Monday, March 31, 2008

NASA scientist urges PM to stop coal exports

Sarah Clarke, March 31, ABC

James Hansen wants coal mining and coal exports to stop.

NASA chief climate scientist James Hansen has written to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd asking him to consider halting plans for mining and export of coal in Australia.

Dr Hansen is one of the world's leading climate scientists and in a letter addressed to Mr Rudd, he has asked him to show leadership on the issue.

He says the "continuing mining of coal, export of coal, and the construction of new coal-fired power plants" should be halted and a transition is needed to solve the global warming problem.

He says choices of alternative energy sources are local considerations, but a decision to phase out coal use is a "global imperative".

The letter has been delivered to Mr Rudd's office today and has also been sent to the state and territory leaders.

Former head of the CSIRO's Climate Impact Group Barrie Pittock supports the letter and says Australia must take urgent action if climate change is to be addressed.

"We're increasing the global emissions at the rate of about 3 per cent every year now, and what we have to do is decrease emissions by 2 or 3 per cent every year," he said.

"That's the only way we are going to keep global temperatures down to something that might be safe.

"What he is asking [is] for us to not to do any more until the carbon capture and sequestration is in place."

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Burning Coal at Three Minutes to Midnight

The Corporate Watch report on HRL, for Friends of the Earth, ‘Burning Coal at Three Minutes to Midnight’ has been released. Shedding light on the government grants and business interests behind the proposed HRL coal fire power plant in the Latrobe Valley of Victoria.

With $150 million of state and federal government grants this new coal fire power station has benefited from a large injection of taxpayer money to continue Victoria’s reliance on coal based electricity.

The proposed HRL coal fire power plant is one of the first of the so-called ‘clean coal’ power plants scheduled to be built, and if allowed to go ahead will expand Australia’s reliance on polluting fossil fuel sources of energy such as coal, to the detriment of the clean, green renewable energy solutions available to us.

Download a copy of ‘Burning Coal at Three Minutes to Midnight’ here

Burnt Out

The government’s plans for clean coal are another great green scam.

“Coal is so clean and fresh that the prime minister brushes his teeth with it, Downing Street said last night. Mr Brown said advances in coal technology meant it was now one of the cleanest substances on Earth, and an unrivalled remover of stains and scaling.” So says the satirical website the Daily Mash(1). The real claims are scarcely battier.

Ministers are about to decide whether to approve a new coal burning power station at Kingsnorth in Kent. This would be the first such plant built in Britain since the monster at Drax was finished in 1986. As well as coal, it will burn up the government’s targets, policies and promises on climate change.

John Hutton, the secretary of state in charge of energy, has started justifying the decision he says he hasn’t made. “For critics,” he argued last week, “there’s a belief that coal fired power stations undermine the UK’s leadership position on climate change. In fact the opposite is true.”(2) Quite so: if we don’t burn this stuff the Chinese might get their hands on it. Or could he be a true believer? Does he really think there’s such a thing as clean coal?

Clean coal’s definition changes according to whom the industry is lobbying. Sometimes it means more efficient power stations (which still produce almost twice as much carbon dioxide as gas plants). Sometimes it means removing sulphur dioxide from the smoke (which boosts the CO2(3)). Sometimes it means carbon capture and storage: stripping the carbon out of the exhaust gases, piping it away and burying it in geological formations. None of these equate to clean coal, as you will see if you visit an opencast mine. But they create a marvellous amount of confusion in the public mind, which gives the government a chance to excuse the inexcusable.

In principle, carbon capture and storage (CCS) could reduce emissions from power stations by 80-90%. While the whole process has not yet been demonstrated, the individual steps are all deployed commercially today: it looks feasible. The government has launched a competition for companies to build the first demonstration plant, which should be burying CO2 by 2014.

Unfortunately, despite Hutton’s repeated assurances, this has nothing to do with Kingsnorth or the other new coal plants he wants to approve. If Kingsnorth goes ahead, it will be operating by 2012, two years before the CCS experiment has even begun. The government says that the demonstration project will take “at least 15 years” to assess(4). It will take many more years for the technology to be retrofitted to existing power stations, by which time it’s all over. On this schedule, carbon capture and storage, if it is deployed at all, will come too late to prevent runaway climate change.

Kingsnorth will produce around 4.5 million tonnes of CO2 every year(5); if all eight of the proposed coal plants are built, they will account for 46% of the emissions Britain can produce by 2050, assuming the government sticks to Brown’s new proposed target of an 80% cut(6). Aviation, using the government’s own figures, will account for another 184% (7)(these figures are explained on my website). Even if we stopped breathing, eating, driving and heating our homes, the new runways and coal burners the government envisages would more than double our national greenhouse gas quota.

The government seeks to bamboozle us by arguing that the new power stations will be “CCS ready”, meaning that one day, in theory, they could be retrofitted with the necessary equipment. But even this turns out to be untrue. In January, Greenpeace obtained an exchange of emails between EO.N - the company hoping the build the new plant (yes the same EO.N that broadcasts footage of fluttering sycamore keys, suggesting that its dirty old habits have gone with the wind) - and Gary Mohammed, the civil servant drawing up the planning conditions(8). Mohammed begins by sending an email of such snivelling obsequiousness that you can almost smell the fear on it. “Drafting the conditions for Kingsnorth. If possible I would like to cover CCS … I admit this suggested condition could be without justification and premature but no harm in trying to gauge your opinion.” (This “suggested condition” was actually government policy. Who’s running this country?) EO.N replied by claiming that the secretary of state “has no right to withhold approval for conventional plant” (in fact he has every right). All it would allow the government to specify was that the potential for CCS “will be investigated.” Mr Mohammed wrestled with his conscience for all of six minutes before replying. “Thanks. I won’t include. Hope to get the set of draft conditions out today or tomorrow.”

This exchange took place in mid-January, a few days before the European Commission published a proposed directive specifying that all new coal-fired power stations must be CCS ready(9). Mr Mohammed must have known that he was helping EO.N to win approval for the plant before the directive comes into force next year.

You might by now be beginning the derive the impression that carbon capture and storage is not the green panacea that ministers have suggested. But you haven’t heard the half of it. Even if it does become a viable means of disposing of carbon dioxide, new figures suggest that it’s likely to enhance rather than reduce our total emissions.

For the companies which will bid to bury the gas, one technique is more attractive than the others. This is to pump it into declining oil fields. The gas dissolves into the remaining oil, reducing its viscosity and pushing it into the production wells. It’s called enhanced oil recovery (EOR). The oil the companies sell offsets some of the costs of carbon storage.

A few weeks ago, the green thinker Jim Bliss roughly calculated the environmental costs of this technique. He used as his case study the scheme BP proposed (but abandoned last year) for pumping CO2 into the Miller Field off the coast of Scotland. It would have buried 1.3m tonnes of CO2 and extracted 40 million barrels of oil(10). Taking into account only the four major fuel products, Bliss worked out that the total carbon emissions would outweigh the savings by between seven and fifteen times(11)*.

