Featured stories in this issue...
Resistance at Desert Rock
Navajo grandmothers and youth are camped out in the wintry desert
near Burnham, New Mexico, to protest construction of a 1500-megawatt
coal-fired power plant. They need food and firewood to continue
their vigil. "We have to make a stand," says Lori Goodman, speaking
for the group.
New Coal Plants Bury 'Kyoto'
New greenhouse-gas emissions from China, India, and the U.S. will
swamp cuts from the Kyoto treaty.
What Al Gore Hasn't Told You About Global Warming
George Monbiot's new book Heat picks up where Al Gore left off on
global warming, offering real solutions without sugar-coating the
large personal sacrifices they will require.
Two Peoples Linked by Polluted Lands
"There's a common thread" between the Ramapoughs in New Jersey and
the Chippewas in Canada," says Ron Plain, chairman of the Aamjiwnaang
environmental committee. "We're not afforded any human rights."
When Does A Tree Have Rights?
Tamaqua Borough in Pennsylvania is asserting the rights of nature
in a unique law intended to curb corporate power.
How Old Is the Grand Canyon? Park Service Won't Say
The National Park Service is under orders to ignore geology and
keep a straight face while Creationists claim the Grand Canyon was
created by Noah's flood.
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #889, Jan. 11, 2007
RESISTANCE AT DESERT ROCK
By Peter Montague
It has been snowing in the Four Corners region of the Navajo Nation,
near Burnham, New Mexico, where Navajo grandmothers and youth are
camped out in the desert, protesting a proposed 1500-megawatt coal-
burning power plant. (See photos here and listen here.) The plant
would be built by Sithe Global Power of Houston, Tex., and co-owned by
the Dine' Power Authority, a Navajo tribal enterprise. In the Navajo
language, dine' means roughly "the people."
This would be the third coal-fired power plant built on Navajo land,
and the first co-owned by the Navajos themselves. But not all Navajos
want to own a plant that powers air conditioners in Arizona and
southern California by burning 5.5 million tons of Navajo coal each
year. "They get the electricity and we get the pollution," said one
In the desert near Burnham, the Dooda [meaning, "No"] Desert Rock
Vigil has continued since December 12 when Elouise Brown first
discovered strangers drilling a water well on Navajo land. In a video
available on youtube, Ms. Brown explains how it all started. She
confronted the drillers, telling them they could not continue onto
Navajo land. "We live here and I'm just not going to let you go
through," she said. The drillers broke past her and she chased them in
her car, caught up with them, and blocked their way with her vehicle.
From there, the protest grew. Ms. Brown got her family involved and
they decided to camp out on the land. "We're not moving. That's the
bottom line. We're going to stay put. We're not leaving the area until
they tell us, 'We decided not to build,'" said Ms. Brown, who is a
member of Dine' CARE -- Dine' Citizens Against Ruining our
"Spending Christmas huddled around a campfire and protecting our land
is not something that we resisters had originally planned," says Ms.
Brown. "Most of us expected large family dinners, Christmas tunes, and
gift exchanges," she said. "We are being watched by the police 24
hours/day and every time a vehicle comes by, they charge over and
scare the elders and medicine people visiting the Resisters' Vigil,"
Ms. Brown explained on an internet blog set up to keep the world
informed about the protest vigil.
"Feeling the cold wind against our faces at this Dooda Desert Rock
Vigil is not something that we regret," Ms. Brown wrote. "It is a time
for us to continue standing up for what is right. We are reconnecting
with our ancestors through prayer and we are learning, re-learning
about our traditional, cultural, and spiritual roots."
After the Dooda Desert Rock Vigil group formed in mid-December, the
press began taking notice of the desert encampment, and pressure
mounted on Navajo authorities. On December 18, Navajo president Joe
Shirley visited the encampment to explain why burning another 5 or 6
million more tons of coal per year was a good thing. The power plant
would be clean, he said, and it would create 400 permament jobs.
But "clean" is a relative term. Coal plants produce major amounts of
pollution, even when "strict" regulations require the use of modern
pollution controls. The two coal-burning plants already operating on
Navajo land tell the story.
