Friday, April 22, 2016

EARTH DAY EXCLUSIVE -- Paris Climate Change Agreement: The World’s Greatest Diplomatic Success


This borrowed headline in The Guardian best sums up the hope for a change to a more sustainable world thanks to the Paris agreement of December 12, 2015.  A consensus among the world’s 195 nations was an earth-shattering acknowledgement that we all need to do something—and fast.

Some WMU professors feel much the same way.

“This is a sea change,” said David Karowe, professor of biological sciences who specializes in global change ecology.

“It is the first time this variety and quantity of countries agreed that humans must slow down climate change. If they follow through on their agreement, it will be the best two weeks for the planet in the history of the planet.”

The agreement was voluntary and even China and the United States signed on to reduce CO2 emissions after many years of resistance. It has taken a long time for governments to catch up with the science and to act on their understanding, said Karowe.

“As a citizen familiar with the science of climate change, I have never seen as big of a disconnect between the strength of scientific evidence and the public’s understanding—except for evolution,” he said.

Even so, Karowe bemoaned that one major American political party still denies climate change.
Dr. David Karowe

“They say that the science is not convincing,” said Karowe, “even though 97.5 percent of scientists agree that the climate has noticeably changed over the last century and that the rate of change is faster than anything we’ve ever seen.”

Climate scientists have used many different models to calculate the trajectory of current warming trends and although they differ on how many degrees of warming there will be—some as high as 5-6C or 9-11F—they all agree that we will have more heat waves, droughts in the American Southwest and Great Plains as well as the Mediterranean and Central America.

“If, however, the nations of the world institute the Paris agreements, we will increase global warming by only 2C (3.6F) in 2100,” said Karowe. “If we don’t, we’ll face a 4-5C hike, which translates to 7-9F.”

Eight-five percent of America’s energy is produced by fossil fuels, he said, but the future is solar and wind, whose technology is now available to us. The switch to renewables is a matter of weaning ourselves off the oil and coal, which happen to be the most profitable industries in the world’s history. For example, in just the first decade of this century, these energy producers made $1 trillion, according to Think Progress.

“Climate change is really a scientific issue but it has been made into a political issue,” said Karowe. “It encourages politicians to deny the science. They are putting their personal interests ahead of their constituents, their country and their planet. We need to elect people who put the common good ahead of their personal interests.”

Scientists are not typically political activists, but they must start to connect their research to this issue that has become political, said Karowe. Fortunately, more and more of them are realizing they have an obligation to confront the “misinformation campaign” waged by the fossil fuel industry—like a group of WMU professors who decided to take the message of climate change to the campus and into the community.

The Climate Change Working Group, originally founded by Karowe, Dr. Ron Kramer of sociology and Dr. Paul Clements of political science, has increased opportunities for students, faculty and staff to learn about climate change on campus. Many new courses are being designed and several guest lecturers have been invited to campus. The climate change minor was instituted last fall. Karowe designed a new course titled Climate Change Biology, which teaches the basic science behind climate change and the consequences and solutions for the health of humans and ecosystems.

“WMU is one of the greenest campuses in the country,” said Karowe. “It plans to be carbon neutral by 2065. President Dunn has been a phenomenal leader for this, and the Office of Sustainability won a national award. WMU students and faculty should be very proud of the university’s record.”

The Working Group is also collaborating with several off-campus groups to educate citizens, and have given many public presentations to the Kalamazoo Chamber of Commerce, Phi Beta Kappa, Nature Center, Kalamazoo Wild Ones, Michigan Botanical Society and dozens of other civic and environmental groups. They have also run training workshops for middle and high school teachers and education and outreach coordinators in the local faith community. 

The Working Group has created its own webpage through the WMU Center for the Humanities, which lists various activities, a speakers bureau, resources and members from disciplines across the curriculum. 

Other efforts off-campus are taking place.

The Working Group, under the leadership of Denise Keele (Political Science and Environmental and Sustainability Studies), has organized a community reading and discussion at the Kalamazoo Public Library on Thursday, March 31 on the book by George Marshall's titled Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change.  The book explores why most of us recognize that climate change is real, and yet we do nothing to stop it..

