Curbing climate change


News & Views

Staff & Wire Reports



FILE - In this file photo taken Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, a passenger airliner flies past steam and white smoke emitted from China Huaneng Group's Beijing power plant that was the last coal-fired plant to shut down on March 18, 2017 as the Chinese capital convert to clean energy like thermal power. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

FILE - In this file photo taken Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, a passenger airliner flies past steam and white smoke emitted from China Huaneng Group's Beijing power plant that was the last coal-fired plant to shut down on March 18, 2017 as the Chinese capital convert to clean energy like thermal power. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)


In this Nov. 20, 2018 photo workers decorate the venue of the global climate summit that will be held at the site of the closed 'Katowice' coal mine in the city of Katowice, southern Poland, where - three years after sealing a landmark global climate deal in Paris - world leaders are gathering again to agree on the fine print. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)


FILE - In this Jan. 7, 2011 file photo, people carry baskets of coal scavenged illegally at an open-cast mine in the village of Bokapahari in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. 2018 is expected to see another 2 percent increase in human-made emissions, as construction of coal-fired power plants in Asia and Africa continue while carbon-absorbing forests are felled faster than they can regrow. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer, File)


World faces ‘impossible’ task at post-Paris climate talks

By FRANK JORDANS and MONIKA SCISLOWSKA

Associated Press

Wednesday, November 28

KATOWICE, Poland (AP) — Three years after sealing a landmark global climate deal in Paris, world leaders are gathering again to agree on the fine print.

The euphoria of 2015 has given way to sober realization that getting an agreement among almost 200 countries, each with their own political and economic demands, will be challenging — as evidenced by President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris accord, citing his “America First” mantra.

“Looking from the outside perspective, it’s an impossible task,” Poland’s deputy environment minister, Michal Kurtyka, said of the talks he will preside over in Katowice from Dec. 2-14.

Top of the agenda will be finalizing the so-called Paris rulebook, which determines how countries have to count their greenhouse gas emissions, transparently report them to the rest of the world and reveal what they are doing to reduce them.

Seasoned negotiators are calling the meeting, which is expected to draw 25,000 participants, “Paris 2.0” because of the high stakes at play in Katowice.

Forest fires from California to Greece, droughts in Germany and Australia, tropical cyclones Mangkhut in the Pacific and Michael in the Atlantic — scientists say this year’s extreme weather offers a glimpse of disasters to come if global warming continues unabated.

A recent report by the International Panel on Climate Change warned that time is running out if the world wants to achieve the most ambitious target in the Paris agreement — keeping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). The planet has already warmed by about 1 degree C since pre-industrial times and it’s on course for another 2-3 degrees of warming by the end of the century unless drastic action is taken.

The conference will have “quite significant consequences for humanity and for the way in which we take care of our planet,” Kurtyka told the Associated Press ahead of the talks.

Experts agree that the Paris goals can only be met by cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050.

But the Paris agreement let countries set their own emissions targets. Some are on track, others aren’t. Overall, the world is heading the wrong way.

Last week, the World Meteorological Organization said globally averaged concentrations of carbon dioxide reached a new record in 2017, while the level of other heat-trapping gases such methane and nitrous oxide also rose.

This year is expected to see another 2 percent increase in human-made emissions, as construction of coal-fired power plants in Asia and Africa continue while carbon-absorbing forests are felled faster than they can regrow.

“Everyone recognized that the national plans, when you add everything up, will take us way beyond 3, potentially 4 degrees Celsius warming,” said Johan Rockstrom, the incoming director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“We know that we’re moving in the wrong direction,” said Rockstrom. “We need to bend the global carbon emissions no later than 2020 — in two years’ time — to stand a chance to stay under 2 degrees Celsius.”

Convincing countries to set new, tougher targets for emissions reduction by 2020 is a key challenge in Katowice.

Doing so will entail a transformation of all sectors of their economies, including a complete end to burning fossil fuel.

Poor nations want rich countries to pledge the biggest cuts, on the grounds that they’re responsible for most of the carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Rich countries say they’re willing to lead the way, but only if poor nations play their part as well.

