Big Brother Spies on Climate Activists

How crazy is the so-called “climate debate”? Consider the bizarre case of three young climate activists who were just informed by local police that they were under surveillance for over a year on suspicion of “involvement in terrorism”.

Between March 2005 and May 2006, three representatives of Chesapeake Climate Action Network were apparently being spied on due to their non-violent efforts to raise awareness about climate change.

All three received letters from the Maryland State Police this October blandly stating that there was “no evidence whatsoever of any involvement in violent crime” and they had the option to view the files once, without a camera or lawyer present, before the surveillance records were destroyed.

Obviously, the three young activists were none too pleased to learn that Big Brother was picking through their underwear drawer due to their opposition to Big Oil.

Mike Tidwell, the founder of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network said in his blog “since 2001, I have devoted my life entirely to the peaceful promotion of windmills and solar panels to solve global warming. Apparently not everyone liked my work, however.”

Josh Tulkin is another one of the “gang of three”, who has since moved on to work for another climate action organization.

He provided a video statement and said for the record, I won’t be intimidated. Like so many young people, I understand that global warming will have severe impacts on my future, and we are working together to address this problem. I am proud of the action of my peers, and we should be supported, not suspected.”

Most disturbingly, this bizarre action against non-violent activists appears to be politically motivated. The letter provided to all three says they are being informed of the program only due to review and change of heart initiated at the governor’s office. Specifically the letter states:

On July 31, 2008, at the request of Governor Martin O'Malley, former Attorney General Stephen H Sachs agreed to conduct an independent review of an intelligence-gathering operation undertaken by the Maryland State Police from March 2005 to May 2006.

Mr. Sachs' report was released on October1, 2008. His report made several recommendations for action by the Maryland State Police, among which was to contact all individuals who are presently described in the MSP's Case Explorer database program as being “suspected of involvement in terrorism but as to whom MSP has no evidence whatsoever of any involvement in violent crime." Additionally, the report recommended that MSP provide these individuals the opportunity to review the relevant Case Explorer entries before purging these entries. I agreed to this recommendation.

You are one of the individuals whose name was placed in the Case Explorer system under this designation. Accordingly, I am writing to you to provide the opportunity for you to review the relevant entries before the Maryland State Police begins to purge these entries. Please contact the Maryland State Police, Homeland Security and Investigation Bureau to make arrangements to review the entries.

As the current Superintendent of the MSP, I am looking forward to purging these entries, putting into place policies and supervision that will prevent against this kind of operation in the future and moving beyond these issues to continue the necessary work of the Maryland State Police.

The Maryland State police and Homeland Security might want to note the scientific community has warned that climate change is a “far greater threat to the world than international terrorism”. Just a thought.


Eco-bunk Exposed

Why bother doing something when you can just say you did it? That seems to be the cynical sentiment driving a lucrative growth industry: corporate green washing.

Consumers are increasingly demanding that companies demonstrate their commitment to the environment through responsible practices. Many of these companies are instead providing PR spin and phony labeling in an effort to keep doing what they have been doing while improving their corporate image.

While this might buy them some time in the short term, the public is peeling back the green veil on eco-bunk. Have a look at this insightful article by Fred Pearce in the Guardian on the Great Green Swindle.

Pearce details how many companies are investing in image instead of action, and being exposed as a result.

In August, an ad industry's watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority, rapped oil company Shell's knuckles for trying to claim, in an advertisement in the Financial Times, that its $10bn investment in sucking tar sands out of the Canadian midwest was a contribution to a sustainable energy future… Overall, the emissions from mining, refining and burning tar sands are between three and 10 times greater than for conventional oil. Shell's sleight of hand was to use the much-abused word "sustainability" to imply a green agenda when what it was really on about was keeping a sustainable flow of fuel out of its forecourt pumps. The ASA cried foul.

It seems the audacity of some companies knows no bounds. The oil sands are so obscenely unsustainable that they consume enough relatively clean natural gas every day to heat over three million Canadian homes. Environmental Defence published a 131 page report on the tar sands cheerfully called “The Most Destructive Project on Earth”.

If the tar sands are “sustainable”, then the word clearly has lost all meaning in the English language and should be expunged from dictionaries the world over.

How about this corporate nose-stretcher: Manchester airport apparently pledged to make the facility carbon-neutral, with one small caveat: the target does not include the 200,000-plus flights into and out of the airport each year.

The sustainable development organization, Forum for the Future conducted an audit on the airport and observed that this claim "jars somewhat". The British have always had a gift for understatement.

Here’s another knee-slapper exposed by Pearce. The City of London Corporation launched a City Climate Pledge, under which local banks would pledge to "measure and monitor" their carbon footprint. But companies simply have to fill out a form detailing their CO2 plans and they can use the pledge logo. "Companies using the logo will be recognized as exemplar sustainable businesses [able to] attract consumers who are becoming more discerning about the credentials of businesses they deal with," says the flyer.

Not bad for just filling out a form. Especially as there doesn't seem to be any follow-up or auditing process involved.

Thankfully this effort by the Guardian to expose green washing is not merely a one-off. They are launching a regular column where their readers can help with the daunting task of tracking the torrent of eco-bunk the public is exposed to.

According to Pearce, “How many more green scams, cons and generous slices of wishful thinking are out there? We want to name and shame them before the whole green movement gets a bad reputation.” Well said, Mr. Pearce.

Readers are invited to send vent their spleens in the direction of: greenwash@guardian.co.uk


Bad News for the Arctic

There’s big trouble at the top of the world according to a report released this month by US government scientists.

The annual Arctic Report Card is produced annually by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and this year the state of the climate in the arctic got an alarming F.