The Four Corners power plant, rated at 2040 megawatts, sits on Navajo
land in Fruitland, N.M., 25 miles west of Farmington. It is licensed
to emit 157 million pounds of sulfur dioxide per year, 122 million
pounds of nitrogen oxides (NOx), and 8 million pounds of soot per
year. Plus it emits 2000 pounds of mercury.
Fifteen miles northwest of Farmington -- just outside Navajo territory
-- we have the 1800-megawatt San Juan Generating Station in Waterflow,
New Mexico. It burns an estimated 6.3 million tons of coal each year,
releasing more than 100 million pounds of sulfur dioxide (SO2), more
than 100 million pounds of nitrogen oxides (NOx), roughly 6 million
pounds of soot, and at least 1000 pounds of mercury.
Just 185 miles to the west lies an even larger coal plant on Navajo
land, the 2400-megawatt Navajo Generating Station in Page, Arizona,
which burns 8.5 million tons of coal each year, emitting 185 million
pounds of sulfur oxides, 143 million pounds of nitrogen oxides, 9
million pounds of soot, and 2400 pounds of mercury.
In 2000, U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimated that
existing coal plants produce pollution equivalent to 3.5 million
The Four Corners area is also dotted with 18,000 active oil and gas
wells, which contribute large quantities of volatile organics and
nitrogen oxides to the local air. The volatile organics combine with
the nitrogen oxides to created ground-level ozone. Add tons of soot,
and you've got a deadly combination.
Dr. Marcus Higi of Cortez, Colorado testified recently that he has
never seen worse asthma than he encountered on the Navajo reservation
where he worked as a physican for four years. "I've seen the worst
asthma cases out here near the power plants," he said. "A kid would
come in, barely breathing. They're basically on the verge of death."
He had to fly five children to hospitals to save their lives, he said.
The price for power is health, he said.
In July U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an air
permit to Sithe Global for the Desert Rock plant. In October EPA held
two public hearings on the permit it had already issued. At the
hearing in Durango, Colorado, Erich Fowler, who lives near Kline,
Colo., about 30 miles from Farmington, testified that a yellow haze
"as bright as daffodils" blocks his view of Farmington. When clean air
mixes with it, "the sky begins to look like it's filled with scrambled
eggs," he said.
During the hearing, residents of the area expressed doubts about EPA's
ability or intention to curb the pollution from the Desert Rock plant.
Colleen McKaughan, assistant director of EPA's Region 9 air division
assured everyone that EPA would be aggressive and vigilant.
Even the Farmington (N.M.) Daily Times -- whose editorial staff never
met a coal-burning power plant they didn't love -- reported that,
"Scientists at the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) say the
[Desert Rock] plant could emit enough pollutants to risk the public's
health despite using some of the best pollution control technology
available. They worry additional emissions could raise ozone levels to
a breaking point."
EPA's Colleen McKaughan said EPA did not take ozone into consideration
when issuing the Desert Rock air permit in July because "it wasn't
required," she told the Daily Times.
At the public hearings, testimony revealed that EPA had issued the air
permit based on a mathematical model of air quality, but the model did
not factor in emissions from the 18,000 active oil and gas wells in
the area. Furthermore, the model was based on air measurements taken
at only two locations -- one in Farmington and one in Rio Rancho near
Albuquerque, 150 miles from the Four Corners area.
According to the Denver Post, the federal Bureau of Land Management
(BLM) estimates that emissions from gas development in the area
already have exceeded standards for nitrogen oxides. And the BLM has
proposed allowing another 10,000 wells over the next few decades.
"It looks like we need to go back and look again at nitrogen oxides
and ozone concentrations," the EPA's Colleen McKaughan said.
Meanwhile, the project is rolling forward. Everyone knows that carbon
dioxide and mercury are likely to be regulated more strictly in the
next few years, so dirty, old-style power plants are scrambling to get
their construction permits now, before the regulations require them to
To increase its profits from Desert Rock, Sithe Global Power has cut a
deal with the Navajo Nation reducing Sithe's taxes by 67%, and Sithe
is now negotiating with the San Juan County, N.M. for a similar
reduction. The county tax assessor has expressed concern that there
won't be enough money to pay for the needed infrastructure --
specifically mentioning the need for additional roads, schools, and
Proponents say construction of the power plant would create 1000
temporary jobs for four years. Many of those jobs would be taken by
transients moving to the area, some with families. Local schools
already lack sufficient teachers, partly because teachers are
reluctant to move to an area that is so polluted. The proposed
solution is video conferencing -- piping the picture of a teacher from
one school to another.