“Obviously not all countries are at the same stage of development,” said Lidia Wojtal, an associate with Berlin-based consultancy Climatekos and a former Polish climate negotiator. “So we need to also take that into account and differentiate between the responsibilities. And that’s a huge task.”

Among those likely to be pressing hardest for ambitious measures will be small island nations, which are already facing serious challenges from climate change.

The U.S., meanwhile, is far from being the driving force it was during the Paris talks under President Barack Obama. Brazil and Australia, previously staunch backers of the accord, appear to be following in Trump’s footsteps.

Some observers fear nationalist thinking on climate could scupper all hope of meaningful progress in Katowice. Others are more optimistic.

“We will soon see a large enough minority of significant economies moving decisively in the right direction,” said Rockstrom. “That can have spillover effects which can be positive.”

Poland could end up playing a crucial role in bringing opposing sides together. The country has already presided over three previous rounds of climate talks, and its heavy reliance on carbon-intensive coal for energy is forcing Warsaw to mull some tough measures in the years ahead.

The 24th Conference of the Parties, or COP24 as it’s known, is being held on the site of a Katowice mine that was closed in 1999 after 176 years of coal production. Five out of the city’s seven collieries have been closed since the 1990s, as Poland phased out communist-era subsidies and moved to a market economy.

Yet elsewhere in the city, 1,500 miners still extract thousands of tons of coal daily. Poland also still depends on coal for some 80 percent of its energy needs.

Poland intends to send a signal that the miners’ futures, and those of millions of others whose jobs are at risk from decarbonization, are not being forgotten. During the first week of talks, leaders are expected to sign a Polish-backed declaration calling for a ‘just transition’ that will “create quality jobs in regions affected by transition to a low-carbon economy.”

Then negotiators will get down to the gritty task of trimming a 300-page draft into a workable and meaningful agreement that governments can sign off on at the end of the second week.

“(I) hope that parties will be able to reach a compromise and that we will be able to say that Katowice contributed positively to this global effort,” Kurtyka said.

Frank Jordans reported from Berlin.

Follow Frank Jordans on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/wirereporter

The Conversation

Trump, Saudi Arabia and the Khashoggi case: What would Obama have done?

November 28, 2018

Author

Steven Feldstein

Frank and Bethine Church Chair of Public Affairs & Associate Professor, School of Public Service, Boise State University

Disclosure statement

Steven Feldstein is affiliated as a nonresident fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and is a former official in the Obama administration

Partners

Boise State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

After weeks of ratcheting tension about who authorized the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump sought to put an end to the debate.

He issued a blunt public statement asserting that “we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” and instead he identified a much larger concern for the U.S.

Trump warned that Saudi Arabia is a key ally against terrorism and the “largest oil producing nation in the world.” Therefore, U.S. interests demand that it remain close partners with the Saudis.

Trump’s pronouncement met with widespread disapproval from both Republicans and Democrats as well as internationally.

But some foreign policy experts offer an alternative explanation. They maintain that the U.S. has a long history of allying itself with autocrats and dictators and Trump’s approach is not a drastic departure from existing U.S. foreign policy norms. Instead, Trump’s cardinal sin has been to state explicitly what had been understood implicitly.

As a former State Department official overseeing democracy and human rights programs, and now as a scholar of foreign policy and international relations, I believe this argument oversimplifies the complex relationship between interests and values in U.S. foreign policy over the last century.

Roosevelt the realist, Wilson the idealist

Since the start of the 20th century, U.S. foreign policy has vacillated between the “pragmatic realism” of Teddy Roosevelt and the “democratic idealism” of Woodrow Wilson.

For realists, international affairs is what scholar Jack Snyder calls a “struggle for power among self-interested states.” In contrast, liberalists or idealists believe that nations forge ties through trade, finance and shared democratic norms, leading to progress in relations between states.

It’s true that the U.S. has often thrown its weight behind tyrants and authoritarians. For example, President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939 allegedly said Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza “may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”

Other authoritarian leaders supported by the U.S. include Philippines strongman Ferdinand Marcos, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Pakistani President Yahya Khan.