So has the government ruled out enhanced oil recovery? Not a bit of it. Its memo about the demonstration project says that Mr Hutton’s department “will want to ensure that the treatment of EOR and non-EOR projects are dealt with on a level playing field basis.”(12) Another document suggests it favours this technique: enhanced oil recovery will lead to “increased energy security, domestic revenue and employment”(13). But, the government notes, this will have to happen before the North Sea’s oil infrastructure is dismantled. “Now is the perfect opportunity to realise the significant opportunities offered by CCS.”(14)

Like biofuels and micro wind turbines, carbon capture and storage turns out to be another great green scam. It will come too late to prevent runaway climate change, the government has no intention of enforcing it and even if it had the technique is likely to boost our carbon emissions. This is what John Hutton calls “meeting our international obligations”(15). Heaven knows what breaking them might look like.

*Jim Bliss has now been in touch to say that he was misled by the wording of BP’s press release. The scheme would in fact have stored 1.3m tonnes of CO2 per annum, which means that it would have resulted in a net CO2 saving (of around 50%). My apologies for this mistake.



2. John Hutton, 10th March 2008. The Future of Utilities. Speech to the Adam Smith Institute.

3. The commonest technique for flue gas desulphurisation is the limestone gypsum process. As well as making the power station slightly less efficient, the chemical reaction produces CO2. The two key reactions are:

CaCO3 + SO2 = CaSO3 + CO2


CaSO3 + _O2 + 2H2O = CaSO42H2O

See: Dept of Trade and Industry, March 2003. Flue Gas Desulphurisation (Fgd)
Technologies For Coal-Fired Combustion Plant.

4. BERR, 19th November 2007. Competition for a Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage
Demonstration Project. Project Information Memorandum.

5. Greenpeace, 2007. Letter to Alistair Darling.

6. Here’s how Greenpeace makes this calculation:
“In December 2007, Gordon Brown said he aspired to an 80% cut in emissions by 2050.
That would give us a carbon budget of 117.8mt/CO2/per year. The new coal plants
currently proposed – 10.6 GW of capacity - would emit more than 54 million tonnes of
carbon dioxide which represents almost half of that quota. (10.6 GW x 7884 hours of
generation per year, assuming 90% operational = 83.57 TWH/y. 83.57 TWH/y x 0.65 = 54

7. This is 80% of the 1990 level, namely 161.5MtC (please note that this weight refers to elemental C, not CO2). That leaves 32.3MtC.

The Dept for Transport’s conservative figures suggest aviation emissions will rise to 15.7 MtC by 2050. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that net radiative forcing from aircraft emissions is 2.7 times that of the CO2 alone, which gives a nominal carbon equivalent of 42.4MtC. The government’s figures systematically underestimate the UK’s contribution, by assuming that British people are responsible for 50% of the seats on flights leaving or arriving in the UK. The true figure is 70%, which means the total equivalent figure is 59.35MtC.

8. You can read these emails here:

9. Commission Of The European Communities, 23rd January 2008. Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the geological storage of carbon dioxide and amending Council Directives 85/337/EEC, 96/61/EC, Directives 2000/60/EC, 2001/80/EC, 2004/35/EC, 2006/12/EC and Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006.

10. BP, 30th June 2005. BP’s plan to generate electricity from hydrogen and capture carbon dioxide could set a new standard for cleaner energy. Press release.

11. Jim Bliss, 17th January 2008. Oil companies and Climate Change.
Jim Bliss was asked to do this by the environmental writer Merrick Godhaven.

12. BERR, 19th November 2007, ibid.

13. The North Sea Basin Task Force, June 2007. Storing CO2 under the North Sea Basin – a key solution for combating climate change, p9.

14. ibid, p9.

100,000: The Number of New Wells Needed to Store America's Carbon Underground

Stacy Feldman, March 25, Solve Climate

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) would take coal out of the ground, burn it for energy in coal plants and put the leftover gas back in the Earth where it came from.

It’s an idea whose time may never come, and here’s another reason why, from a new article in the Energy Tribune, Carbon Sequestration: Injecting Realities: The number of new wells needed to store the CO2 at large scales is likely to be huge and unrealistic.

As many as 100,000, in fact, depending on geological factors.

The writer of the analysis is Dr. Xina Xie, a research engineer out of the University of Wyoming. She took a hard look at the petroleum industry which has been shooting the Earth full of carbon dioxide for 30 years already to see what can be expected.

If the Kyoto Protocol emission standard (5 percent below the 1990 emission level) is executed, or if emissions are kept at the 2005 level, enormous amounts of carbon dioxide will have to be injected, requiring thousands of wells to be drilled.

The industry uses a process called enhanced oil recovery (EOR) to do the job, and it works like this:

EOR injects CO2 into depleted oil wells where expands and forces oil that was once impossible to obtain to the surface, essentially prolonging the lifespan of the well. So Dr. Xie looked at the option of injecting the carbon dioxide that's captured from CCS straight into existing oil reserves. Makes sense, right?

The reserves have already been proven suitable for sequestration. And, instead of just burying a coal plant's CO2 into the Earth with nothing to do, it would give the CO2 a purpose: to produce more oil or natural gas.

However, in a CCS nation, those tens of thousands of wells couldn’t do the storage job. Not even close. Not if the goal is wide-scale deployment of the technology.

Dr. Xie found that up to 100,800 new wells would be needed by 2030 in America if Washington commits to meeting the Kyoto Protocol emission requirement and keeping total carbon emissions at 2005 levels. Daunting, if not totally impossible. Business-as-usual would require far more.

In sum, if today’s existing wells were to be deployed for large-scale CO2 storage, they would quickly run out. And thousands and thousands and thousands of new ones would have to built.

Big chunk of Antarctic ice shelf falling apart

AFP, March 26

Antarctica's massive Wilkins Ice Shelf has begun disintegrating under the effects of global warming, satellite images by the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center showed.

The collapse of a substantial section of the shelf was triggered February 28 when an iceberg measuring 41 by 2.4 kilometers (25.5 by 1.5 miles) broke off its southwestern front. That movement led to disintegration of the shelf's interior, of which 414 square kilometers (160 square miles) have already disappeared, scientists say.

The Wilkins Ice Shelf is a broad plate of permanent floating ice 1,609 kilometers (1,000 miles) south of South America, on the southwest Antarctic Peninsula.

Now, as a result of recent losses, a large part of the 12,950-square-kilometer (5,000-square-mile) shelf is supported by a narrow 5.6-kilometer (3.5-mile) strip of ice between two islands, scientists said.

"If there is a little bit more retreat, this last 'ice buttress' could collapse and we'd likely lose about half the total ice shelf area in the next few years," NSIDC lead scientist Ted Scambos said in a statement.

