The Soil Solution to Climate Change

The Soil Solution to Climate Change

SustainableWorld (2014)

Film Review

This informational film, based on the French 4 per 1,000 initiative, proposes an ancient form of carbon sequestration* as an alternative to risky technological methods of carbon sequestration. There is strong scientific consensus that to prevent catastrophic global warming, atmospheric CO2 levels must be reduced from 400 parts per million (ppm) to 350 ppm.

The 4 per 1,000 initiative encourages all UN member countries to increase the carbon in their soils by 0.4% per year by transitioning from industrial agriculture – which tends to strip soil of carbon – to more traditional practices that tend to replenish soil carbon (and simultaneously increase yields: see Organic and Sustainable Farming Increases Yields by 79% or More).

According to the filmmakers, adopting the French initiatiative would also reverse the planet’s rapid depletion of top soil. At present, 50-80% of the world’s top soil has been lost due to loss of carbon. We continue to lose roughly 24 billion tons of topsoil a year due to heavy plowing and use of chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. All three practices kill important soil organisms responsible for replenishing soil carbon.

This systematic lost of carbon, the fibrous matter we find in soil, also destroys water quality – largely by facilitating run-off of these chemicals into our waterways. Healthy carbon-rich soils absorb and retain water like a sponge, helping to prevent both flooding and drought.

The film finishes by exploring organic farming techniques – increased use of cover cops, plant diversity and planned grazing – that assist plants in sequestering carbon.

For more information about the 4 per 1,000 initiative see Join the 4 per 1000 Initiative


*Carbon sequestration – a natural or artificial process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and held in solid or liquid form.

How Climate Change is Killing People in Bangladesh

30 Million

Directed by Daniel Price and Adrien Taylor (2016)

Film Review

Thirty Million is a New Zealand documentary about how rising sea levels in Bangladesh are already displacing (and killing) people in low lying coastal areas. It depicts quite dramatically how coastal farmers inundated by rising tides are moving into incredibly congested cities, where there is virtually no housing or infrastructure to support them. There many of them die – through lack of food, untreated medical illness or a variety of catastrophic events (fires, building collapse, floods, etc.). Those with above average wealth attempt to leave Bangladesh for Europe, Australia, New Zealand and other destinations.

The film features former Prime Minister Helen Clark in her new role as the administrator of the UN Development Programme. She speaks very eloquently about the urgent need to reduce global carbon emissions. I find it a bit hypocritical in few of her failure to make a serious effort to reduce New Zealand’s CO2 emissions during her stint as prime minister (1999-2008).

 

Debunking Large Scale Hydroelectric Dams

 

Damocracy

Directed by Todd Southgate and Tolga Temugle (2013)

Film Review

Damocracy is a documentary debunking the myth that large scale hydroelectric dams combat global warming by producing emission-free electric power. In reality, they create massive amounts of methane by flooding and killing large areas of vegetation. Because methane is a far more dangerous greenhouse gas than CO2, it takes approximately 41 years for a dam to produce any net benefit for the climate.

The film focuses on global protest movements which have formed in reaction to two specific dam projects: Ilisu on the Tigris River in Turkey and Belo Monte in Brazil.

In addition to displacing more than 35,000 rural residents, the Ilisu Dam would flood more than 300 unique Mesopotamian heritage sites. It would also aggravate water shortages in southern Iraq and Iran.

The Belo Monte dam would displace 40,000 indigenous people, virtually destroying 18 distinct ethnic cultures.

Despite strong support for the Bel Monte dam by former president Dilma Rousseff, mass popular resistance forced her government to discontinue the Bel Monte project in April 2016.

Turkish president Recep Erdogan continues construction on Turkey’s Ilisu Dam despite UN and high court rulings ordering him to desist. Ongoing local and international protests have significantly delayed the damn’s completion, originally slated for 2015.

See Corporate Watch and Iraqi civil society.

 

Can We Stop Climate Change Without Dismantling Capitalism?

The Cross of the Moment

By Jacob Freydont-Attie (2015)

Film Review

Can climate change be addressed without dismantling capitalism? The current track record of world leaders suggests not – especially with the election of the world’s most prominent climate denier to the US presidency.