“Changes in the Arctic show a domino effect from multiple causes more clearly than in other regions,” said James Overland, an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle and a lead author of the report. “It’s a sensitive system and often reflects changes in relatively fast and dramatic ways.”

The arctic is at the leading edge of global climate change and researchers are already dramatic changes in this sensitive ecosystem. According to NOAA:

“Autumn air temperatures, which are at a record 5 degrees C (9 degrees F) above normal, because of the major loss of sea ice in recent years. The loss of sea ice allows more solar heating of the ocean. That warming of the air and ocean affects land and marine life, and reduces the amount of winter sea ice that lasts into the following summer. The year 2007 was the warmest on record for the Arctic, continuing a general Arctic-wide warming trend that began in the mid-1960s.”

The arctic report card focuses on six areas including Arctic atmosphere, sea ice, biology, ocean, land and Greenland. This year, three of the six including atmosphere, sea ice, and Greenland were coded red meaning that observed changes are almost certainly due to climate change.

The remaining three (biology, ocean, land) were coded yellow, meaning that signals were mixed. The 2007 report card had two red and four yellow.

The relentless march upwards of arctic air temperatures is obvious in this graph of surface air temperature anomalies since 1900.

Arctic temperatures

Arctic sea ice reached its second lowest minimum in recorded history this year, second only to last year. You don't have to be a researcher to see the freefall of ice extent since 1957.

sea ice loss

Greenland lost an incredible 100 cubic kilometers of ice last year. To get an idea of what that looks like, have a look at the retreat of the Ilulissat glacier since 1850.

greenland retreat

According to the authors, “there continues to be widespread and, in some cases, dramatic evidence of an overall warming of the Arctic system.”

Scientists are often not the greatest communicators in the world but this report speaks loud and clear about the frightening changes that are happening at the top of the world.


Europe Leads - North America Dawdles

Which is more important: climate change or the global economic crisis? The answer for Europe is both.

So important is tacking global warming in Europe that leaders have pledged to stick with their carbon cutting agendas, even while dealing with the greatest economic crisis since the great depression.

European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, stated for the record that "We're not going to let up in the battle against climate change and there's no question of picking between the financial crisis and climate change. The two go together."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy concurred: "The deadline on climate change is so important that we cannot use the financial and economic crisis as a pretext for dropping it".

In the UK, they even upped the ante on carbon cuts. Climate Change and Energy Secretary Ed Miliband said the current 60% target of carbon cuts by 2050 would be replaced by a higher goal of 80%.

He added, “In our view it would be quite wrong to row back and those who say we should, misunderstand the relationship between the economic and environmental tasks we face."

Here in North America, it is a different story. The Canadian election saw little talk of dealing with climate change since stock markets tanked in the final week of the campaign. South of the border, election talk is almost entirely dominated by the economy.

Newly elected Prime Minister Stephen Harper successfully campaigned on a pro-carbon platform of making burning fossil fuels even cheaper. While carbon taxes ore old hat elsewhere in the world, here in Canada Harper managed to portray the idea as “crazy”, “insane”, and something that would “screw everyone across the country” and “wreck” the economy.

It is if North America exists in a transatlantic time machine – back in time that is. While Canadians like to believe that we are a progressive country, we are rapidly lapsing into a political backwater in comparison to many more progressive nations on the other side of the ocean.

Regardless of who wins the US presidential election in November, Canada under Stephen Harper will have a far less credible climate policy than virtually any developed country in the world. Even John McCain is calling for far more stringent carbon cuts than Canada under Harper.

Canada is no longer a world leader - we are a world laggard. Look to Europe to courageous leadership on climate change – expect more platitudes and inaction here at home.


Stephen Harper’s Right Hand Man Helped Organize Anti-Kyoto Astroturf Group

A good indicator of a man's character is the company he keeps. So lets have a closer look at the all-powerful staff in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Office.

The top of the Harper food chain is Guy Giorno, appointed Chief of Staff in the PMO this summer when Ian Brodie was forced to resign after he was caught leading information to the media that seriously impacted the U.S. nomination race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton - part of the so-called NAFTA-gate.

Giorno is a Toronto-based lawyer, corporate lobbyist and chief of staff to then-Ontario premier Mike Harris during the so-called “common sense revolution”.

Giorno was also a vocal opponent of the Kyoto protocol – to the point that he was a key member of an anti-kyoto front group group called Canadian Coalition for Responsible Environmental Solutions (CCRES).

According to Source Watch, CCRES was set up by National Public Relations - Canada’s largest public relations firm - when Giorno worked for them.

National Public Relations is also the Canadian affiliate of the often controversial international firm Burson-Marsteller.

In classic Astroturf fashion, CCRES members are a who’s who of industries that would be affected by mandatory CO2 emission reductions. They include:

Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
Canadian Energy Pipeline Association
Petroleum Services Association of Canada
Propane Gas Association of Canada
Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors
Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association
Alberta Chamber of Resources
Alberta Chambers of Commerce
The Cement Association of Canada
Canadian Council of Chief Executives

Giorno organized a wine and shrimp fete in 2002 to allow CCRES members to lobby top-level Ontario cabinet ministers in an effort to oppose action on climate change.

The As Harper’s chief of staff, Giorno is now one of the most powerful people in the country, from which position it must be considerably easier to represent industries that are hostile to climate change regulation.

Keeping in mind the unfolding economic mess south of the border, it is also interesting that Giorno is an enthusiastic fan of the policies that have failed so miserably in the US.

Ten years after the disastrous reign of Mike Harris in Ontario, Giorno wrote in the National Post, “Despite the caterwauling about the severity of its agenda, the Harris government's spending cuts were too timid.”

Having lived in Ontario in 1990’s, I can assure you that statement is enough to make George Bush blush.