Polswatch

Outlining a Progressive Future

Australia’s Role in Copenhagen

I just watched a video clip where Ross Gaurnaut stated that he believed that overall, the Australian delegation played  a positive role in Copenhagen. Gaurnaut here made it really clear that he didn’t know what he was talking about on this topic and given that, I would like to set the record straight on the role Australia played in CPH. This is because it was not positive, but rather a very negative role.

When you are outside the COP conferences it is really hard to get any information about what is exactly going on. Unfortunately I was outside during the COP but through talking to people and researching some different places I managed to get some information regarding how Australia was acting inside the conference. There are two key issues here as to why Australia’s influence was so negative.

Australia’s Position: Of key importance to this debate is the position Australia took to the conference. We all know what this is, have debated it greatly over the past year and have differing views on it. But, did it go down well in Copenhagen? The answer is yes to some, and no to others. The yes is for the developed countries; whilst the no applies to the developing world. For developed countries, the Australian plan, whilst not an original one (this is extremely important to keep in mind) is one that others (developed countries) around the world want to emulate. This is a plan of cap and trade, with minimum target reductions and large amounts of offsetting to the third world (to get a discussion on cap and trade check out this website – http://www.storyofstuff.com/capandtrade/). However, just because the developed world wants to emulate Australia’s plan, that does not mean that it is a positive thing.

The biggest problem with such a plan in the international world is that their development has completely left out the developing world. This is true not only for the way these plans have been developed (for example, the Danish text (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/08/copenhagen-climate-summit-disarray-danish-text), of which Australia played a major role), but also through the actual contents of these plans. The Danish text for example, split the conference in half. This was because it had been developed by a small ‘boys club’ from the developed world that completely left out all interests of developing countries. Second, its contents completely favoured the developed world, including there being no justice elements and a plan that would see the developed world still being able to emit more per capita by 2050 than the developing world.

Second, regarding Australia’s positioning was the complete refusal of our delegation to make any compromises. This included a refusal to make any commitments to international finance, a refusal to budge at all on our targets and a refusal to reject offsetting.

Finance: Throughout the conference, finance was a big issue. However, whilst we saw the EU and United States make big announcements on this issue during the conference Australia refused to put anything on the table. Such a refusal simply bread suspicion within countries minds that we were not going to do any good on this issue.

Targets: Like the rest of the developed world, Australia refused to budge on targets. This occurred both for our own targets, but also the desired target of 2 degrees warming (until the US brokered a deal on this). Limiting warming to 2 degrees was a big issue in these talks and Australia (who, when chairing the umbrella group of parties in Bali, 2007, removed the 2 degree target from discussions) showed no real effort to make 2 degrees a key issue. Then, even when 2 degrees was adopted, Australia did nothing to change our domestic targets, even after a leaked report said that if everyone adopted the 5-15% we have offered (noting that the 25% offer will never occur given the conditions placed on it) we would see warming of between 3 – 3.9 degrees. Also important here is the refusal of Australia to even acknowledge a target of 350ppm; the limit scientist say is safe for our atmosphere.

Offsetting: Another key issue in these debate was offsetting, and this is extremely important to Australia given that the CPRS is based entirely on international offsetting until 2034. During the conference a draft deal was sent around that legislated cuts, but stated that these cuts could not be met through offsetting. Removing offsetting was a good plan, given the problems with it (see video link about cap and trade above). However, when the plan went around, Australia opposed it strongly and worked very hard to ensure that the offsetting language was removed. Refusing to have a discussion on the offsetting issue caused many tensions between the developed and developing world and Australia’s active opposition to these plans caused problems.

Bullying:

In the first week of the COP the small island state of Tuvalu demanded that the conference be suspended because the developed world (including Australia) was refusing to have a discussion on extending the Kyoto Protocol. This was part of a push from the developed world to see climate change talks move away from legally binding deals and more into the undemocratic systems such as the World Bank, G20 etc (see the Danish text). The suspension went through and for a number of hours Tuvalu, joined with the other small island states and many from the developing world, staged a protest in the conference until they were granted a concession that allowed for open discussions on extending the protocol.