But there are many countervailing examples of U.S. interest in human rights and democratic ideals abroad. Following the conclusion of World War II, the U.S. helped establish the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which sets out fundamental human rights to be universally protected, and chartered the United Nations, which provides peace and security through cooperation, not war.

More recently, the U.S. led efforts to stop ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and forestall mass civilian atrocities in Libya.

Most experts agree that Wilson’s strand of foreign policy idealism has eclipsed Roosevelt’s realism.

As former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger writes, Roosevelt’s realist “approach to international affairs died with him in 1919; no significant school of American thought on foreign policy has invoked him since. On the other hand, it is surely the measure of Wilson’s intellectual triumph that even Richard Nixon … considered himself above all a disciple of Wilson’s internationalism.”

Even the most hawkish U.S. presidents have incorporated a strong moral component into their foreign policy.

Ronald Reagan’s strategy in the Cold War was to encourage anti-communist resistance around the world. Under the Reagan doctrine, it did not matter whether the U.S. supported cold-blooded tyrants or murderous dictators, so long as they served as a hedge against communist encroachment.

However, Reagan painted this strategy in moral terms, not just transactionally. He deeply believed that the most serious threats to human rights came from totalitarian communists.

As scholars Jack Donnelly and Daniel J. Whelan observe, “For the Reagan administration, global strategic rivalry with the Soviet Union was a struggle for human rights, regardless of the actual human rights practices of the governments in question.”

This did not make U.S. support of dictators morally justifiable. But it does show that human rights received due attention when formulating U.S. policy.

If Obama had faced the Khashoggi murder

Would President Obama have adopted a different approach to Saudi Arabia and the Khashoggi murder?

Many foreign policy specialists point out that under Obama, the U.S. approved Saudi Arabia initiating a brutal war in Yemen due to larger strategic priorities. What were those priorities? To stay in good graces with a critical regional ally and maintain a bulwark against Iranian ambition.

The current predicament is rooted in decisions made by Obama, in particular providing too much leeway to the Saudi crown prince. But the similarities stop there.

Based on how the Obama administration managed other vexing partners in the region – such as Egypt, where it had to balance keeping the country as a security partner while admonishing it for human rights violations – I believe U.S. policy likely would have followed an alternative path.

First, the Obama administration would have consistently condemned Saudi actions.

It is hard to imagine Obama publicly contradicting a high-level intelligence report from the CIA pinning culpability on the Saudis, as President Trump has done. In fact, it is highly unlikely that such an intelligence leak would have happened at all under Obama’s watch – he always gave serious attention to recommendations from his bureaucracy.

Second, Obama would have pursued a more nuanced approach by making more deliberate use of existing diplomatic and economic tools to signal concern to the Saudis.

President Trump asserts that the U.S. either had to cut ties with Saudi or give them a free pass. That is a false choice.

The U.S. has many intermediate measures at its disposal – such as halting arms sales and increasingly punitive sanctions. Obama would have taken fuller advantage of these instruments.

Third, while Obama would have taken pains to preserve the relationship, he would have quietly sent a franker message to Saudi Arabia: Such behavior is intolerable, there must be accountability and this cannot happen again. For example, in response to the execution of 47 prisoners, former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes recalls, “In blunt language, Obama protested these actions, and warned the king that Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record was going to bring greater international isolation.”

What Obama would not have done is publicly assert that the only values worth defending are national interests. And that powerful – and rich – countries will receive preferential treatment from the U.S. even if they commit egregious human rights violations such as murder.

Trump has unmistakably set the U.S. down a road that breaks longstanding foreign policy precedent. His implicit endorsement of Saudi Arabia’s reckless behavior runs the risk of emboldening other leaders to pursue similar policies.

And Trump’s basis for letting Saudi Arabia off the hook – its strategic importance – is shaky. Many experts rightly point out that Saudi’s usefulness to the U.S. is limited and Saudi’s regional standing is exceptionally dependent on U.S. support.

So why give away U.S. leverage for free and dispense with decades of policy precedence based on a flimsy premise? That is something only Trump can answer.

The Conversation

Forget lanes – we all need to head together toward preventing firearm injury

November 28, 2018

Author

Michael Hirsh

Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics, University of Massachusetts Medical School

Disclosure statement

Michael Hirsh is the medical consultant for the John C. Wood II charitable foundation.

