Monday, August 09, 2010

The Right to Survival

The impacts of climate change are sparking a debate on just what is a "human right"?

Some nations want adequate supply of potable freshwater declared a human right.   Not surprisingly that's something supported by countries with severe freshwater threats and dismissed by nations particularly well water-endowed, such as our very own.

India is now debating whether food should be a right guaranteed to all of its people.   For India that's not a rhetorical debate.   As pointed out in a New York Times article, India's eight poorest states have more people living in poverty than Africa's 26 poorest countries.

For the governing Indian National Congress Party, which has staked its political fortunes on appealing to the poor, this persistent inability to make government work for [the poor] ...has set off an ideological debate over a question that once would have been unthinkable in India: Should the country begin to unshackle the poor from the inefficient, decades-old government food distribution system and try something radical, like simply giving out food coupons, or cash?

The rethinking is being prodded by a potentially sweeping proposal that has divided the Congress Party. Its president, Sonia Gandhi, is pushing to create a constitutional right to food and expand the existing entitlement so that every Indian family would qualify for a monthly 77-pound bag of grain, sugar and kerosene. Such entitlements have helped the Congress Party win votes, especially in rural areas.

These are largely internal debates now but, as our reaction to the water question clearly shows, there's a growing sense of unease among the "haves" to future demands from the "have nots."   Do not doubt for a minute that, in a world where the burden of seven billion mouths to feed has already exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet's renewable resources, that faint whisper of calls for redistribution and equitable allocations, is bound to turn into a clamour.  It's just a matter of time.   And that's when we'll see just what kind of people we Canadians really are.


Anyong said...

The following is an article published in the Korea Herald. I thought you might be interested MOS. By the way, Korean food prices have risen 24% due to climate change.

Climate change: It’s time to talk, and act, tough
Try to fit these facts together:

-- According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the planet has just come through the warmest decade, the warmest 12 months, the warmest six months and the warmest April, May and June on record.

-- A “staggering” new study from Canadian researchers has shown that warmer seawater has reduced phytoplankton, the base of the marine food chain, by 40 percent since 1950.

-- Nine nations so far have set their all-time temperature records this year, including Russia (111 degrees), Niger (118), Sudan (121), Saudi Arabia and Iraq (126 apiece), and Pakistan, which also set the new all-time Asia record in May -- a hair under 130 degrees.

-- And then, in late July, the U.S. Senate decided to do exactly nothing about climate change. It didn’t do less than it could have; it did nothing, preserving a perfect two-decade bipartisan record of no action. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided not to even schedule a vote on legislation that would have capped carbon emissions.

I‘m a mild-mannered guy, a Methodist Sunday school teacher. I’m not quick to anger. But the time has come to get mad, and then to get busy.

For many years, the lobbying fight for climate legislation on Capitol Hill has been led by moderate environmental groups, outfits such as the Environmental Defense Fund. We owe them a great debt, and not just for their hard work. We owe them a debt because they did everything the way you‘re supposed to: They wore nice clothes, lobbied tirelessly and compromised at every turn.

By the time they were done, they had a bill that would have capped carbon emissions only from electric utilities (not factories or cars) and was so laden with gifts for industry that if you listened closely, you could actually hear the oinking. Sen. John Kerry, the legislator they worked most closely with, issued this rallying cry as the final negotiations began: “We believe we have compromised significantly, and we’re prepared to compromise further.”

And even that was not enough. They were left out to dry by everyone -- not just Reid, not just the Republicans. President Obama wouldn‘t lend a hand either.

The result: total defeat, no moral victories.

So now we know what we didn’t before: Making nice doesn‘t work. It was worth a try, but it didn’t work. So we‘d better try something else.

Step 1 involves actually talking about global warming. For years now, the accepted wisdom was: talk about anything else -- energy independence, oil security, beating the Chinese to renewable technology.

But the task at hand is to keep the planet from melting. We need everyone, beginning with the president, to start explaining that basic fact at every turn. Continued..

Anyong said...

It is the heat, and also the humidity. Because warm air holds more water than cold, the atmosphere is about 5 percent moister than it was 40 years ago, which explains the freak downpours that seem to happen someplace on this continent every few days.

It is the carbon. That’s why the seas are turning acid, a point Obama could have made with ease while standing on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Energy independence is nice, but you need a planet to be energy independent on.

Step 2, we have to ask for what we actually need, not what we calculate we might be able to get. If we‘re going to slow global warming in the very short time available to us, we don’t actually need an incredibly complicated legislative scheme that gives door prizes to every interested industry. We need a stiff price on carbon, set by the scientific understanding that we can‘t still be burning black rocks a couple of decades hence.

Asking for what you need doesn’t mean you‘ll get all of it. Compromise still happens. But as David Brower, the greatest environmentalist of the late 20th century, explained amid the fight to save the Grand Canyon: “We are to hold fast to what we believe is right, fight for it, and find allies and adduce all possible arguments for our cause. If we cannot find enough vigor in us or them to win, then let someone else propose the compromise.”

Which leads to the third step in this process. If we’re going to get any of this done, we‘re going to need a movement. For 20 years, environmentalists have operated on the notion that we’d get action if we simply had scientists explain to politicians and chief executives that our current ways are unsustainable. That turns out, quite conclusively, not to work. We need to be able to explain to them that continuing in their current ways will end something they actually care about: their careers. And because we‘ll never have the cash to compete with Exxon, we better work in the currencies we can muster: bodies, spirit, passion.

We’re not going to get the Senate to act next week, or maybe even next year. It took a decade after the Montgomery bus boycott to get the Voting Rights Act. But if there hadn‘t been a movement, then the Voting Rights Act would have passed in -- never. We may need to get arrested. We definitely will need disciplined, nonviolent but very real anger.

Mostly, we need to tell the truth, resolutely and constantly. Fossil fuel is wrecking the one Earth we’ve got. It‘s not going to go away because we ask politely. If we want a world that works, we’re going to have to raise our voices.

By Bill McKibben from the Los Angeles Times

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks for those Anyong. I agree that the environmental movement is growing a little more angrier and increasingly energized. Whether it will grow powerful enough in time to make a difference is anything but certain. Let's hope.

LMA said...

As discussed over at Climate Progress today, the record breaking 2010 heat wave in Russia is expected to reduce grain production by 30%, to say nothing of causing thousands of human deaths and untold loss of wildlife.

The impacts of climate change are already well underway.

Stephen Hawking recently commented that he believes the human species will become extinct, along with many other species, if we don't manage to travel to other planets in the next couple of centuries, due to the combination of dwindling resources and our selfish, aggressive instincts.

Our long term prospects for survival don't look good, but we have no choice but to keep fighting for change.

The Mound of Sound said...

LMA, we were warned that the impacts of climate change would overtake us and catch us unprepared. Unfortunately the 'best and brightest' scientific minds themselves underestimated the pace and severity of the problem. It wasn't that long ago they warned us that we had to have a workable emissions regime in place by 2030 at the latest. Now they've moved that to 2015 and yet we live in a society that resists change and only manages limited change on a decadal span.

James Hansen warns that all bets are off if we don't stop using coal by 2015 but how on earth with the current political reality are we to manage a shift to alternative energy in the span of just five years? Then we have a Parliament chock full of Tar Sanders on both sides of the aisle, people who fantasize about Canada's windfall economic miracle from increasing Tar Sands production by three or even five-fold within a decade.

Our leaders have no vision. They've sold us, our kids and especially our grandchildren straight down the river.