Another part of the infrastructure that would be stressed by Desert
Rock is health care. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has reported
that "current federal funding levels are insufficient to operate an
adequate health-care system for native Americans." Two members of the
Dooda Desert Rock Vigil -- Dailan J. Long and Sarah Jane White --
recently asked, "How are we supposed to deal with the health effects
of Desert Rock if there are already severe deficiencies in our health-
care system?... Subjecting us to further pollution while there are
severe shortages in our health care is environmental injustice in its
purest form," they wrote.
A court has ruled that the Dooda Desert Rock Vigil has no right to
block access to the land near Burnham, or even to be consulted about
what's going to happen.
Through an interpreter, Alice Gilmore explains in Navajo that has
lived at the site since birth and said her father lived there before
her. She holds a grazing permit to the land that dates back at least
as far as the 1960s. Her family continues to keep sheep and cattle
there and has no intention of leaving, she told a reporter for the
Farmington (N.M.) Daily Times.
"These people are just fed up with how they've been ignored for the
past two and three years," said Lori Goodman, one of the founders of
Dine' CARE. "That's what we're reduced to. We have to make a stand."
The Dooda Desert Rock Vigil group has issued the following statement,
asking for various kinds of help:
** Money: Resisters need money for gas and food, and also for bail
money if necessary. Please send donations to local resident and
1015 Glade Lane 34
Farmington, NM 87401
Ms. Brown can also be reached at email@example.com
** Media attention: the more media and observers are present the less
likely Desert Rock is to run people over or harass them. Contact the
media, tell them what is going on. Contact Navajo Authorities, tell
them you are extremely concerned. Be a legal observer. Spread this
Media Contact: Lori Goodman, cell #: (970) 759-1908, e-mail address:
** Contact the Authorities! Tell them you have heard about Desert
Rock's harassment of Navajo elders and youth. Tell them you are
extremely concerned! If enough people contact these offices they will
know that the world is watching.
Shiprock Police Department phone: (505) 368-1350 fax: (505) 368-1293
Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley's Office
P.O. Box 9000 Window Rock, Arizona, 86515
phone #: (928) 871-6352
George Hardeen, Navajo Nation Communications Director, Office of
the President; Office #: 928-871-7000 Cell #: 928-380-7688 e-mail:
Bureau of Indian Affairs (Gallup Office); they are conducting the
Environmental Impact Statement. Harrilene Yazzi, NEPA Coordinator
Bureau of Indian Affairs, Navajo Regional Office P.0. Box 1060 Gallup,
New Mexico 87305 Phone: 505-863-8314 Fax: 505-863-8324
Other soucres of information about the vigil include these:
Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN)
The Sage Council
Indigenous Action Media
 The coal in the Four Corners area is sub-bituminous, with a heat
value of about 11,000 btus [British thermal units] per pound. Based on
the latest pollution-control regulations covering the Four Corners
Power Plant and the Navajo Generating Station, we can calculate that
each megawatt-year of power requires burning 3540 tons of coal, and
results in the emission of 77,000 pounds (lb.) of sulfur dioxide
(SO2), 60,000 lb. of nitrogen oxides (NOx), 3,900 lb. of soot, and 1
pound of mercury, and consumes 14 acre-feet of water. An acre-foot is
enough water to cover an acre of land with water one foot deep. For a
1500 megawatt plant, multiply each of these number by 1500 to get
annual emissions; for a 2000 megawatt plant, multiply each of these
numbers by 2000, and so on.
These figures do not include the extremely large tonnages of toxic
coal ash that are produced each year, which are typically buried in
the ground. The ash contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs),
dioxins, and toxic metals.
 Electa Draper, "Power plant project's future hazy," Denver Post
October 5, 2006, pg. B5.