Partners

University of Massachusetts provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

Many of us working in the “Gun Sense” field – that is, finding a middle ground position to advance firearm safety and reduce preventable injury in our patients – had an “a-ha” moment that led us to toil in these fields.

Mine was on Nov. 2, 1981, when my friend and co-resident Dr. John C. Wood II was shot right in front of our hospital emergency room at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in Washington Heights, New York City.

I have taken care of many gunshot wound victims since then, but none so difficult emotionally as this one. I participated in cracking my friend’s chest to start open cardiac massage and saw his heart devoid of blood from a through-and-through gunshot wound into his heart with a Saturday night special.

The survivability of a cardiac gunshot wound like this is close to zero, even though he was minutes away from the ER. He was in the OR and placed on cardiac bypass within 10 minutes of arrival. But his pupils were fixed and dilated and he had exsanguinated, or bled out, into his chest cavity. He did not survive despite our best efforts. It was an event that rocked Columbia and all who knew John, a fully boarded pediatrics-turned-surgical resident, a world-class Juilliard-trained French horn player and former Columbia rugby team captain.

The urgency of the firearm violence issue facing our country was heightened this past week when nine people were killed in three separate mass shootings over an 18-hour period in the U.S. In the past month, there have been attacks at places of worship, yoga studios and hospitals. Add these to the shootings in schools and in movie theaters and the tremendous sense of unease our citizenry is experiencing is completely understandable.

As physicians and surgeons on the front lines, many of my colleagues and I feel that it is no longer acceptable to treat this problem like our trauma team is a MASH unit. We have an obligation and an opportunity to reach out and speak out, and my hope is the country is listening. Because this is indeed our lane.

Watching the violence grow

My training took me to other cities, and everywhere the tragedy of firearm injury seemed to follow. I knew after that night in November ‘81 I could no longer practice in New York City, but I could not escape the parade of firearm tragedies. Children shot accidentally. Teens shot in gang wars. Teens and elders shooting themselves in impulsive moments of despair, yielding nearly 100 percent completion of their suicide task.

Gun violence increasingly became my focus when I heard Sarah Brady explain the concept of limiting access to lethal means. Sarah is the wife of Jim Brady, Ronald Reagan’s press secretary shot in the 1981 presidential assassination attempt. Brady spent the rest of his life partially paralyzed. He died in 2014, and the medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.

The Brady approach to gun control is limiting access. It is based on the premise that we might not be able to deal with the root causes of the violence – racism, poverty, mental illness – but that we could perhaps deal with the vector of violence that elevates all these factors into lethality – access to firearms. This is the philosophy behind the Brady Campaign, which aims to limit gun violence in the U.S. I began to wonder what I as an individual trauma surgeon could do to make a difference.

Looking for answers

In the 1990s, I was working in Pittsburgh as a pediatric trauma surgeon. A gang turf war over control of the crack cocaine trade broke out between the Bloods and the Crips. Both sides were heavily armed. As the body count rose on the north side of Pittsburgh where I was working, legislators tried to help by establishing a mandatory sentence for anyone in possession of a firearm when arrested for drug trafficking.

This caused the dealers to push the age of the drug runners to preteens and young teens, and they were equally armed. Our pediatric gunshot-wound patient victim numbers soared. When an 11-year-old was shot with an AK-47 in front of the mayor’s house, suddenly the city responded. Pittsburgh held community meetings. As director of a Robert Wood Johnson Injury Prevention Program, I was selected to represent the Allegheny General Hospital. The community disparaged our hospital as being insensitive and uncaring. Many believed we were “profiting” from the carnage and just sending the patients back out into the street to face more mayhem even if they had survived.

Our hospital encouraged my practice partner, Dr. Matt Masiello, and me to do something. We were both transplanted New Yorkers in the ‘Burgh, and we had heard about a new kind of gun buyback program in Washington Heights where a carpet store owner, Fernando Mateo, had emptied his inventory in exchange for locals bringing in their firearms. Previously, gun buybacks had only offered cash for the weapons. We decided to build a version of the program exchanging the guns for gift certificates to local merchants rather than actual merchandise. We collected 1,400 weapons that first year in 1994 and about 10,000 since then.