"Wilkins is the largest ice shelf on West Antarctica yet to be threatened. This shelf is hanging by a thread," echoed David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey, which contributed data on the break-up.

Jim Elliott, who was onboard a British Antarctic Survey Twin Otter aircraft sent to video the extent of the damage, said the scene looked like a bomb site.

"I've never seen anything like this before -- it was awesome," he said in a BAS statement.

"We flew along the main crack and observed the sheer scale of movement from the breakage.

"Big hefty chunks of ice, the size of small houses, look as though they've been thrown around like rubble -- it's like an explosion."

Antarctica has suffered unprecedented warming in the last 50 years -- with several ice shelves retreating and six of them collapsing since the 1970s.

"Climate warming in the Antarctic Peninsula has pushed the limit of viability for ice shelves further south, setting some of them that used to be stable on a course of retreat and eventual loss," Vaughan said.

Vaughan said the Wilkins breakout would not affect sea levels because it was already floating when it broke off.

"But it is another indication of the impact that climate change is having on the region."

Over the past half century, the western Antarctic Peninsula has experienced the steepest temperature increase on Earth, 0.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 Farenheit) per decade.

"We believe the Wilkins has been in place for at least a few hundred years, but warm air and exposure to ocean waves are causing a breakup," said Scambos, who first spotted the disintegration in March.

With the Antarctic summer drawing to a close, scientists do not expect the ice shelf to further disintegrate in the next several months.

"This unusual show is over for this season," said Scambos. "But come January, we'll be watching to see if the Wilkins continues to fall apart."

Ultimately, ice shelf breakup in the Antarctic -- more than 13,000 square kilometers (5,000 square miles) have been lost over the past 50 years -- could significantly increase ocean levels around the world.

In 1995 the Larsen A Ice Shelf -- 75 kilometers (47 miles) long and 35 kilometers (22 miles) wide -- disintegrated, fragmenting into icebergs in the Weddell Sea.

In March 2002, a NASA satellite captured the collapse of Larsen B, which had a surface area of 3,850 square kilometers (1,486 square miles), was 200 meters (656 feet) high, and packed in 720 billion tonnes of ice. It took just 30 days to break apart.

According to some calculations based on the present sea level rise of three millimeters per year (0.11 inches), ocean levels could rise by 1.4 meters (4.6 feet) by the end of the century.

The Qollasuyo Declaration: Indigenous Peoples Demand Full Participation in Climate Talks and Decisions

Climate and Capitalism, March 19

The statement below was issued on March 19, at the conclusion of a conference held in the Qollasuyo district of the province of La Paz, Bolivia, on “The Role of Indigenous Peoples in the Protection of Bio-Cultural Diversity: The Effect of Deforestation and Gas Emissions on Climate Change.”

According to a report in the Chilean newspaper El Rancahuaso, the meeting was sponsored by six groups:

  • Coordinating Body of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin;
  • Andean Coordinating Committee of Indigenous Organizations;
  • Indigenous Council of Central America;
  • United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues;
  • Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues;
  • Fund for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The conference recommendations will be submitted to Seventh Session of the Permanent UN Forum on Indigenous Issues, which will be held from April 21 to May 2 in New York City. The theme of that session will be “Climate Change, Bio-Cultural Diversity and Livelihoods: The Stewardship Role of Indigenous Peoples, and New Challenges.”

The Qollasuyo Declaration on Climate Change

The Indigenous Peoples of Abya Yala [the Americas] have gathered in the International Conference on “The Role of Indigenous Peoples in the Protection of Bio-Cultural Diversity: The Effect of Deforestation and Gas Emissions on Climate Change.”

With great respect for our ancestors and our Mother Earth, we declare that:

The Indigenous Peoples, who inhabit the most fragile ecosystems on the planet, including tropical rain forests, deserts, moors, mountains and islands, are the most vulnerable to the effects of global warming. The impact of climate change endangers our Mother Earth, our culture, our environment and our livelihood.

These changes are the result of the Western model of development, which is based on a rapacious capitalism that does not respect Mother Earth. In this century it is estimated that the average temperature will rise 1.8°C to 4.0°C, accelerating the impact of climate change on Indigenous Peoples. We insist that industrialized countries are solely responsible for the changes that are profoundly affecting Mother Earth, and we reject any suggestion that indigenous peoples have any responsibility for them.

The catastrophic effect of these changes can already be perceived in our territories: chaotic climatic problems including prolonged rainfall, flooding and droughts, deglaciation, rising sea levels, the expansion of endemic diseases, fires in the tropical rain forest, changes in the growing season. They are breaking the chain of life, threatening the survival of our peoples, and inducing high rates of extreme poverty. Indigenous women are particularly affected.

Even though we suffer disproportionately from climate change today, change caused mainly by excessive exploitation of natural resources, we are marginalized when attention turns to the development of policies and programs to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Multilateral agencies, the private sector, international NGOs and governments, etc. are proposing mitigation and adaptation policies that, although advanced as “solutions,” affect the exercise of our rights and outrageously assault our way of life. These supposed “solutions” include development of monoculture farming, production of biofuels, carbon sequestration, reduced emissions through avoiding deforestation and creating protected areas.

Historically, as different environmental pressures have affected our surroundings, Indigenous Peoples have been able to use our traditional knowledge to adapt. Because we still have that ability, we can propose alternative approaches to adaptation and mitigation.

It is time for Indigenous Peoples to be full participants in the national and international processes, discussions and actions related to climate change, biodiversity, protected areas etc.

Therefore we demand:

1. Full and effective participation in the processes of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the conventions on Biological Diversity and Protected Areas, and others.

2. Establishment of an indigenous expert group on climate change and traditional knowledge within the UNFCCC.

3. Coordination with agencies and specialized agencies of the United Nations such as the CBD, UNFCCC, UNESCO, FAO, UNICEF, GEF, UNPFII, UNDP and others that are involved in implementing actions and policies on climate change that affect Indigenous Peoples.

4. That the Permanent Forum [on Indigenous Peoples] recommend that a Special Rapporteur from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights produce a report on the impact of Climate Change on Indigenous Peoples.

5. Projects and programs related to climate change and adaptation should:

a. Fully respect the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples.

b. Consult effectively in advance, to obtain free and informed consent.

c. Be subject to the requirements of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Convention 169 of the ILO, and other relevant national and international agreements.

d. Respond to the needs, priorities and real experiences of Indigenous Peoples.

6. The implementation of UNFCCC policies should be subject to the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

7. Financial mechanisms to ensure that Indigenous Peoples have access to funds for adaptation, capability development, technology transfer, etc. should be expanded and made more flexible.

8. Programs and strategies specific to the climate change mitigation and adaptation needs of Indigenous People should be recognized and supported.