The Cross of the Moment is a documentary exploring the climate change dilemma and various options for limiting global warming and mitigating the effects of catastrophic climate change. It’s produced in a panel discussion format, with the filmmaker posing specific questions to prominent astrophysicists, climate scientists, political economists and climate activists (including Bill McKibben, Gary Snyder, Derrick Jensen, Peter D. Ward, Jill Stein, Bill Patzert, and Guy McPherson). I’m not normally a big fan of talking heads, but the optimism conveyed by this film – in stark contrast to the usual alarmist arguments – definitely held my attention.

I was especially impressed with Bill McKibbon’s elegant explanation of why changing light bulbs and other market-based behavioral changes aren’t going to end global warming. The climate activist lays out an elegant argument why systemic structural changes is needed to wean humanity off of fossil fuels and why fossil fuel companies aren’t going to allow this without a major global movement to counter their power and greed.

The other panelists present a range of views on the specific structural/systemic changes that are necessary to prevent climate changes from wiping out our ability to produce food. Most seem to agree that fossil fuels could be totally phased out – and replaced by renewable energy – by 2050. They estimate this could be done for a total capital cost of $15 trillion (which according to the IMF is less than we currently spend annually to subsidize the fossil fuel industry*).

The film offers a number of viewpoints on how to bring this about. One economist favors a carbon tax; another would totally ban wasteful industries such as packaging (the third largest global industry after energy and food) and junk mail (which produces 51 millions tons CO2 annually in the US alone). Two activists express the view that the political corruption exerted by the fossil fuel industry couldn’t be overcome without dismantling capitalism altogether.


* According to the IMF, fossil fuel companies benefit from $5.3 trillion a year in subsidies.

 

Economic Impacts of Climate Change

Stories of Climate Change

University of North Carolina Institute for the Environment (2016)

Film Review

Stories of Climate Change is a short documentary about the economic impact of changing climate – rising sea levels, floods, droughts, short springs and warmer water temperatures – on various North Carolina business owners. Each vignette is a little under four minutes. (If Vimeo is set on autoplay Parts 1-6 and 7-11 should autoplay sequentially. The alternative is to click individual vignettes as they appear in the preview panel on the right).

First up is a beekeeper who reports that shorter springs (resulting in a decline in flowering plants and nectar) kill off up to 50% of her bees every year.

Next is the manager of a seafood market, who talks about sea bass dying out as warmer water temperatures interfere with spawning and other fish species moving as far north as Maryland and New England.

In the third vignette a hunting guide talks about the decline in the number of migratory birds flying south due to warmer temperatures.

In Part 4 a wildlife refuge manager talks about rising sea levels causing increased soil salinity and killing off pine forests that used to support woodpeckers and other native birds.

In Part 5 a fishing guide talks about his region experiencing the drought of the century, the flood of the century and the killing frost of the century – along with a mass of crop failures – in the last five years. He also observes that city people don’t see climate change because they’re out of touch with the natural landscape.

In Part 6 a hunter/fisherman talks about the loss of seasonal variations, resulting in long winters, hot dry summers and unprececidentated infestations of mosquitoes and tics that can last up to Christmas.

In Part 7 a family of asthmatics discusses the direct impact of climate change (long hot summers with lots of pollen and wildfires) on their health.

In Part 8 a trout farmer discusses how decreased oxygenation has caused several years where her entire stock was wiped out.

In Part 9 an oyster fisherman describes how a rise in sea levels is causing increased erosion and sedimentation that is suffocating oyster beds.

In Part 10 an apple grower who took over a 100 year old orchard 200 years ago talks about the loss of his entire crop for four years running. Buds form prematurely due to unseasonably warm March weather and are killed by sudden cold snaps in April.

In Part 11 a ranchers talks about her difficulty managing longer more severe droughts, longer more severe rainy periods and sudden severe heat waves. A few years ago she lost 50 chickens and turkeys when the temperature rose from 70 to 100 in 45 minutes.

How Urban Sprawl is Destroying the Planet

Sprawling from Grace

Directed by David Edwards (2008)

Film Review

Sprawling From Grace relates how the American dream led the US to become the only country in the world in which city planning is based around the automobile. As of 2008 when the documentary was made, the US was the only country in the world without a viable public transportation system.