The buyback program has become much more than just a way to give the patrons the ability to rid their homes of unwanted or unsecured weapons. We built a public information blitz about the responsibility that goes along with the right to own a firearm, and we built awareness of the increased risk of suicide, homicide, femicide, accidental shooting, or breaking and entering for the purpose of stealing a firearm.

We have now reproduced the program in a number of cities across the U.S. In my hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts, working out of the UMass Medical Center, our multi-pronged approach to gun safety education coupled with the gun buyback has given us the distinction of having the lowest-penetrating trauma rate in New England.

In calendar year 2017, we had zero firearm fatalities, down from five the year before.

This was an astounding number, in view of national stats showing a rise from 33,000 deaths in 2010 to 38,000 in 2018. We faculty at the University of Massachusetts have built a curriculum for students at our medical school to empower doctors to ask the right questions in the proper way.

I am truly excited about the response my fellow physicians have demonstrated in their reaction to the National Rifle Association’s “stay in your lane” comments.

The NRA has already tried and failed to gag doctors in Florida from talking with their patients about gun safety.

In 2011, it backed a bill ultimately passed by the Florida legislature that would have forbidden doctors from asking patients about gun ownership or gun storage unless the doctor had a specific reason to do so. Doctors in violation could have been punished by loss of license and up to a US $10,000 fine.

“Physicians interrogating and lecturing parents and children about guns is not about gun safety,” read a letter from the NRA in support of the bill. “It is a political agenda to ban guns. Parents do not take their children to physicians for a political lecture against the ownership of firearms, they go there for medical care.”

Though it took six years to do so, the parts of the law that gagged doctors were overturned by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in February 2017.

And now, even more than in previous years, doctors are saying they have seen enough – actually, way too much.

Now the awakening of the M.D.s gives me a sense of encouragement and hope that we as a profession can lead our country away from the intransigent position in which nothing gets done. Gun buyback is a middle-ground Gun Sense position that can rally a community around the cause that I have been fighting for since that dark day in November 1981. I hope other municipalities will join us, as these programs do work.

FILE – In this file photo taken Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, a passenger airliner flies past steam and white smoke emitted from China Huaneng Group’s Beijing power plant that was the last coal-fired plant to shut down on March 18, 2017 as the Chinese capital convert to clean energy like thermal power. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/12/web1_121857671-8107f3815523492f84fb0c9088079eed.jpgFILE – In this file photo taken Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, a passenger airliner flies past steam and white smoke emitted from China Huaneng Group’s Beijing power plant that was the last coal-fired plant to shut down on March 18, 2017 as the Chinese capital convert to clean energy like thermal power. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

In this Nov. 20, 2018 photo workers decorate the venue of the global climate summit that will be held at the site of the closed ‘Katowice’ coal mine in the city of Katowice, southern Poland, where – three years after sealing a landmark global climate deal in Paris – world leaders are gathering again to agree on the fine print. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/12/web1_121857671-50b67facfd354b8683745668061f4292.jpgIn this Nov. 20, 2018 photo workers decorate the venue of the global climate summit that will be held at the site of the closed ‘Katowice’ coal mine in the city of Katowice, southern Poland, where – three years after sealing a landmark global climate deal in Paris – world leaders are gathering again to agree on the fine print. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

FILE – In this Jan. 7, 2011 file photo, people carry baskets of coal scavenged illegally at an open-cast mine in the village of Bokapahari in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. 2018 is expected to see another 2 percent increase in human-made emissions, as construction of coal-fired power plants in Asia and Africa continue while carbon-absorbing forests are felled faster than they can regrow. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/12/web1_121857671-dff118effb32423d8d5eaaf8c8f245ad.jpgFILE – In this Jan. 7, 2011 file photo, people carry baskets of coal scavenged illegally at an open-cast mine in the village of Bokapahari in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. 2018 is expected to see another 2 percent increase in human-made emissions, as construction of coal-fired power plants in Asia and Africa continue while carbon-absorbing forests are felled faster than they can regrow. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer, File)
News & Views

Staff & Wire Reports