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2007's Best: Climate
Alex Steffen, 31 Dec 07

One of the pieces of which I'm most proud, Al Gore, the Nobel Prize and the End of the Beginning hit, for once, pretty close to what I was actually feeling as the news came in that Al had won the Nobel. (Disclosure: I've had the honor of working with Mr. Gore on the foreword to our book, in case anyone missed that...)

"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." - Winston Churchill, speaking of the turning point battle of El Alamein,1942

Al Gore and the IPCC winning the Nobel Peace Prize symbolizes more than just a head-nod towards some eco-fad -- it shows that sustainability has finally moved from the outskirts of activism to the most central halls of authority. Concern for the planetary future is now as credible as it is possible to get. The beginning of the struggle to save ourselves from ecological catastrophe has come to an end and we can begin to see the outlines of the next stage of the struggle.

Those of us who've spent our careers advocating a saner approach to the future can be forgiven a few moments of smugness, for these are sweet days. There is no longer any reasonable debate about whether or not we need to move with all possible speed towards a different way of living on this planet. To argue the contrary is now to prove oneself morally bankrupt.

Greenhouse Development Rights: Climate-Clean and Fair?

Offshoring Emissions, Historical Carbon and Climate Imperialism

The emissions for which we're directly responsible -- our personal carbon footprint, say, or our city's progress towards climate neutrality -- may not tell the whole story. That's because globalization has tended to move heavy polluting industries offshore, away from Europe and North America, and to places like China and Brazil. We still consume the lion's share of the goods these nations manufacture, but the carbon is emitted there, not here, while our exports are largely things -- like blockbuster films and financial services -- whose carbon footprints are comparatively small. As one wag says

"If Britain meets its Kyoto target in 2012 (and it may well do), it won’t be because British consumers have made sacrifices to save the planet; it will be because we, like other Western nations, have exported a sizeable proportion of our carbon emissions to China."

Call it offshoring emissions.

Meet the New Yard: Tropical Plants, Invasive Species and Drunken Trees

When we look at ecosystem disruption and climate change, we have a great tendancy to focus on the really sexy aspects (by media standards) -- the melting of Greenland, the spread of the Sahara, the predicted extinction of rhinos, tigers and all sorts of other large critters. But some of the effects will land a lot closer to home.

Take, for instance, the change in gardening climates and the dramatic spread of invansive species. As the global climate changes, the impacts can be seen in what plants will thrive in our gardens, and already the mix of plants that will do well in any particular place is changing rapidly.

So rapidly that the (U.S.) National Arbor Day Foundation felt it necessary to update the Plant Hardiness Zones Map. That's the map that gardeners and farmers use to figure out what seeds to plant where they live. Their findings? That across huge swathes of the United States, climate zones have already shifted: according to James Hansen, such zones may already be marching northwards at a rate of tens of kilometers a year.

My Bill Clinton's Seattle Climate Speech holds no new reporting, but it's well worth following the links and listening yourself.

Now, I don't often recommend speeches by politicians, of any party. It is in the nature of a political speech to be milquetoast. They lack substance. They lack a willingness to confront the massive challenges we face today. They lack a sense of the possible.

But Clinton's speech is different. It is, quite simply, the best speech on climate given by an American politician (other than Al Gore) I've ever heard -- it's the sort of speech I wish a sitting president would stand up and deliver before Congress and the nation. I've been thinking about writing the speech I wish a politician would deliver about climate change -- as I did before on the tsunami -- but this time about the climate crisis. Now, I don't need to. This is it.

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