Adopted in Qollasuyo, La Paz, Bolivia, March 2008

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wind power breaks records in Spain

AFP, March 26

MADRID (AFP) — Wind power is breaking new records in Spain, accounting for just over 40 percent of all electricity consumed during a brief period last weekend, the country's wind power association said Tuesday.

As heavy winds lashed Spain on Saturday evening wind parks generated 9,862 megawatts of power which translated to 40.8 percent of total consumption due to low demand during the Easter holiday weekend, AEE said.

Between Friday and Sunday wind power accounted for an average of 28 percent of all electricity demand in Spain, which is a leading world producer of such energy, a statement from the association said.

The record for power generated by Spain's wind parks was set on March 4 at 10,032 megawatts, but as it was a regular working day this accounted for less percentage demand.

Spain's wind power generation equalled that of hydropower for the first time in 2007.

In July the government approved legislation that will allow offshore wind parks to be set up along the nation's vast coastline in an effort to boost the use of renewable energy sources.

While more expensive than land-based wind farms, offshore wind parks can take advantage of stronger, steadier coastal breezes.

Spain, which along with Germany and Denmark, is among the three biggest producers of wind power in the 27-nation European Union, is aiming to triple the amount of energy it derives from renewable sources by 2020.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cuba's ecological future faces uncertainty

Cornelia Dean, March 21, New York Times

Once Castro era, U.S. embargo end, experts worry about exploitation of country's resources

Through accidents of geography and history, Cuba is a priceless ecological resource. That is why many scientists are so worried about what will become of it after Fidel Castro and his associates leave power and, as is widely anticipated, the American government relaxes or ends its trade embargo.

Cuba, by far the region's largest island, sits at the confluence of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Its mountains, forests, swamps, coasts and marine areas are rich in plants and animals, some seen nowhere else. And since the imposition of the embargo in 1962, and especially with the collapse in 1991 of the Soviet Union, its major economic patron, Cuba's economy has stagnated.

Cuba has not been free of development, including Soviet-style top-down agricultural and mining operations and, in recent years, an expansion of tourism. But it also has an abundance of landscapes that elsewhere in the region have been ripped up, paved over or otherwise destroyed in the decades since the Cuban revolution, when development has been most intense. Once the embargo ends, the island could face a flood of investors from the United States and elsewhere, eager to exploit those landscapes.

Conservationists, environmental lawyers and other experts, from Cuba and elsewhere, met last month in Cancun, Mexico, to discuss the island's resources and how to continue to protect them.

Cuba has done "what we should have done -- identify your hot spots of biodiversity and set them aside," said Oliver Houck, a professor of environmental law at Tulane University Law School, who attended the conference.

In the late 1990s, Houck was involved in an effort, financed in part by the MacArthur Foundation, to advise Cuban officials writing new environmental laws.

But, he said in an interview, "an invasion of U.S. consumerism, a U.S.-dominated future, could roll over it like a bulldozer" when the embargo ends.By some estimates, tourism in Cuba is increasing by 10 percent annually. At a minimum, Orlando Rey Santos, the Cuban lawyer who led the law writing effort, said in an interview at the conference, "we can guess that tourism is going to increase in a very fast way" when the embargo ends.

About 700 miles long and about 100 miles wide at its widest, Cuba runs from Haiti west almost to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. It offers crucial habitat for birds, like Bicknell's thrush, whose summer home is in the mountains of New England and Canada, and the North American warblers that stop in Cuba on their way south for the winter.

Zapata Swamp, on the island's southern coast, is known for its fish, amphibians, birds and other creatures. Among them is the Cuban crocodile, which has retreated to Cuba from a range that once ran from the Cayman Islands to the Bahamas.

Cuba has the most biologically diverse populations of freshwater fish in the region. Its relatively large underwater coastal shelves are crucial for numerous marine species, including some whose larvae can be carried by currents into waters of the United States, said Ken Lindeman, a marine biologist at Florida Institute of Technology.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Fossil Fools Day 2008

Climate Change | Social Change Conference

Climate Change |Social Change

A conference to strengthen radical social action to stop climate change

April 11-13, 2008
Sydney Girls High School (near corner Anzac Parade & Cleveland streets, Surry Hills) Sydney

The world is teetering on the brink of unstoppable climate change. Many now recognise the need for serious change in the way we produce and use energy, our transport systems, food production, urban design and forestry practices. Yet politicians are still mouthing platitudes while allowing corporations to continue to profit from polluting our atmosphere and destroying our ecosystem.

The need for social change has become an urgent part of preventing catastrophic climate change. Can the market fix the problem? What is the real record of carbon trading? How can we build a social movement capable of averting this disaster? What models and experiences can offer real solutions?

To strengthen the exchange of ideas and contribute towards that urgent action Green Left Weekly is organising the Climate Change | Social Change conference from April 11-13, 2008, in Sydney.

We are pleased to have confirmed:

Speakers from Australia speakers include:

  • Matt Thistlethwaite — Unions NSW deputy assistant secretary
  • John Kaye — Greens NSW MLC
  • Stephanie Long — Friends of the Earth Australia's international climate justice spokesperson; works on FoE International's climate change campaign
  • Dr Mark Diesendorf — Institute of Environmental Studies, University of NSW
  • Tim Anderson — senior lecturer political economy, Sydney University
  • David Spratt — co-editor, Climate Code Red
  • Marlene Obeid — solidarity activist
  • Dr Jim Green — Friends of the Earth anti-nuclear campaigner
  • Dick Nichols — author of Environment, Capitalism and Socialism
  • Renfrey ClarkeGreen Left Weekly environment correspondent
  • Cam Walker — Friends of the Earth, Melbourne
  • John Rice — Adelaide Ecosocialist Network
  • Adrian Whitehead — Zero Emissions Network
  • Pat Eatock — elder from the Kairie community in central Queensland and secretary of the National Aboriginal Alliance
  • Stuart Rosewarne — co-editor of Journal of Australian Political EconomyCapitalism, Nature, Socialism and
  • Donna Jackson — Larrakia/Wulna woman who helped establish the Top End Aboriginal Conservation Alliance
  • James Goodman — researcher on social movements at the University of Technology Sydney writer on Southern responses to global warming

If you would like to present a workshop, exhibit your artwork or register interest in the conference email Workshop submissions close on March 16, 2008.

To receive updates about the conference, send an email to

For more info go to:

Registration costs

2 days/whole conf1 day/session
High school$20$10
Public meeting$6/$4 (included in registration free)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Corporate vs. Popular Solutions to the Climate Crisis

GJEP Presentation on Global Warming at Left Forum
Climate Change: Crisis and Opportunity

Anne Petermann, GJEP Co-Director, March 15, Global Justice Equality Project

Global warming is humanity's greatest challenge. As such, we must tackle this issue on several fronts. We must build opposition to the corporate-controlled false solutions to climate change that dominates the media, in order to open space for discussion of real solutions. We must make climate justice a core part of our work. We must make broad and visionary alliances with allied movements around the world, and we must begin the fundamental transformation of society that will be required to truly and effectively address the climate crisis.

