurricanes and the melting of glaciers (the melt water from Himalayan glaciers feed millions in Asia). A recent survey of the Arctic found that the average ice thickness is now just 1.7M and that by 2020 (just over 10 years time) the Arctic will be ice-free in summer. The first population evacuations due to rising sea levels have already taken place and the people of the Maldives are looking for a new home. In my local supermarket the price of rice has doubled in the last couple of years, and will no doubt go higher because 95% of the NSW rice harvest has been lost to drought and floods.

Some people may comfort themselves with the idea that the scientists have got it wrong.  The media (who love controversy) have given lots of exposure to the climate change sceptics.  If you fall into this category, please look at the New Scientist articles on Climate Change, a Guide to the Perplexed, which deals with all the arguments of climate-change sceptics convincingly. And no, global warming is not all because of changes in the sun.  And if you are one of the people who is convinced by Prof. Ian Pilmer’s book Heaven and Earth, I suggest you read this critique of his arguments.

Lots of other people know that we must make these changes but are playing a waiting game.  For example politicians waiting for other countries to commit to CO2 reductions before we commit ourselves.  Or people waiting for new technologies to come along and save us.

There is a branch of social sciences called Game Theory which could be applied to the political scene. Game theory deals with situations where co-operation is needed and benefits all, but where individual players can gain a temporary advantage by acting selfishly.  Game theory predicts that acting selfishly is not a winning strategy in the long term because cooperation breaks down and everyone loses.  The way to win is to encourage cooperation by standing up and taking risks: being prepared to ‘do the right thing’ even if, at first, others do not.  It signals that we are trustworthy and perpared to cooperate.  On the international scene, everyone knows that we must get China on board.  There are signs that the Chinese leadership are aware of the need for action and are prepared to come to the table at Copenhagen. But they are insisting that the developed world makes bigger cuts than the developing world.  This seems to me to be fair enough on the principle that everyone on this planet it entitled to the same carbon footprint.  But, of course, the Western politicians are resisting this.

As far as waiting for technology to save us, well, the technology is already here. And it is not too expensive either ( 0.12%, or about a tenth of a cent on the dollar, on GDP)  What is missing is the political will to apply it.  Big oil and big coal are spending millions of dollars lobbying governments to delay action.

What can we do?  First of all, get informed (follow some of the links in this message, subscribe to the posts from http://climateprogress.org). Then go and see your local politician and keep writing to them. They may not be that well informed themselves. Politicians often don’t have time to think and simply respond to pressure.  Inform others (pass on this email if you like).  And take action in your own life. It doesn’t have to cost anything – even going vegetarian one more meal a week and buying less processed food can make a big difference.  But if I had to choose between being personally more green or campaigning for political action, I believe the more effective choice would be to become politically active.

If you have got this far, then I thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading this. It is the best birthday gift you could give me.

Poo & PigletA marketing guru once told me, ‘Fear sells’.

I generally try to bear that in mind when the media is getting hysterical about something.  Fear sells newspapers.  Fear gets an audience on TV and radio. Fear brings visitors to websites.

I once read that more people are killed each year by vending machines than by sharks.  But while shark attacks make great newspaper copy (with suitably gory photos), when was the last time you read about someone being killed by a vending machine?

The latest global pandemic turns out to be no more dangerous than ordinary influenza viruses.  Make no mistake, ordinary influenza can be a killer if you are elderly, weak or immunologically compromised.  But it is not something I generally get too worried about.  Eating a healthy diet, supplemented, where necessary, by vitamins (especially vitamins C and D) probably provides more protection than influenza vaccines (which only protect against one strain of influenza).  In fact, if you are following the advice on this website you are probably doing OK.

However, my kids were quite affected by all the media talk (understandably) and asked me to explain what it was all about.  This is what I told them: (more…)

Women marching for peace (photo: Vertigonen, Flickr)

Women marching for peace (photo: Vertigonen, Flickr)

Reaffirming Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Vision

Julia Ward Howe offered her Mother’s Day Proclamation to the world in 1870. Her dream was the establishment of an international Mothers’ Day Festival dedicated to the cause of nonviolent resolution of conflict and international solidarity among all women. Her pacifist consciousness had been provoked by the bloodshed of the Franco-Prussian War. Her activism was cultivated in the struggles for abolition of slavery and the quest for women’s suffrage. She had the proclamation translated into French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Swedish, working for the establishment of Mother’s Day in concert with women internationally celebrating peace and women’s empowerment.

Howe died in 1910, four years before President Woodrow Wilson officially declared the day in 1914 in response to the burgeoning success of the movement she inspired. But Wilson avoided any mention of the thrust of Howe’s cause in his declaration, instead emphasizing only the nurturing “home and hearth” dimension of motherhood. He also spurned the internationalist concern that was central to Howe’s consciousness, distorting this into American nationalism. Howe’s central concerns, the universality of motherhood and its natural expression in anti-war sentiment, was excised from the official meaning of the day. (more…)

Sticking their head in the sand

Sticking their head in the sand

From time to time we may come across people who either:

a) deny that climate change is happening, or
b) say that climate change is normal and nothing to worry about, or
c) deny that the present climate change is the result of human activity.

Such people may present various convincing and scientific-sounding arguments.  Some of them may even be Republican politicians (most of whom, apparently, don’t believe that climate change poses a threat). (more…)