After this event occurred the Kevin Rudd made personal calls to all of the small island states members in order to bully them to stop these tactics. A number of countries complained about what Rudd had to say in these conversations and the calls lead to Australia being awarded 1st prize in the prestigious ‘fossil of the day’ award in the second week (we came third overall in the award).

Would the CPRS have helped?

Another thing Gaurnaut said was that Australia’s position would have been stronger if we had a CPRS. This is total bull. The simple reason is that the biggest problem in these talks was the refusal of the developed world to negotiate on any real changes to their plans for carbon reductions. If Australia had a CPRS we would not only have not had the will to make changes, we legislatively would have been unable to do so. In fact, having a CPRS that is so unmovable as the governments probably would have had a detrimental effect on the negotiations in Copenhagen as Australia would have had no say (although this could be a good thing) as no matter what we could do we wouldn’t have been able to change out plans.

Australia definitely did not have a positive role in these talks. In fact, our role was wholly negative as we blocked aims for change at all points. Whilst you wont hear about it in the news, it did happen. I can only imagine however what we were actually like as this information is only the small part that has been leaked through.

December 22, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Copenhagen – Part One

So, A little while ago on Facebook I promised an updated blog whilst I was in Copenhagen. Unfortunately with illness and a crazy schedule, so far I haven’t delivered. But, better late than never! As the week comes to a close, the negotiations are wrapped up and the fall out begins, I think it is worth doing some writing.

It’s really hard to know where to start; this last week has been crazy. I think maybe the best point is to look at the COP15 and where it is at/what we can expect from the last day. Unless a miracle happens over the next 12 hours, I think we can safely say that this whole process will be a disaster, no matter what the worlds ‘leaders’ try to make out of it. There are a few things that point to this:

1) Targets: A leaked draft text from last night provided a possible agreement that would limit temperature rise to 3 degrees. Within current texts there is no mention of the 1.5 degrees science says is what we need, nor the 350ppm of carbon in the atmosphere. It is extremely unlikely that either of these numbers will enter the text soon. In fact, with current targets it is predicted that by 2100 the atmosphere would be constituted of 770ppm of carbon dioxide; over double what is considered a safe level by scientists.

2) Loopholes and tricks: There are so many loopholes in the current text regarding the right to emit that will not be overcome today. Key to these is offsets. Whilst offsets sound like a reasonable idea, they are fraught with problems. The biggest of these is that you cannot account for it. For example, in many cases offset credits are being bought for projects that would have occurred without the money anyway, meaning there is no real reduction in emissions. In other cases offsets are being double counted. For example, evidence has shown that many projects that the UK has invested into China have been counted as emissions reductions for both the UK and China. These problems with offsets are not ones of honesty, but are systematic, meaning that any deal with offsets included will be tarnished.

Other loopwholes include the ridiculous land changes provisions that would allow countries such as Australia to fudge the numbers (through claiming land that ‘would have been logged but wasn’t’ as reductions in emissions, when these numbers can basically be inflated), leading to situations where reductions look a lot more than they really are. Sweden, Finland and Canada have also managed to achieve such provisions, allowing logged forests to still come under ‘sustainable forest management’, meaning they will not be considered as lost carbon credits.

There are plenty of loopholes such as these throughout the currents texts and plans and they don’t look like they will be removed any time soon.

3) Finance: Simply put, the issue of finance is still a big one, with no where near the amount of money required being put into the developing. This is one issue that can be fixed, but don’t expect an agreement until it is.

4) Legally Binding or Not? The North/South Divide: Another big contention over the past week has been whether the agreement made here should be legally binding or not. Basically, at the start of the conference there was a big split between the developing world and the developed world, with the developing world (with the island states at the forefront) pushing for a discussion on extending the Kyoto Protocol, with the developed world rejecting this idea. This lead Tuvalu to suspend the conference and stage a protest in the conference center. After this the Danes (who are chairing the conference) gave in to some demands through creating two ‘streams’ of discussion; one on the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol; one on creating a new agreement. These two streams continue until today and have not been able to come together in any way.