 Lisa Meerts, "Doctor Shares Concerns About Adding Another Power
Plant," Farmington (N.M.) Daily Times October 13, 2006,
 Lisa Meerts, "Colorado residents voice concerns about Desert
Rock," Farmington (N.M.) Daily Times October 3, 2006.
 Cory Frolick, "Desert Rock needs an alternate tax structure,"
Farmington (N.M.) Daily Times August 5, 2006.
 Lisa Meerts, "Desert Rock would bring jobs, students to area,"
Farmington (N.M.) Daily Times Nov. 18, 2006.
 Dailan J. Long and Sarah Jane White, "Op-Ed: Burnham Residents
Barely Breathing, Still Fighting," The New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.),
Nov. 5, 2006, pg. F3.
Return to Table of Contents
From: Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 23, 2004
NEW COAL PLANTS BURY 'KYOTO'
By Mark Clayton
So much for Kyoto.
The official treaty to curb greenhouse-gas emissions hasn't gone into
effect yet and already three countries are planning to build nearly
850 new coal-fired plants, which would pump up to five times as much
carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as the Kyoto Protocol aims to
The magnitude of that imbalance is staggering. Environmentalists have
long called the treaty a symbolic rather than practical victory in the
fight against global warming. But even many of them do not appear
aware of the coming tidal wave of greenhouse-gas emissions by nations
not under Kyoto restrictions.
By 2012, the plants in three key countries -- China, India, and the
United States -- are expected to emit as much as an extra 2.7 billion
tons of carbon dioxide, according to a Monitor analysis of power-plant
construction data. In contrast, Kyoto countries by that year are
supposed to have cut their CO2 emissions by some 483 million tons.
The findings suggest that critics of the treaty, including the Bush
administration, may be correct when they claim the treaty is
hopelessly flawed because it doesn't limit emissions from the
developing world. But they also suggest that the world is on the cusp
of creating a huge new infrastructure that will pump out enormous
amounts of CO2 for the next six decades.
Without strong U.S. leadership, it's unlikely that technology to cut
CO2 emissions will be ready in time for the power-plant construction
boom, many say.
"If all those power plants are online by 2012, then obviously it
completely cancels out any gains from Kyoto," says Gavin Schmidt, a
climate modeler with the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, part of
the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The reason for the dramatic imbalance is coal. Just a few years ago,
economists and environmentalists still pictured a world shifting
steadily from "dirty" coal-fired power plants to "cleaner" natural-gas
turbines. But the fast-rising price of natural gas and other factors
abruptly changed that picture. Now the world is facing a tidal wave of
new power plants fired by coal, experts say. "China and India are
building coal-fired capacity as fast as they can," says Christopher
Bergesen, who tracks power plant construction for Platts, the energy
publishing division of McGraw- Hill.
China is the dominant player. The country is on track to add 562 coal-
fired plants -- nearly half the world total of plants expected to come
online in the next eight years. India could add 213such plants; the
U.S., 72. (See chart below.)
Altogether, those three nations are set to add up to 327,000 megawatts
by 2012 -- three quarters of the new capacity in the global pipeline
and roughly equal to the output of today's U.S. coal-fired generating
The new coal plants from the three nations would burn about 900
million extra tons of coal each year. That, in turn, would emit in the
neighborhood of 2.5 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, Dr.
"I'm not hugely optimistic we are going to slow the rate of carbon
emission overall any time soon," says Schmidt of the Goddard
institute. "If this sort of thing continues unchecked, we won't be
arguing about climate change in 2100, because the changes will be all
But several uncertainties remain. First, not all of the plants may be
built. In the U.S., for example, local opposition may halt
construction of some of the 100 coal-fired plants now in various
stages of development. According to Mr. Bergesen's numbers, 72 plants
could be added, the basis for the Monitor's estimates.