Global Warming = Global War
Growing human population coupled with gross overconsumption in Developed Countries has culminated in a severely shrinking resource base, as evidenced by pandemic ecological crises and by global warming itself. The intensification of the impacts from climate change is further depleting resources such as water and soils, and threatens widespread destruction of forests and their biodiversity. Wars for resources have already begun. In February 2004, a Pentagon report on global warming was leaked. It predicted that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. They went on to say that the threat to global security vastly eclipses that of terrorism, concluding, "disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life. Once again warfare would define human life." In 1980 Jimmy Carter pronounced the Carter Doctrine that enables the US to go to whatever lengths are necessary to ensure an uninterrupted supply of oil from the Middle East.

Then there is the role of the World Bank, which is currently headed up by former US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick. Zoellick was one of the main architects of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and is one of the people behind the Project for a New American Century, the neoconservative blueprint for American Empire. The World Bank is one of the primary engines of global warming. According to the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, when the World Bank was entrusted with promoting and developing renewable energies, they have spent well over $30 billion on fossil fuel exploitation (over 7 times what they spent on renewables). And where are these fossil fuels going? Over 80% of them are being exported to G8 countries. The World Bank has now insinuated itself into the global effort to stave off climate change by assuming the role of the world's carbon trading broker (and netting a tidy sum for itself in the form of a 13% trading commission). Hence the World Bank is a global funder of climate change at the same time that it is a central player in the promotion and implementation of massive-scale, market-based false solutions including carbon trading, carbon offsets like monoculture tree plantations, incinerators, large-scale hydropower and biofuels (more appropriately named agrofuels).

Some of the most extreme examples of the capitalist climate denial: With the spectre of climate catastrophe looming, fossil fuels companies are developing the tar sands in Alberta, Canada where they plan to destroy a tract of boreal forest the size of Florida to access the tar sands beneath. Extracting the fuel from the tarsands is very energy intensive and it takes about 2 gallons of fossil fuels to access 3 gallons of fuel from the tar sands.

As a second absurd example, at the same time that scientists and arctic peoples are raising increasingly urgent alarms about the melting of the arctic regions due to global warming and excessive carbon emissions, oil companies are competing to claim the vast oil reserves that lie beneath the melting arctic, while at the same time celebrating the opening of the Northwest Passage and new trade routes. The logical disconnect displayed here is frightening and exemplifies the disaster capitalism approach to climate change.

Disaster Capitalism and Climate Change

The disaster capitalists are seizing on global warming as the newest means to:
• expand and consolidate corporate power (biofuels, for example are being promoted through an unprecedented cooperation between oil, biotechnology, agro-industrial and timber corporations);
• take further control of the commons (through schemes like the World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, the UN's REDD [Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries] and through what we have seen since Hurricane Katrina, with land being taken away from people and handed over to developers).
• further the commodification of life (the most extreme example of this being the work by scientific extremists to manufacture entirely new organisms for the production of agrofuels)
• enhance personal wealth
• prolong the continuation of business as usual.

Among the various profit-making false solutions to climate change being promoted by the disaster capitalists, agrofuels are one of the more egregious examples. First came agrofuels manufactured out of food crops like corn. These food-based fuels were quickly and loudly denounced for their obvious impacts on the world food supply. But besides making food scarcer and more expensive, thereby driving up rates of starvation, agrofuels made from feedstocks like corn were also shown in studies to use more fossil fuels to create than the agrofuels that were produced, causing a negative impact on the climate. They also had nasty side effects. The diversion of corn in the U.S. into agrofuels led to record prices for the crop. This in turn caused many soy farmers in the U.S. to change over to corn. This was followed by a dip in the soybean market which drove up the price of soy, leading to a rapid acceleration of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest for the expansion of soy monocultures in Brazil.

The solution, we are now told, is second generation biofuel technologies that do not use food feedstocks, but rather cellulose-based feedstocks, such as trees and switchgrass. These, too, however are solely about corporate profit, not about truly sustainable fuels. First of all, cellulosic agrofuels do nothing to address the question of land being redirected out of producing food and into producing fuel crops. Second, agrofuels are being used to promote new and unproven technologies such as the highly controversial and dangerous genetic engineering of trees. GE trees are one of the main feedstocks being promoted for the manufacture of cellulosic ethanol. GE trees, (which, incidentally, are also being proposed for carbon offset forestry plantations), threaten to contaminate native forests and indigenous lands with engineered pollen and seeds, leading to devastating and irreversible impacts on forests, wildlife and nearby human communities. Corporations such as International Paper, MeadWestvaco, ArborGen and others stand to profit handsomely from the commercialization of GE trees.

Eliminating these corporate-controlled false solutions to global warming is critical to make room for the real, community-controlled solutions to global warming.

In addition to working against false solutions, we must also work for climate justice.
Indigenous and rural peoples, women and the poor are already on the front lines of the climate struggle, being impacted most severely by climate change. The UN estimates that between 1995-2005 over 500,000 people in so-called developing countries were killed as a result of climate change while another 2.5 million were directly impacted by it. Because in many regions indigenous peoples have been careful stewards of their ancestral lands, these lands are now being coveted by the World Bank, corporations, governments and others that seek to take control of these lands: for the rich resources they contain; for the development of agrofuel feedstocks or monoculture tree plantation carbon sinks; and now also for the important role they can play in carbon offsetting schemes under the World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, or under the UN's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation scheme. Both of these schemes seek to take control of regions with intact forests and protect them as human exclusion zones by relocating resident communities so that the carbon absorbed by these forests can be used to offset the emissions of polluters in the North. This environmental protection = human exclusion model has been perfected over the years by the likes of Conservation International, the World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy. In fact, at the World Bank's press conference during the UN Climate Convention in Bali where Zoellick first announced the Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, The Nature Conservancy pledged $5 million to the effort.

However, as one of the steps toward truly addressing climate change, Indigenous peoples must be given autonomy and the right to control their ancestral lands.

Because of the inherent injustice of REDD and the FCPF, indigenous peoples were joined by people from around the world to stage a loud and angry protest outside of Zoellick's press conference in Bali. This was, in fact, the most hopeful thing that emerged from the Bali talks where once again the US bullied the rest of the world into accepting "The Bali Roadmap"--a deal with no hard targets for emissions reductions, but rather a vague agreement to talk about potential action on climate change at future meetings.

Social movements, indigenous peoples organizations and NGOs came together numerous times throughout the UN Climate Convention in Bali to demand real action on climate change, oppose false solutions and to stand up for climate justice. Out of these actions emerged a new international alliance called Climate Justice Now!