Americans pay an enormous price for urban sprawl, which includes decaying urban infrastructure (cities ceased to maintain bridges, tunnels, highways, roads and public water systems long before Minnesota’s I-35 bridge collapse in 2007), air pollution, the most expensive transportation system in the world, growing climate disruption (cars are responsible for 30% of carbon emissions), depletion of scarce fossil fuel resources, growing involvement in resource-based wars in the Middle East and worsening income inequality.

The filmmakers demonstrate how a minimum level of population density is essential to make public transportation cost effective (ie a train or bus route is only cost effective is you have enough users traveling from a given location at the same time). Urban development policies that allow unlimited development along freeways lead to extremely low density, as well as higher per capita costs for other services, such as water, sewer, police and fire service, schools and hospitals.

This documentary gave me a new understanding of the role of urban sprawl in increasing inequality in the US. The absence of reliable public transportation forces low income workers to buy and maintain cars to get to work – an expense which in some cases can consume 40% of their income.

I was also really impressed by the number of US mayors who in 2008 were already working to reverse urban sprawl by establishing urban growth boundaries, investing in public and active transport and engaging in urban planning that prioritizes human beings over cars.

I particularly like the emphasis on “urban villages” in which people can access services such as banks, schools, medical services and libraries without using their cars.

 

My First Flash Mob

Yesterday New Plymouth was one of 35 New Zealand communities kicking off the global Peoples Climate March calling for real action on climate change at COP21.

In our community, 100 people celebrated with a Peoples Climate Picnic and rally, followed by a flash mob in our mall and a march down Devon Street.

We chose City Centre mall, based on predictions it will be under water with a 6 meter rise in sea levels (to be honest, I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing).

Fifteen thousand people marched in Auckland, ten thousand in Wellington and eight thousand in Christchurch.

More coverage of other marches here: New Zealanders Rally to Global Peoples Climate March

devon streeturs

Forget Shorter Showers

Forget Shorter Showers

by Tom Shadyac (2011)

Film Review

Forget Shorter Showers is a documentary based on an essay by anarchist Derrick Jensen that challenges neoliberal dogma that makes each of us personally responsible for reversing the ongoing environmental destruction caused by industrial capitalism. Consumers who have joined the campaign to fly and use their cars less, change their light bulbs and take shorter showers are the victims of systemic misdirection by a pernicious PR industry. The latter continuously churns out propaganda that we can save the planet through market-based solutions such as shopping.

Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth is a classic example of this deliberate misdirection. Instead of calling for policy changes that hold corporate polluters to account, his film deliberately disguises the reality that industry is responsible for the vast majority of carbon emissions. In doing so, Gore incorrectly blames powerless individuals for the climate crisis, instead of the elites who hold real the real power.

Lifestyle Only Accounts for 22% of Emissions

If the entire global population adopted a low carbon footprint lifestyle, it would only decrease carbon emissions by 22%. Climate scientists tell us we need to decrease them by 70% to stave off catastrophic climate disruption.

In a similar vein, reducing individual water usage isn’t going to solve the freshwater shortage. Ninety percent of all freshwater is used by agriculture and industry. Five percent is used by municipalities, and 5% by individuals.

Industry is also responsible for the vast majority of energy consumption and waste production.

How We’re Conned into Taking Personal Responsibility

The filmmakers point out that we’re easily conned into taking personal responsibility for all these environmental issues because it’s less scary than acting decisively to stop the industrial capitalism from destroying the planet. Among other fears, people worry the grid might go down, causing us to lose access electricity, clean water and cellphone service – not because we need these perks to survive but because we’ve become addicted to them.

Fear of state violence is also a biggie. The documentary provides numerous historic examples of courageous activists who have overcome such fears.

Climate Denial: Big Oil’s Multimillion Dollar Disinformation Campaign

The Climate Deception Dossiers

On July 9, 2015, the Union of Concerned Scientists released The Climate Deception Dossiers – collections of internal company and trade association documents revealing a three decade campaign by the world’s largest fossil fuel companies about the realities and risks of climate change. Some documents have been leaked to the public by industry whistleblowers. Others have come to light through lawsuits or Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests.

Each dossier provides an illuminating inside look at this coordinated campaign of deception, an effort underwritten by ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, Shell, Peabody Energy, and other members of the fossil fuel industry.

