Brazil Agrees to Protect Rainforests
Blue-fronted Amazon, photo by Arthur Chapman
The Brazilian government made its first-ever serious commitment to Amazon rainforest protection this December, pledging to reduce the rate of deforestation by 70 percent over the next decade.
If the target is met, it will keep 4.8 billion tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere.
The announcement came just before the most recent international climate meeting in Poznan, Poland, where negotiators debated how to reward countries that reduce deforestation. Brazil’s plan seeks international funding. Norway has pledged $1 billion over seven years to the effort.
Energetic activists outside the U.N. Conference on Climate Change held in December in Poznan, Poland.
Climate Activists Turn Up the Heat
2009 could be the year when the drive to stop global warming finally becomes a full-fledged global movement.
For almost two decades, experts and diplomats have been trying to negotiate a treaty. But with insufficient outside pressure, they’ve been making little progress.
December’s meeting in Poznan, Poland—the 16th giant “conference of the parties” to be held on climate change—began as usual with people going through the diplomatic motions.
But several things shook the session up. One, the nations who will be affected most quickly by climate change stepped up their rhetoric. Small island nations demanded that other countries stop threatening their survival and commit to reducing carbon concentrations in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million.
In the concluding speech to the conference, Al Gore got a full minute of lusty cheering when he said the new benchmark for climate progess was indeed 350.
Activists at 350.org have spent the last year pushing that number, originally identified by NASA climatologist James Hansen. It’s the most important number on earth—and this year, the organizers of 350.org plan to make it the most well-known. On October 24, people in thousands of locations, from high in the Himalayas to underwater on the Great Barrier Reef, will rally around that number.
Now activists are turning to direct action. March 2 in Washington D.C. will mark the first mass civil disobedience on climate change in U.S. history. Organizers expect more than a thousand people will be arrested outside the coal-fired generating station that powers Congress. Hansen has said that we can’t reach 350 unless we stop burning coal soon.
A letter I wrote with Wendell Berry put it this way: “There are moments in a nation’s—and a planet’s—history when it may be necessary for some to break the law in order to bear witness to an evil, bring it to wider attention, and push for its correction. We think such a time has arrived.”
—Bill McKibben is a journalist, author, and the founder of 350.org.
Interested? Bill McKibben launches mass civil disobedience campaign. www.yesmagazine.org/coalprotest
Hawai'i to Ramp Up Renewable Energy
The State of Hawai‘i and the Hawaiian Electric companies have allied to dramatically expand renewable energy. Their agreement requires that 40 percent of the islands’ electric power be renewable by 2030 and commits them to ban new coal plants, retire or convert older fossil fuel plants, encourage new clean energy projects and the use of electric vehicles, and build an undersea cable to link island grids.
Hitchhiking is going high-tech as a number of companies pilot applications that allow commuters to “thumb a ride” using their iPhones. The shared transport “apps” connect drivers with potential passengers. The Avego system, which is being tested in Dublin, is one example. It lets drivers enter information about their intended route, then automatically sends riders a menu of potential pick-up points and destinations.
A similar application called Carticipate was released this year by a San Francisco company, and also offers a Facebook application. The developers hope the applications will increase carpooling and reduce fuel use. Currently, about three-fourths of U.S. workers commute alone.
U.S. Army Goes Electric
The U.S. Army plans to lease 4,000 electric vehicles, in what the Pentagon claims is the “largest acquisition of electric vehicles in the United States by any entity to date.” The Army says the program will support energy security by saving 11 million gallons of fuel and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 115,000 tons. The Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs) will replace some of the Army’s fleets of non-tactical sedans and light trucks. The first six NEVs were unveiled on January 12.
Vivace Makes Clean Energy from Water
Scientists have developed a new device that produces clean energy from water flows of less than one knot (1.15 miles per hour). Most of the world’s currents are slower than three knots, but dams and water mills require an average of five to six knots to generate electricity.
Inspired by the physics of swimming fish, the device, called the Vivace, is less likely to harm aquatic life than dams or wave-action power systems. The developers say it can produce energy more cheaply than wind and solar, and believe it could have widespread applications.