Another uncertainty: Slightly less than half of the new plants Platts
forecasts for China and India have an official start date. If only
those plants with start dates are built, then the expected emissions
from the three nations would total only 1.2 billion tons of CO2, still
more than double the required reduction from Kyoto. But that estimate
is conservative, experts say, because Chinese and Indian leaders face
few political barriers to power-plant construction and big demands for
Efficiency a key
Although U.S. coal-fired plants are far more efficient than those in
China or India, all three countries, presumably, would install state-
of-the-art technology. The Monitor's estimates are based on the
assumption that the new plants in all three nations will be 10 percent
more efficient than today's U.S. average -- a conservative estimate,
The third uncertainty involves new technology. Having rejected Kyoto,
President Bush says the U.S. will pursue its own policy of voluntary
carbon reductions and conduct research into technologies like "carbon
sequestration" -- burying CO2 rather than emitting it. To do that, the
U.S. Department of Energy hopes to develop new technologies by 2012
that would economically capture the greenhouse gas before it leaves
the power plant.
One approach -- called Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC)
technology -- aims to siphon off CO2 before it's sent up the stack.
The largest U.S. power company, American Electric Power in Columbus,
Ohio, plans to build at least one commercial IGCC plant by 2010.
Another coal-burning power company, Cinergy, in Cincinnati, this month
said it also would build an IGCC plant.
But funding for a key billion-dollar federal IGCC experimental program
called FutureGen is lagging. And unless the U.S. sets a limit on CO2
emissions that creates a market for carbon-reducing technology, there
is little financial incentive to invest in such technology, experts
say. As a result, the technology appears unlikely to be deployed in
time to make much difference in the coming surge of power-plant
Without such technology, the impact on climate by the new coal plants
would be significant, though not entirely unanticipated. They would
boost CO2 emissions from fossil fuels by about 14 percent by 2012,
Schmidt estimates. That's within the 1 to 2 percent annual range for
CO2 growth expected in "high-growth" scenarios put forward by climate
scientists. But it does not fall into the "maximum" scenario they use
to evaluate the worst-case impact of greenhouse gases.
The power of six
"The point is that a relatively small number of countries holds the
fate of the planet in their hands in terms of climate change," says
David Hawkins, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's
climate center. "If the five or six countries building all these power
plants were to come together to develop a strategy for carbon capture
applied to coal, it would be a huge step toward cutting global
Energy security is one factor driving the shift. With its 250-year
supply of coal, the U.S. is often called the "Saudi Arabia of coal."
China, with similarly huge reserves, is even planning to convert coal
into synthetic fuel for cars -- even though such processes typically
produce large amounts of greenhouse gases.
Coal's low price has been a powerful incentive, too. Chinese
authorities are pushing for cleaner power. But gas pipelines in China
aren't fully utilized because of that fuel's higher cost, experts say.
And in the U.S., utility companies are shifting focus from natural gas
to coal instead.
"There has been an abrupt about-face," says Robert McIlvaine, who
heads his own Northfield, Ill., information company that tracks the
construction of coal power plants globally. "Utilities that would not
consider a coal-fired plant a year or two ago are now moving forward
with coal-fired projects."
With natural gas prices expected to continue rising, 58 other nations
have 340 new coal-fired plants in various stages of development. They
are expected to go online in a decade or so. Malaysia, Japan,
Indonesia, Thailand, and Turkey are all planning significant new coal-
fired power additions. Germany also plans to build eight coal plants
with 6,000 megawatts capacity.
But China is the key. "The Chinese will surpass the coal-fired
generating capacity and the CO2 emissions of the U.S. in the next
couple of years," Mr. McIlvaine says.
Hit by blackouts and power restrictions for 18 months, China has been
scrambling to relieve that pressure. Scores of unauthorized power
projects about which little is known have sprouted nationwide -- along
with hundreds of official projects, McIlvaine says. Because of this,
even careful estimates could be low, both he and Bergesen say.
"Environmental optimists were assuming the world was going to switch
to gas, but when you're short of gas you use your own coal," says
Philip Andrews-Speed, a China energy expert at the University of
Dundee, in Scotland. "What you're seeing with China and the others is
the cheapness and security of coal just overwhelming the desire to be
Copyright 2007 The Christian Science Monitor
Return to Table of Contents
From: AlterNet, Jan. 9, 2007
WHAT AL GORE HASN'T TOLD YOU ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING
By David Morris
Al Gore is our generation's Paul Revere. Riding hard through the
country, he warns us of the impending arrival of climatic disaster.