WMU and the inter-faith community came together in 2014 to create Hope for Creation, a series of presentations about climate change and how people of faith might take meaningful action in Kalamazoo. In February, Hope for Creation presented a weekly series of conversations with area clergy to reflect on climate change and religious teachings.

“I’m more optimistic than I’ve been in a decade—probably longer,” said Karowe about the Paris agreements. “It was an incredible feat of diplomacy with John Kerry leading the way for the U.S. and China to agree on emissions reductions before the Paris conference started. It’s the first time either country agreed to cut emissions.”

Karowe also thinks Pope Francis has played an important role in advocating for the Paris agreement. Prior to the talks in Paris, the Pope said that those who are causing and benefitting from climate change (developed countries) are not the same ones who will suffer the most (poor and developing countries) and that, as a result, minimizing climate change is a moral imperative.

“It’s another reason to love this Pope,” said Karowe. “He is not concerned about the political consequences of his position but instead focuses on the ethical consequences of doing nothing about climate change.”

The more voices that join in to do something about climate change, the more likely humanity will do the right thing, said Karowe. If nothing is done, however, the prognosis for the Earth is dire.

Scientific studies have predicted that, with no action to slow climate change, by the end of the century there will be a 200-fold increase in the frequency of heat wave in 12 Midwestern cities. Chicago, for example, in 1995 lost 700 people due to extreme heat. With a 4o C rise in temperature, it is predicted that Chicago will experience 27 similar heat waves per decade. That translates to almost three heat waves per summer for Chicago and two per summer for Detroit. According to the study, implementing the Paris Agreement to keep warming to a 2o C could prevent almost 300,000 deaths heat related in 12 Midwestern cities.

Generating electricity by burning coal causes 20,000 heart attacks and 13,000 deaths in America each year, and the Monroe Power Plant in Monroe, Michigan, is consistently rated as the deadliest coal fired power plant in the United States. It was up and running in 1974, and it is the second largest plant in the United States after Plant Bowen near Cartersville, Georgia.

In January 2009, the Institute for Southern Studies ranked the 100 top polluting U.S. electric utility facilities in the United States in terms of coal combustion waste (CCW) stored in surface impoundments and the Monroe Power Plant ranked number 5 on the list, with 4,110,859 pounds (1,864,654 kg) of coal combustion waste in 2006, based on EPA data. The J.H. Freeman Plant on Lake Michigan is another high polluter and Kalamazoo is downwind from that plant.

“We should absolutely stop burning coal ASAP,” said Karowe, “and instead manufacture wind turbines in states that mine coal so that those people have work.”

However, Karowe admits that part of the problem of marshaling action to fight climate change is the difficulty of quantifying its costs, like the expense of storm damage or coastal flooding, , which is predicted to create 6 million climate change refugees per year by the middle of the century.

“Look at the disruption in the world with 1 million Syrian refugees!” he said.

Climate change could lead to water wars between India and Pakistan—both of which have nuclear bombs. Water from the Indus River flows through northern India before reaching Pakistan, where it provides 80% of the water used for irrigation . What cost would we be willing to incur to prevent war between them, asks Karowe?

Perhaps, suggests Karowe, we could more clearly see the benefits of emissions reductions if we had an ethical discussion on the value of human life, or the value of lost wages or the value of species extinction. (The Paris Agreement could save 10 to 30 percent of species on the planet.)

Meanwhile, scientists have calculated that sea level rises would affect 28,800 square miles of land on the East Coast of the United States, home today to 12.3 million people. In 2013, Ceres, a coalition of investors, companies and public interest groups dedicated to sustainable business practices, published Inaction on Climate Change: The Cost to Taxpayers. In 2014, Governing magazine reported on how cities are facing climate change. And, the State of Florida has estimated that it will spend $300 billion per year to avoid infrastructure damage and hindrances to its tourist industry due to climate change.