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One challenge for the international climate change movement is upping the ante sufficiently over the next two years to force the international climate negotiations to take real, effective action to address global warming. In the UN arena, all eyes are focused toward a new post-Kyoto Protocol agreement to take effect in 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires. The negotiations for this post-2012 framework are happening now. They hope to finalize the terms for this agreement in Copenhagen during the UN Climate Convention there in December 2009. This means that the international climate movement needs to ramp up its militancy to force the negotiators to include action steps that are truly meaningful and not controlled by corporate interests.

As the London Guardian pointed out after the UN climate negotiations in 2000, "what has been singularly lacking [in the climate change debate] has been any widesprad popular campaign. There have been no Seattle-style protests... Politicians respond to pressure. When they have big, angry demonstrations outside their conference centers, it focuses their minds..."

Key role of the US movement against climate change
The movement against global warming in the United States plays a pivotal role in the global effort to stop climate change. This is for a few reasons:
• With 6% of the world's population, the US emits 25% of the world's GHG.
• The US and the US-controlled World Bank dominate the discussion of what to do about global warming with market-based false solutions.
• The historic role of the US in the international climate negotiations has been to obstruct any forward progress.

In much the same way that the Seattle protests bolstered the position of the underdog countries in the WTO negotiations, ultimately derailing them, a US mobilization in support of countries fighting for real action on climate change at the international level could help neutralize the obstructive role of the US by demonstrating that even the country's own citizens do not support the government's intransigence on this issue.

The global warming crisis opens the door to the fundamental transformation of society toward which the left has been working for countless years.

While raising the militancy of the movement toward international climate negotiations is a crucial component of forward motion on climate change, we must also take lessons from the social movements around the world that are already taking direct action on issues related to climate change. Indigenous peoples in Brazil are taking back their ancestral lands, cutting the eucalyptus plantations and re-establishing villages. A few days ago 900 women from Via Campesina occupied a eucalyptus plantation and cut down the trees. 800 women and children were violently arrested. Social movements based on small island nations in the Pacific are struggling for the very survival of their peoples. The US climate movement must project these voices and stand in solidarity with them. The model of community action at the local level is a key part of the solution to climate change.

Let's be clear, we cannot buy our way out of this crisis. Consuming more stuff, even energy efficient stuff, is not the answer. This still requires fossil fuels to mine the resources for the stuff, to manufacture the stuff and to transport the stuff.

An issue as comprehensive and wide-reaching as global warming, however, does offer us the critically important opportunity to identify and address its root causes, which are the same root causes of social injustice, economic domination and environmental destruction.

The myriad solutions to global warming will come, not from the top down, but from communities identifying locally appropriate sustainable solutions that are both decentralized and recognize the importance of local control and bioregional distinctions.

This is the future toward which we are working. We urge you to join us.

GJEP Co-Director Orin Langelle contributed to this presentation.

Popular 'green' products test positive for toxicant

Marla Cone, March 14, LA Times

New tests of 100 "natural" and "organic" soaps, shampoos and other consumer products show that nearly half of them contained a cancer-causing chemical that is a byproduct of petrochemicals used in manufacturing.

Many items that tested positive for the carcinogen are well-known brands, including Kiss My Face, Alba, Seventh Generation and Nature's Gate products, sold in retail stores across the nation.

Consumer advocate: This article gives the wrong last name for a consumer advocate who directed a study of "natural" soaps and other products. He is David Steinman, not Steinberg.

The findings of the Organic Consumers Assn., a consumer advocacy group, are sending a jolt through the natural products industry. Gathering today in Anaheim for a national trade show, many leaders worry that the test results will taint the industry in the eyes of the public.

Of the 100 products tested, 47 had detectable levels of 1,4-dioxane, which the Environmental Protection Agency has declared a probable human carcinogen because it causes cancer in lab animals.

Most traditional soaps and shampoos contain 1,4-dioxane. But the discovery that the chemical is present in many housecleaning and personal care products, including some for babies, that are advertised as being natural, organic or "green" comes as somewhat of a surprise.

"For companies to knowingly or even carelessly put a carcinogen into commerce in this day and age is barbaric, I think, particularly products that have the moniker of natural or self-proclaimed 'organic,' " said consumer advocate and author David Steinberg, who directed the study.

"We need standards," he said. "Consumers walk into a health-food store or natural-product supermarket with the expectation that the product they purchase will be natural or safer than what they could purchase at the drugstore or supermarket."

The compound is not intentionally added to products; it is a byproduct of a process used to soften harsh detergents. It is formed when foaming agents, or surfactants, are processed with ethylene oxide or similar petrochemicals.

Said Martin Wolf, Seventh Generation Inc.'s director of product and environmental technology, "The natural world is filled with things that can harm. . . . All we can do is work as hard as we can to keep the levels as low as possible and keep our products as safe as possible."

Hain Celestial Group, the Boulder, Colo.-based owner of four of the tested companies -- Alba, Jason, Avalon Organics and Zia Natural Skincare-- said Thursday that it would reevaluate all of its products. Two Alba and three Jason products contained 1,4-dioxane, but the chemical was not detected in tested Avalon and Zia products.

"We are committed to selling products without detectable levels of 1,4-dioxane . . . and will review all formulations accordingly," said Lisa Lehndorff, Hain Celestial's director of corporate consumer relations.

No one knows exactly what amount of the compound may be unsafe. In scientific studies, lab animals that had been fed 1,4-dioxane for many weeks developed nasal, liver and gall bladder cancers. But scientists do not now know what, if any, cancer risk humans face from years-long use of products containing the chemical.

The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates cosmetics, has set no standards for 1,4-dioxane. The agency has occasionally tested products for the compound since the late 1970s and says levels of it have substantially declined since then. The FDA says the current levels "do not present a hazard to consumers," although it has advised the industry to reduce amounts in cosmetics as much as possible.

Many companies in the "natural" business have been striving for years to eliminate 1,4-dioxane. They use coconut or other plant oils as surfactants, and they have reformulated products and added a process called vacuum-stripping. But traces still remain, in the parts-per-million range.

Josef Koester of Cognis Corp., a Cincinnati-based chemical company that caters to manufacturers seeking "green" compounds, said most companies can avoid 1,4-dioxane but that it "typically requires a higher price point and sometimes performance restrictions for the product. How green the formulators want to go -- it is their choice."

Some organic company owners said it is deceptive for many products to be called natural when the carcinogenic compound indicates that petrochemicals are used in their manufacture.

No standards govern the words natural or organic for personal care products. But a few companies, including TerrEssentials, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and Sensibility Soaps Inc., which makes the Nourish brand, have certified their products as organic under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food standards.