He's proven an astonishingly effective messenger. An Inconvenient
Truth may receive an Oscar for Best Documentary. Overflow crowds greet
his presentations with standing ovations.
Which, come to think of it, is odd. When has someone ever delivered
such an ominous message to such tumultuous applause? (Aside from those
who insist we are in the end times and the rapture is near.)
In a recent speech to a standing-room-only audience at the New York
University School of Law, Gore declared, "We are moving closer to
several 'tipping points' that could -- within as little as 10 years --
make it impossible for us to avoid irretrievable damage to the
planet's habitability for human civilization." The audience cheered
wildly. Presumably audiences are not cheered by the prospect of
imminent catastrophe. So what is going on here?
British journalist George Monbiot, author of Heat: How to Stop the
Planet from Burning (Doubleday, 2006) has a theory.
"We wish our governments to pretend to act," he writes. "We get the
moral satisfaction of saying what we know to be right, without the
discomfort of doing it. My fear is that the political parties in most
rich nations have already recognized this. They know that we want
tough targets, but that we also want those targets to be missed. They
know that we will grumble about their failure to curb climate change,
but that we will not take to the streets. They know that nobody ever
rioted for austerity."
Austerity? Hold on. Al Gore and the rest of the U.S. environmental
movement never utter the word "austerity." Their word of choice is
"opportunity." The prospect of global warming, they maintain, can
serve as a much-needed catalyst to spur us to action. A large dose of
political will may be required, but we need not anticipate economic
pain. We can stop global warming in its tracks, expand our economy and
improve our quality of life. We can, in other words, do good and do
quite well. A leading environmentalist, for whom I have a great deal
of admiration, summed up his position to an interviewer, "I can't
stand it when people say, 'Taking action on climate change is going to
be extremely difficult.'"
And there's the rub, as dear Hamlet would say. By claiming we can
solve the problem of climate change painlessly, environmentalists
confuse us. They offer stark and rigorous presentations terrifying us
about the near-term, dire consequences of global warming. And then
they offer generalized, almost blithe assurances about how we can
avoid these dire consequences without great sacrifice. We are
horrified and soothed at the same time. It's a dangerous strategy.
Many who focus on the catastrophic present-day images of An
Inconvenient Truth believe we have gone beyond the point of no return,
which leads to cynicism and passivity. Those who are spurred to action
believe that buying a hybrid car or taking an eco-vacation will
address the problem.
Indeed, the "take action" section of Al Gore's website,
www.climatecrisis.net recommends the following steps. Put on a
sweater. Use more efficient light bulbs. Turn the thermostat down 2
degrees. Drive less.
I'm sure Al Gore knows that even if millions of individuals were to
adopt such actions, the pace of ecological disaster would not slow one
whit. I presume he views these actions as a way for us to demonstrate
our willingness accept responsibility for our consumption habits. The
next, and far more important, step is to persuade us to work
collectively and aggressively for bold new policies. A recent letter
from Al Gore, emailed from MoveOn.org asked us to do just that by
signing a petition to push Congress to action.
Gore declared, "I'm ready to push for real solutions, but I need your
help ..." The email offered no policy solutions. Nor does Al Gore's
web site or speeches, except for his recommendation that America
immediately freeze its greenhouse gas emissions and then reduce them.
George Monbiot, a reporter for the British newspaper, Guardian takes
up where Al Gore and many others leave off. Heat is a remarkable book.
For it is not written to convince the unconvinced [of] global warming,
but to educate the already-persuaded, those who exited the theater
after watching An Inconvenient Truth with fire in their bellies, ready
to fight the incoming menace about what must be done, and ready to
face the significant sacrifices that will have to be made along the
Monbiot's assumptions differ only modestly from those of Al Gore. Both
believe the window of opportunity is short, and closing. Both believe
we must immediately freeze greenhouse gas emissions and then reduce
them by up to 60 percent below current levels by about 2030. (Gore may
use the 2050 time frame). Monbiot recommends more rapid reductions
than others, but he argues persuasively that an ounce of reduction in
the early years can avoid the need for a pound of reduction in the
A key contribution by Monbiot is that he addresses the question Al
Gore asks, but doesn't answer. "(W)hat would a responsible approach to
the climate crisis look like if we had one in America?" Monbiot asks
the question of his home country, United Kingdom.