“When people talk about the cost of minimizing climate change, they should also talk about the benefits of doing something,” said Karowe. “They should talk about the advantages of a 2o C rather than 4o C rise in temperatures, for example.”

However, to make progress as a nation, Karowe warned that it will be necessary to remove the confusion the fossil fuel industry has largely perpetrated and to let climate policy become a voting issue so that leaders will be elected by whether or not they support policies based on sound science.

“About 20,000 people benefit enormously from continued use of fossil fuels, said Karowe. “They are CEOs from the industry and large shareholders. And, they are willing to sacrifice the welfare of 7 billion people on earth in order to make their short-term profits.”

Karowe believes the world will end up with solar and wind generating its energy. In the near future, we will shift many of our activities to electricity, including transportation.

“We can already produce wind and solar energy at 40 times more than we all currently use,” said Karowe. “Paris is the first real signal that the world is ready to try to minimize the damage it has done. But it has to be implemented by all the nations to work. Americans, too, need to tell their elected representatives that the most ethical and least expensive option for us is to implement the Paris agreement.”


Dr. Denise Keele, associate professor political science and head of the newly instituted climate change minor, discussed how the Paris agreement on climate change occurred.

“It’s called COP21 because it’s the twenty-first year in a row since the signatory parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992) have held a conference to continue to state that climate change is a problem caused by humans and should be dealt with as a global community,” she said.

Dr. Denise Keele in her introduction to climate change class
The Kyoto conference in 2007 created a protocol to reduce greenhouse gases among nations, but the United States opted out of it. Australia and Canada wavered and then backed out of Kyoto, too. China and India, both considered developing countries by the UN, have never had legal responsibilities to reduce their emissions under Kyoto.   

The last global attempt to resolve an international climate change agreement occurred at Copenhagen in 2009 and “collapsed into chaos and recriminations,” according to the Guardian. The Paris talks were seen as the UN’s last chance. The online magazine, Quartz, relates how a deal was reached:

In the last few hours of negotiations, all countries had to make some sort of compromise to reach a consensus. The US, India and China—the world’s three biggest polluters—accepted that they would have to try to limit global warming to under 1.5 °C of pre-industrial levels. Developed countries accepted partial blame for having caused whatever warming has occurred so far. And developing countries agreed not to seek damage liabilities from developed countries.

Article 4.4 requires developed countries to undertake economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets but developing countries to only “continue to enhance” their mitigation efforts. In the draft that was presented for adoption there were two critical words—“shall” and “should”. The expression “shall” applied to the developed countries’ obligation and the word “should” applied to the developing countries’ obligation.

The US, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, wanted both developed and developing countries to agree on the same, more lenient word: “should.” In effect, the US only wanted to commit to trying to cut emissions, but not be legally bound to do so.

“It’s important to have a major economic power and a major contributor to greenhouse gases represented at these conferences,” said Keele.

The Paris agreement was the first time all the nations were present and the three top players, the US, China and India, reached an agreement, which is not a treaty, said Keele. The US has geopolitical leverage that it can exert on other nations, so that’s why it is so important for the US to sign the Paris agreement.

“The other political story behind this is that if Obama signed it, that would force his successor to follow through on the agreement,” said Keele. “Then it would be hard even for an anti-climate change president not to follow the agreement.”

It is important to note that Paris is not a treaty or an accord, meaning it is totally voluntary and not legally binding, said Keele. That’s why it is called an agreement.

The US’ problem with a climate change treaty or accord is the fear of handicapping itself economically since it largely depends on fossil fuels to run its economy. For example, Kyoto was not supported by the US when the Senate supported the Byrd-Hagel resolution on July 25, 1997, by a vote of 95 to 0. This resolution urged the Administration not to negotiate an agreement with binding targets for the United States and not without the adoption of binding targets in the same compliance period by countries in the developing world. Thus, the Paris “agreement”—not a treaty—allows the US to join the international action since it is not binding and it a includes targets for developing countries, notably India and China.