Tactics employed by these companies include a million dollar contract supporting the work of climate contrarian aerospace engineer Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon:

gw-minigraphic-climate-deception-dossier-1-willie-soon-contracts

The fossil fuel industry also forged documents and letters and formed fake “astroturf” groups that purported to act on behalf of taxpayers rather than oil companies:

gw-minigraphic-climate-deception-dossier-4-ACCCE-forged-letters

As well as launching a sophisticated, multimillion dollar public relations campaign:

gw-minigraphic-climate-deception-dossier-5-ICE-memo

An Exxon whistleblower reveals his company first got interested in the greenhouse effect and global warming when it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia. An Exxon memo raises concern about it becoming the “largest point source of CO2 in the world.”

In 1995, the same whistleblower (working for Mobil) co-authored a memo to to the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), a fossil fuel lobbying group. The memo, was distributed to other member companies and warned unequivocally that burning fossil fuels was causing global warming – that the relevant science “is well established and cannot be denied.”

gw-minigraphic-climate-deception-dossier-7-fossil-fuel-climate-science-primer

Many of the same companies – including BP, Chevron, Conoco, Exxon, Mobil, Phillips, and Shell – were members of the American Petroleum Institute (API) in 1998 when the trade group drafted a plan to secretly support “independent” researchers to publicly dispute established climate science:

gw-minigraphic-climate-deception-dossier-2-API-roadmap-memo

Link to full report: Climate Deception Dossiers

Washington Activists Seek Carbon Tax

CarbonWA-tax-swap

Carbon Washington (CarbonWA) is a citizens’ coalition seeking to enact a statewide carbon tax through a citizens’ initiative.* I-732 would incrementally institute a tax of on all fossil fuels consumed in Washington State. The revenue raised would be used to cut the state sales tax by 1%, to eliminate the Business and Occupations (B&O) tax on manufacturing and to fund the Working Families Rebate (a program the state legislature created in 2008 but never funded).

British Columbia’s Carbon Tax

I-732 is modeled after a carbon tax British Columbia (BC) introduced in 2008, which has received lavish praise from the (pro-corporate) Economist. Prior to its enactment, business warned the carbon tax would increase costs and slow the economy, while the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) warned it would hurt the poor. Both were wrong.

Because the funds raised by BC’s carbon tax are used to cut income taxes (for individuals and businesses), it has been as beneficial for the British Columbia economy as for the environment. In a way, this makes a lot of sense. Taxing people for working and adding wealth to the economy is one of the biggest drags on economic growth there is. It makes a lot more sense to tax activities you want to discourage, such as polluting the atmosphere.

BC also implemented their carbon tax incrementally. The new tax was initially set at C$10 ($10) per tonne of carbon-dioxide emissions, rising by increments of C$5 per year to C$30 in 2012. At present this translate into a 7 cent per litre tax (approximately 25 cents per gallon) on gasoline.

As predicted, the carbon tax has proved as beneficial  for the economy as the environment. Since 2008, per capita fuel consumption in British Columbia has dropped by 16%, which contrasts with an increase of 3% in the rest of Canada. The province now has the lowest income tax rate in Canada and one of the lowest corporate tax rates in North America. Meanwhile per capita GDP continues to outperform other provinces. BC also enjoys lower jobless rates. Thus it’s no wonder it remains extremely popular, supported by 64% of BC residents.

How I-732 Will Work

Under I-732, the state will collect a tax on all fossil fuels sold or used within Washington State. This will include fossil fuels sold or used for air travel, motor vehicles boats, and electrical generation. (19% of Washington’s electricity is renewable, generated by hydropower). The tax rate will start at 15 dollars per metric ton of carbon dioxide as of July 1, 2017, increasing to 25 dollars per metric ton as of July 1, 2018, with automatic increases thereafter by 3 ½ percent plus inflation.

This tax swap will take place over two years. B&O tax on manufacturers will be eliminated in full the first year. The state sales tax will be reduced by ½ percentage point per year over two years. The Working Families Rebate will phase in from 15% of the federal EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) in the first year to 25% of the federal EITC in the second year and beyond.

Halving US Carbon Emissions

Carbon Washington executive committee member Yoram Bauman hopes Washington will serve as a model for other states. According to Bauman, CO2 emissions could be halved if all fifty states adopted similar a similar carbon tax.

More information at www.carbonwa.org


*I-732 is an initiative to legislature. If Carbon Washington collects enough signatures to qualify, the 2016 legislature has a choice of enacting it into law, enacting substitute legislation or placing it on the 2016 ballot.