Monbiot launches his investigation by asking a crucial question rarely
discussed by Al Gore and other U.S. environmentalists: How does the
responsibility of the world's largest polluters differ from that of
the rest of the world? The average American generates more than 10
times the greenhouse gas emissions as does the average Chinese, and
perhaps 30 times more than the average citizen of Bangladesh. (The
gluttony of the average citizen of the UK is not far below that of the
When Al Gore says he wants to free emissions, presumably he's talking
about planetary emissions, not U.S. emissions. Otherwise, he's asking
humanity to freeze the current stark disparity in resource use in
place. That's politically impossible and morally disagreeable. Since
the U.S. and UK generate a disproportionate amount of global
greenhouse gases, a responsible approach presumably would require them
to disproportionately reduce their emissions.
Monbiot argues for a global carbon emissions cap allocated on a per
capita basis. Since all of humanity shares the biosphere, which has
only a limited absorptive and cleansing capacity and all humans are
created equal, then each should have equal use of that capacity.
The implications of biospheric equity are so profound and so
disturbing, that it is understandable why American environmentalists
shy away from discussing the issue. Currently, global carbon emissions
are about 7 billion tons, roughly, 1 ton per person. But the average
American generates, directly and indirectly, some 10 tons per capita.
Thus, to save the planet and cleanse our resource sins, Americans must
go far beyond freezing greenhouse gas emissions. As a nation, we must
reduce them by more than 90 percent, taking into account the sharp
reductions in existing global emissions necessary to stabilize the
Suddenly we realize that addressing the global warming problem will be
very difficult, not only politically but economically and
institutionally. And it may well entail significant sacrifice.
Consider the following: California has received much well-deserved
praise for enacting legislation that establishes a statewide carbon
cap for 2020 equal to the state's 1990 emission level. Achieving this
goal would mean reducing current emissions by about 13 percent.
Another 80 percent reduction will be necessary if California is to
achieve its fair share of the global emissions reductions necessary to
stabilize climate change.
Monbiot recommends the per-capita carbon budgets be allocated
nationally. Nations would decide how to parcel out these allocations.
Ideally, these could be passed through to individuals. But Monbiot
notes the administrative costs involved in having people spend their
carbon allowances on tens of thousands of products and services, each
one denominated in carbon credits as well as currency. To simplify the
process, he recommends a strategy developed by two of his compatriots,
Mayer Hillman and David Fleming. They argue that since 40 percent of
the UK's carbon emissions result from the use of fuels and electricity
and it is relatively simple to develop a method by which individuals
pay for these energy sources with carbon credits, 40 percent of the
nation's carbon allocations should be passed through to individuals.
The remaining 60 percent would belong to the government, which might
auction them off to generate revenue.
The bulk of Heat is an exhaustive sector-by-sector, hardheaded
examination of the near-term technical and economic capacity for
wealthy, industrialized nations to achieve the necessary reductions.
The examination relies on an immense volume of technical studies and
primary research. Monbiot concludes that the UK can indeed achieve
sufficient reductions within the time frame, but just barely, and at a
Although none of the reductions will be easily achieved, Monbiot's
analysis concludes that those related to transportation may be the
hardest of all. To reduce ground transportation emissions
sufficiently, he suggests the need to severely lessen individual
shopping trips. To accomplish this, he proposes that goods be
delivered. He cites a UK Department of Transportation study that
notes, "a number of modeling exercises and other surveys suggest that
the substitution of private cars by delivery vehicles could reduce
traffic by 70 percent or more." Every van the stores dispatch, in
other words, takes three cars off the road. Monbiot also proposes to
transform out of town superstores into warehouses, to be visited only
by vehicles that pick up supplies. That will save even more energy,
because warehouses use only 35 percent as much heat and 29 percent as
much electricity as do stores.