“I’m optimistic about the Paris agreement,” said Keele. “It is historic and unprecedented with 195 nations signing on. Australia has elections to get through but afterward it will probably sign.”

Keele pointed out that since the Copenhagen 2009 conference, nations have been more transparent in reporting in advance their contributions to climate change. This allows everyone to see what the others are doing and it encourages cooperation among the nations.

“Tools such as transparency, accountability and voluntary agreements work better than legally binding treaties,” said Keele. “Kerry and Obama knew what they were doing. So did the UN secretary general.”

However, the challenge will entail publicly keeping up a level of pressure that forces nations to follow through, she said.

Europe is working toward reducing carbon emissions, said Keele. It has organized itself as a total unit with each country deciding what to carve out. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in office since 2005, has led the way in the “austerity politics” of conservation and use of wind and solar—in spite of the country’s cloudiness and higher altitude. After Kyoto, it started its own carbon neutral program and now is a world leader of sustainability by generating 30 percent renewable energy.

“Climate change is an over-arching issue,” said Keele. “You can’t do anything else if it’s too hot, too wet or too arid.”

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Michael Moore Discusses Variety of Issues in First Visit to WMU

Michael Moore is never one to mince words and he didn’t hesitate to “tell it like it is”—at least from a social justice perspective—during his visit to WMU’s Miller Auditorium on Wednesday, April 6.

Addressing a crowd of about 3,000 people who seemed quite in tune with him throughout the talk, he thinks that Governor Rick Snyder should be prosecuted for the “crime” of allowing the Flint water debacle occur.

“Flint is not suffering from a water crisis,” said Moore. “Water is really just a weapon. It is a race crime.”

Moore said that the governor’s decision to replace elected local leadership with emergency managers in cities like Flint that have a lot of poor people, many of whom are African American, is the problem.

“From Day 1 people were complaining they had bad water,” he said, “and there were no representatives for them to go to for help. Only the emergency manager, who should really be called ‘master’ or ‘overlord.’”

Moore contended that the reason lead ended up in the people’s water was that Michigan government gave the rich a $1 billion tax cut and had to reduce services elsewhere to balance the budget. About $15 million was saved when it was decided that Flint’s water should come from the Flint River instead of Lake Huron via Detroit.

Moore, who grew up in Flint, said that the Flint River had been a dumping ground for General Motors, DuPont and other industries for a long time.

Moore is against sending water bottles to Flint residents because it doesn’t come close to solving the problem.

“People use 50 to 80 gallons of water per day for drinking, cooking, bathing, etc.,” he said. “There are 100,000 people living in Flint, so it would take 20 million bottles of water per day to meet their water needs.”

Moore pointed out that President Barack Obama still hasn't declared Flint a federal disaster zone, and that US Senator Mike Lee of Utah rejected giving Flint disaster aid because he said it was a manmade disaster, not a natural disaster.

“What it really is is a form of ethnic cleansing,” said Moore. “It is an act of terror.”

Moore severely criticized the media’s coverage of the story when they featured one backhoe digging up lead pipes at one house where a pregnant woman presumably lived.

“See how good Lansing is?” he blasted. “What’s happened since? Nothing!”

He called for the Army Corps of Engineers to replace the lead pipes from each of the affected homes and the Center for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency to perform tests.

His insights about fear and ignorance dominated the second half hour of Moore’s talk, which was only supposed to last 20 minutes.

Moore said he cried when Obama was elected, but he was embarrassed to be a Michigander because the state legislature voted to ban same sex marriage in 2004. However, 11 years later it was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Change happened quickly with gay marriage because it didn’t come from the top down,” he said. “It happened because so many gay people came out and told their parents, friends and co-workers. It’s hard to hate when you actually know a person. So many did that, and it changed people who had formerly lived out of fear and ignorance of gay people.”

Ignorance is playing into the fears people have on many levels today, said Moore, and there is a move by the establishment to keep people ignorant.

“They have defunded the schools. They charge too much for college and then make graduates go into debt. They reduce the media into the piss poor pool that it is. That’s why fear comes out of ignorance.”