"It makes it really difficult for us to communicate real organic when our little voice gets lost in this sea of products that are all claiming to meet the [USDA organic] standard when, in fact, they don't," said Diana Kaye, co-founder of TerrEssentials, a small Maryland company. All six TerrEssentials soaps and other products tested were free of 1,4-dioxane.

Other brands, including Burt's Bees, Desert Essence and EO, are not certified to meet organic food standards but still contained no 1,4-dioxane in the tests.

But because the vast majority of shampoos, soaps and other consumer goods do not carry the USDA organic seal, it's nearly impossible for buyers to know whether the ones they use contain 1,4-dioxane because the chemical is not listed on ingredient labels. Products most likely to contain the compound usually list polyethylene glycol or compounds with the syllables PEG, short for polyethylene glycol, -eth or -oxynol-,according to the FDA.

Method, a San Francisco-based company whose products are sold at Target, intentionally does not call its products "natural," said co-founder Adam Lowry. Instead, the labels say "naturally derived" because the plant oils have been processed with ethylene oxide to make them better cleansers.

Three of its products were tested, and two -- its ultra-concentrated dish soap and a hand soap -- contained 1,4-dioxane.

"For us there are no alternatives that are still effective," Lowry said. "Unless you can have a high-performance product, if you have a green product or a natural product, then what's the point of having one that doesn't work?"

Method's creamy hand soap, which had 7 parts per million of 1,4-dioxane in the tests, has been reformulated and now contains none, Lowry said.

"We 100% believe that our products are completely safe and there's zero risk," he said.

Whole Foods on Thursday declined to say whether the test results would prompt any changes in products sold at its stores. Three of four products tested in Whole Foods' own product line, 365 Everyday Value, contained 1,4-dioxane.

Dishwashing liquids are particularly hard to keep free of 1,4-dioxane because they require surfactants that are powerful grease cutters.

Seventh Generation uses coconut oil in its dish soaps, which although it is processed with a petrochemical and vacuum-stripped, still contains almost 2 parts per million of 1,4-dioxane. Wolf said the only way to remove all traces would be to use another surfactant that irritates skin, which the Burlington, Vt.-based company considers unacceptable.

Seventh Generation is "working with several surfactant manufacturers to look for alternatives to this process to modify coconut oil," Wolf said. "We're not there yet. We have more work to do."

Island mentality

Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, March 16, The Guardian

On a warm early morning late last July, a large crowd stood in the concrete plaza on the outskirts of the central Cuban city of Camaguey. Raúl Castro Ruz, first vice-president of the Councils of State and Ministers and Maximum General of the Cuban armed forces, was there to address the nation. In thick glasses and his customary ball-cap, Raúl stood in for his ill older brother Fidel, who due to illness was unable to deliver one of his usual everlasting speeches. Never known for his charisma, and not fond of public-speaking, Raúl extolled his people's fortitude. He urged increased milk production, decried the price of chicken and described the meaning of Revolution - "the profound conviction that there is no force in the world capable of crushing the strength of truth and ideas," and "criticising what needs criticising." And he also stated "Cuba's willingness to discuss on equal footing the prolonged dispute with the United States".

On that day in Camaguey, I watched as Raúl delivered the customary oration for the national holiday, the 26 de Julio. (The date honours the 1953 day when a young Fidel led a quixotic assault on an army barracks of Fulgencio Batista, the dictator he would depose six years later.) As Raúl's concluding cry of Viva Fidel! faded from the loudspeakers and the crowd filed from the square, conversations turned to the fiestas that were for most Cubans the real focus of their holiday. The speech seemed to resonate little. Yet what is significant about the speech is what it (and its aftermath) illustrates about the continuity within Cuba, and also the chance Raúl Castro represents for the US to establish a sane policy toward the island.

Last month headlines worldwide blared that Fidel Castro was officially standing down. Soon after, Raúl Castro was officially installed as Cuba's first new head-of-state in 49 years. Castro's departure, which has preoccupied the last nine US presidents, was met in Cuba with quiet. "When Cubans rise up to demand their liberty," George Bush asked members of the Cuban armed forces last October, "will you defend a disgraced and dying order?" Three weeks ago, as in July 2006 when Fidel took ill, there was no rising up in Havana's streets.

Cuba's government - staffed by capable and canny bureaucrats in firm control of the military and police - is carrying off a transition with minimum apparent fuss. A dearth of stories about dissidents or demonstrations since Fidel handed off power has revealed what to many Americans is a vexing truth: that the quiet is owed to much more than repression. "What the past year has shown," said Julia Sweig, author of Inside the Cuban Revolution and director of Latin American Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, "is that the regime has sources of legitimacy that Washington for many decades has not wanted to recognise, and those sources of legitimacy go beyond Fidel."

Life in Cuba remains as it has long been: an often grim struggle to provide for one's family in a broken economy. The press is censored, the dual-currencies put consumer goods and basic supplies beyond Cubans' reach, the infrastructure is crumbling. For its many failings, however, Cuba is a society with safe streets and good schools, with a state that still looks after its young and old and keeps all its citizens healthy and housed. And as recent months have shown, it has a stable government, albeit one with a growing sense that its stability will soon depend on enacting reforms to better the lot of its people.

Last September, the state distributed a document throughout the island citing the "transcendence" of Raúl's speech, highlighting his injunction to "criticise what needs criticising". The document initiated an unprecedented process: a set of meetings in workplaces and community centres wherein all citizens were meant "to analyse and make proposals on the direction of the Revolution" - as the guia de debate put it, "in an environment of absolute freedom and sincerity".

The stated expectation was that the views taken down at these assemblies - with no names attached - would serve as the basis for reforms aimed at salving the ills of a society wherein "wages are clearly insufficient," as Raúl balefully acknowledged in his speech, "to play a role in ensuring the socialist principle that each should contribute according to their capacity and receive according to their work."

The meetings have taken place since October. Participants indicate that the gatherings have been freewheeling affairs with little self-censorship in evidence. "Why don't the Cuban people have the real possibility to stay at hotels or travel to different places?" asked one college student in a January forum attended by National Assembly head Ricardo Alarcón. "Why can't we use Google and Yahoo to access the internet?" demanded another. The spirit of critique has found expression in the state press. Last fall, Juventud Rebelde, the national daily of the Communist party's youth wing, ran a series of articles on shortcomings and graft in the nation's healthcare system - normally an untouchable topic.

The process's timing expressed the political intent behind it. The sanctioned airing of discontent ended in time for the newly elected National Assembly to appoint a new Council of State. In his speech accepting the council presidency three Sundays ago, Raúl Castro alluded to the meetings, and their coverage abroad. "The international doomsayers ... tried to capitalise on the criticisms made during the study and discussion of the speech made on July 26," he intoned. "They overlooked the fact that it was criticism and debate within socialism." The airing of grievances, it would seem, is meant to expand the new government's legitimacy - and Raúl Castro's authority to enact reforms. In his inaugural speech he mentioned some of those measures. He indicated that they could include a substantive increase in state-salaries and a relaxation of laws against earning dollars through private means. He also mentioned "an excess of prohibitions and regulations", which "in the next few weeks we will start removing".