In only one sector does Monbiot fail to identify a technical solution
at any cost: air travel. Flying generates about the same volume of
greenhouse gases per passenger mile as a car. But, of course, flights
are many miles longer than drives. Fly from New York to California and
back and you will generate as much greenhouse gas emissions as you
will by driving your Prius all year.
Monbiot reluctantly concludes, "(T)here is simply no way of tackling
this issue other than reducing the number, length and speed of the
journeys we make." Knowing the audience for whom the book is intended,
he acerbically adds, this will mean the end of "shopping trips to New
York, political meetings in Porto Alegre, long distance vacations."
He urges his readers "to remember that these privations affect a tiny
proportion of the world's people. The reason they seem so harsh is
that this tiny proportion almost certainly includes you."
Monbiot sums up his findings, "I have sought to demonstrate that the
necessary reduction in carbon emissions is -- if difficult --
technically and economically possible. I have not demonstrated that it
is politically possible."
Is it politically possible? The last paragraph of Heat is not hopeful.
"(T)he campaign against climate change is an odd one. Unlike almost
all the public protests which have preceded it, it is a campaign not
for abundance but for austerity. It is a campaign not for more freedom
but for less. Strangest of all, it is a campaign not just against
other people, but also against ourselves."
Which may be why we hear so much talk about the problem but so little
talk about sacrifice.
For those who favor aggressively expanding renewable energy,
dramatically improving efficiency and abandoning our dependence on
imported oil, but remain unconvinced about the timing and severity of
climate change, the disconnect between rhetoric and reality doesn't
matter. They can view the threat of global warming as a means to an
end, a rhetorical device to stimulate people and governments to
aggressively embrace these objectives. If we do get 25 percent of our
expanded energy consumption from renewables by 2025, they will be
satisfied. Indeed, they will be ecstatic.
But for those who truly believe that widespread and perhaps
irreversible ecological disaster is imminent, for those who believe we
have only a 10-year window of opportunity before disaster becomes
inevitable, expanding renewable energy and improving efficiency is not
sufficient unless it is done at a scale and on a pace that
dramatically reduces global carbon emissions by 2030, with emissions
by nations like the United States and United Kingdom being reduced by
upwards of 90 percent.
By not sugar coating the means, Heat provides an important public
service. By clearly presenting his data, Monbiot lets us decide where
we agree and where we disagree. He invites a conversation. I look
forward to it. And I hope to soon see a U.S. environmentalist take up
the Monbiot challenge and put together an equally thorough and
rigorous examination of our own ability to tackle global warming.
David Morris is co-founder and vice president of the Institute for
Local Self Reliance in Minneapolis, Minnnesota and director of its
New Rules project.
Return to Table of Contents
From: The Record (Hackensack, N.J.), Jan. 7, 2007
TWO PEOPLES LINKED BY POLLUTED LANDS
HD Two indigenous peoples linked by polluted lands
By Alex Nussbaum
SARNIA, Ontario -- The parallels are striking.
A native tribe blames industrial pollution for widespread illness. A
child dies of a rare leukemia. Land that sustained ancestors for
thousands of years, locals complain, is no longer fit to fish or hunt.
But these aren't the Ramapough Mountain Indians of Upper Ringwood
[N.J.]. They are Chippewas, members of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in
Tons of the toxic paint sludge dug out of the Ramapoughs' Ringwood
neighborhood have been buried in a landfill near the Chippewas'
reserve in Sarnia. A relief for one community, a burden for another.
The landfill is just one of a litany of worries for a community of
nearly 1,000 people hemmed in by dozens of oil refineries, chemical
factories, natural-gas wells and toxic cleanup sites here in Canada's
"Chemical Valley." The Aamjiwnaang blame this industrial overload for
high asthma rates and reduced life spans.
The dump, the industries and the sludge from New Jersey are all
examples of how the worst pollution often ends up among those with the
least clout, some here say.
"There's a common thread" between the Ramapoughs and the Chippewas,
says Ron Plain, chairman of the Aamjiwnaang environmental committee.
"We're not afforded any human rights."
The operators of the Clean Harbors landfill, however, don't think it
is a threat.
The commercial hazardous-waste dump is 3