To demonstrate the extent of ignorance going on in America, Moore mentioned that Ivy League seniors were asked in a multiple choice test when the Civil War took place and only 49 percent got it right.

A National Geographic poll taken in 2006 indicated that 70 percent of 18-year-olds could not find Iraq on a map.

“We shouldn’t invade countries that our people can’t find on a map!” he shouted.

Then he got into the outcomes of fear and ignorance.

“I’m so sad that Kalamazoo was added to the Columbine list,” he said. “Why don’t Canadian gun owners shoot people like we do in the United States?” This was the same question he posed in his film, “Bowling for Columbine.”

“There are just as many guns in Canada as in the USA, although Canadians have hunting rifles while Americans have a variety of weapons,” he said. “Kids watch the same violent movies and they come from single parent homes. The shootings are happening in the suburbs and the rural communities where there are the lowest crime rates, and the shooters are consistently white males.”

Moore contends that people are fearful because they are continually seeing images of fear on TV news. He pooh-poohed mental health as the reason for the shootings.

"We have a mental health problem and it's unfair for the millions, the tens of millions, who need mental health help to say that they're possibly the problem of our safety," he said. "That's a lie." His comment drew loud applause and cheers from the audience.

Adam Lanza, the shooter of the 20 children and five staff members at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, CT, was seeing two psychologists, said Moore. The media didn’t say that or the fact that his father was a vice president at General Electric.

“The media decide how to position a story,” he said. “They didn’t tell us that a multi-millionaire attacked the United States on 9/11 either. They referred instead to his religion. This is all done to create fear in ignorant people. So here’s the equation: ignorance causes fear, which leads to hate and ends up as violence.”

Moore then turned to the 2016 presidential election.

He likes Hillary Clinton and admires her for being among the women of the 1970s and 80s who turned the tide for feminism. He is even sad about the bad treatment she received as First Lady. However, he voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary because he is afraid Hillary “took the soup.” This Irish phrase refers to the potato famine where Catholics accepted meals from Protestant soup kitchens if they renounced their Catholic beliefs.

He doesn’t like that she buddied up to Wall Street and voted for the Iraq War. He fears she will get the country into another war just to convince those who ridiculed her 25 years ago that she can bomb the nation’s enemies just as well as any man.

“Bernie beats Trump with women alone,” said Moore. “According to the polls he beats all other GOP contenders while Hillary beats Trump and is tied with Cruz.”

Moore thinks Bernie would make a great president because he’s proposing that the United States do what the countries in his latest film, “Where to Invade Next,” have been doing for decades. Germany, for example, has free university education, free health care, it builds cars and it has accepted one million refugees.

“The difference between our country and the others is that they operate under ‘we’ while we operate under ‘me.’ It’s not that they’re better than we are, but that they live in a kinder, safer and less fearful society than we do. They figured out a long time ago that they can get something from that approach—and we could get the same damn thing if we did, too.”

In the end, Moore advised his audience to “vote for the person with your heart and your conscience.”

Although Moore is a biting social critic and satirist, he remains optimistic and hopeful.

“I got that from the nuns and priests who taught me at St. John’s in Davison,” said Moore, who is an Irish Catholic and proud of it.

His seventh grade teacher, Sister Janet Kurtz, CSJ, was on hand to greet Moore and participate in a panel discussion after his talk.

“He is the same person who stood up for justice back when he was in my classroom in the late 1960s,” said Kurtz.

This event was sponsored by the Lewis Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations in collaboration with the Lee Honors College, School of Communication, Department of Sociology, Center for the Humanities, Center for Ethics, Office for Sustainability, Medical Humanities Program, College of Arts and Sciences and the Kalamazoo Islamic Center.

It was the Walker Institute’s kick-off for a series of upcoming community forums and scholarly discussions titled: “Growing Together or Pulling Apart? Making Public Policies that Work for Everyone." Topics will include immigration, criminal justice reform, housing segregation by race and class, equality of opportunity, and poverty and education.