Which "prohibitions and regulations" he meant was unclear at the time. This past Thursday, however, came news of the first to be lifted. Reuters reported on an internal government memo declaring an immediate end to the domestic retail ban on computers and DVD players, with air conditioners and toasters - all products nominally prohibited in order to save electricity - to become available soon. (In recent years, Fidel's most vocal obsession was energy conservation.) Though few Cubans can afford expensive electronics, the legalisation of such goods will send an important signal.

Raúl, the long-time army chief and dour party man, is now cast in the unlikely role of reformer. As he embarks on this delicate task, he will do so at the helm of a government bolstered from many sides. First among these is the petro-largesse of Hugo Chávez - estimated currently at $4-5bn annually in free fuel, for which Cuba pays in kind with the doctors, social workers and consultants who are essential to the functioning of Chávez's social misiones. Beyond ties with Venezuela - a relationship likely more valuable to Caracas than Havana - Cuba has in the past two years entered a preferential trade agreement with Mercosur, the South American trading block; increased economic cooperation with China; and augmented ties with northern nations such as Canada, which recently stepped up its investment in Cuba's energy infrastructure. In other words, many countries have invested in Cuba's stability - and possibly enjoy a position from which to influence its affairs. The United States has not.

It is for this reason, if no other, that current events on the island should prompt a re-evaluation of US policy toward it. The embargo, now nearing a half-century old and codified as law in 1992's Cuba Democracy Act, has had many effects. It has denied Cuba's people basic goods and given its government a steady scapegoat for its failings. It has prevented Americans from travelling to the island and prohibited US firms from trading with Cuba. And, since the Helms-Burton Act in1996, it has further alienated third-countries by penalising foreign companies in the United States who do business on the island. None of these effects hastened Castro's demise. The policy - it is an open secret in Washington today - is a monumental failure.

Thankfully there are signs that change could come. In a presidential debate before the recent Texas primary, Barack Obama reiterated that he'd be willing to hold talks, without preconditions, with Cuba's new leader. The Democratic frontrunner has also voiced support for repealing restrictions on Cuban-Americans sending remittances to and visiting their families on the island. Hillary Clinton calls Obama's position "irresponsible". John McCain calls it "dangerously naïve". However, a new approach to Cuba - a country that according to the Pentagon ceased many years ago to represent a security threat to the United States - reflects not merely a refreshing realism but canny politics as well.

US-Cuba policy, goes the cliché, is not a foreign policy but a domestic one aimed at Florida. The calculus regarding Miami's Cuban voters may be changing, however - in part due to those rules instituted by the Bush administration in 2004 that candidate Obama advocates lifting. The new rules cap family visits at one every three years. Such measures have traditionally intended to placate the clique of hard-line exiles long granted de facto oversight of US-Cuba policy. With the Miami old guard itself growing old, however, many Cuban-Americans harbour deep frustration at the Bush administration's retrenched efforts to "isolate Cuba". The new rules are loathed by many, especially newer arrivals. In the upcoming US election, Cuban-Americans could well support a candidate, Democrat or otherwise, who supports their repeal.

While shifting dynamics in Miami may alter the political calculus for a new American administration, other factors could provide the weight necessary to actually change the policy. Should oil reserves discovered in Cuban territorial waters in 2006 prove as substantial as some experts predict, that will spell, according to Cuba experts like the Council on Foreign Relations' Sweig "game over" for the US bloqueo. Last month, more than 100 members of Congress signed a letter to secretary of state Condoleezza Rice stating that "it is time for us to think and act anew" toward Cuba. For now, these advocates of lifting the embargo - among them farm-state Republicans from Nebraska and Kansas seeking access for their constituents to Cuban markets - are unlikely to force a winnable vote in Congress to do so. With the added entreaties of Big Oil to access crude 50 miles from Florida's Keys, this balance will surely change.

The ultimate trajectory of a Cuba sin Fidel remains to be seen. At least one essential fact about how it will be realised, though, is by now clear. As George Bush himself put it after Castro first took ill 19 months ago, in a statement that surely rankled those dwindling few still nurturing hopes of succession from without: "Cuba's next leader will come from Cuba."

The choice facing whomever occupies the White House next year is whether to deal proactively with this fact or to persist in a policy that is today a relic of the cold war. Last July in Camaguey, in addition to remarks addressed to his countrymen, Raúl Castro also offered, as he has repeatedly since, to enter into bilateral talks with the United States to discuss the two countries' "prolonged dispute." Our next president would do well - by Cuba's people, and by us - to accept.

Big polluters demand billion-dollar 'ransom'

Adam Morton, March 18, The Age

AUSTRALIA'S electricity generation industry is demanding massive compensation from the Federal Government in return for its co-operation in efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

In a challenge to the Government's climate adviser, Ross Garnaut, the power generators have warned of soaring costs to consumers and disruptions to supplies unless they are compensated for the costs of complying with anti-greenhouse laws.

With most of Australia's electricity coming coal-fired generators, the industry is the nation's largest producer of greenhouse emissions, and the main focus of efforts to curb them. A planned carbon trading system will force the industry to pay to emit greenhouse gas.

The National Generators Forum, in a submission to Professor Garnaut's Climate Change Review, has argued that failure to compensate the biggest polluters could, perversely, hurt the environment by directing industry funding away from clean energy research to maintaining baseload energy supply.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong yesterday unveiled a timetable for drawing up carbon trading legislation. The scheme, to start in 2010, will involve carbon emissions being capped and pollution permits sold at a market-set price.

The push by power companies for a payout is at odds with an interim report from by Professor Garnaut last month, which argued against sweeping compensation.

Climate Institute policy director Erwin Jackson has rejected the suggestion that refusing compensation to power generators would hurt the environment, arguing a strong emissions cap would force the market to invest in cleaner forms of energy.

"We shouldn't be giving (compensation) to industries that have failed to respond to what the market has been telling them was on the way for a long time," he said.

The debate coincides with worsening predictions about the pace of climate change, including a UN report that found glaciers melted nearly twice as fast in 2006 as in 2005.

With growing evidence that Asia-Pacific will be severely affected by climate change "in our lifetime", the Australian Climate Group — a collaboration between scientists, environmentalists and insurers — will today release a report calling on the Government to stabilise greenhouse emissions by 2010.

The National Generators Forum, representing 22 power generators, has estimated that Australia's electricity costs will soar from $78 billion to $150 billion if the Government target of a 60% cut in greenhouse emissions by 2050 is met.

Ms Wong said details of the emissions trading legislation would be released in December, preceded by a public discussion paper in July.

Professor Garnaut will release a report on emissions trading on Thursday.