Even within these streams however, there are differences. For the developing world there is a major split between the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) countries who want a continuation of Kyoto without any legal cuts for themselves and the rest of the developing world who want a legally binding deal but with legal cuts for the BASIC countries. This split has also not been resolved.

This problem has underlined some key ‘north/south’ divides within the conference, with the developing world constantly charging that they are being left out of the negotiations. There is not doubt that they are being left behind with the developed world participating in behind the door, secret discussions, leaving out the developing world. They have then aimed at using bullying tactics to pressure the smallest developing countries into line (for example, after the Tuvalu protest, Kevin Rudd called all the heads of state of small island states to tell them to stop being obstructive and get into line). Developing countries have also have problems with the Danish chairing of the conference, with claims that the issues/discussions of the developed world are constantly precedence over that of the developing world.

5) NGO participation: Last point is on NGO participation. I will go into this more in another post later, but essentially the democracy deficit has been high here. Most negotiations have occurred behind closed doors and nearly all NGOs have been blocked out over the last couple of days. Whilst this technically may not affect the actual text it is a serious cause for concern as secret negotiations have taken precedence over open and transparent discussion. This means that in the washup we have to be very careful to go over everything to make sure dodgy deals haven’t been done.

As with everything, the  devil will be in the detail as the end comes close in Copenhagen. So, if by the end of today the talks are declared a success, don’t believe it straight away. Look for the details, because at the moment they are disastrous.

December 18, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fight for Legal Equality for Same-Sex Couples Escalates: Need to Take it Further!

On the 8th of August and the 28th of November thousands of queer activists took to the streets in two ‘National Day’s of Action’ on same-sex marriage. These NDAs are an important step for the queer movement in Australia. Taking to the streets is an important way to take action one we should fully embrace. However, at the same time we must be wary that we don’t create a movement that is too narrowly focused on same-sex marriage.

Heading to the streets in this way is a fantastic thing. Whilst we cannot ignore the great work that has been done on the ground level for queer rights, the queer movement has lacked a nationally co-ordinated mass action effort. These NDAs give us the opportunity to create such a movement and in doing so empower activists, build networks, create alliances and provide a more visible face to an ever growing movement.

However, at the same time, we must be wary that these NDAs don’t narrow the focus of the queer movement solely onto same-sex marriage. Whilst legal equality for same-sex couples is an important step, it is just a step, and one that cannot and should not be separated from the other changes we need in society.

Focusing solely on legal equality limits our ability to challenge key social institutions, such as marriage. Marriage, as a key part of the heteronormative society, is for many an oppressive institution. It defines how relationships should work and then punishes those who don’t fit the norm. We therefore must challenge the way this institution operates and the effect it has on society. Otherwise, we risk a scenario where success is defined through the ability of some to enter heteronormative society/institutions. This will leave many, who don’t fit into these institutions behind.

Leading on from this, a same-sex marriage focus can ignore many other important issues. Whether it is sexual/gender identity based violence, structural poverty or a whole array of other issues, the queer movement should be addressing a whole lot more than legal equality for same sex couples. Queer people are extremely diverse and with this diversity comes a broad range of issues that require attention. If we ignore this diversity, we not only neglect many important issues, but also risk isolating people from the queer movement.

In the long run these issues could be divisive. If we fail to challenge dominant social institutions or tackle other problems, the queer movement risks becoming one that instead of challenging the heteronormative society, accepts it and aims to become part of it. This will not only isolate many people, but will also see a movement that collapses after same-sex marriage is won as organisers and activists believe that queer liberation has been achieved.

As long as legal rights exist, everyone should have access to them. However, that doesn’t mean we should accept them as they are, nor settle for acceptance to them as our only goal. We should fight for legal equality, but we must make sure that such a fight doesn’t let us lose sight of other issues or weaken the queer movement in the long run. The NDAs are giving queer activists a great opportunity to build networks and create co-ordinated actions across the country and I encourage everyone to continue participating in them. But let’s make sure we use these opportunities to strengthen the movement to fully challenge the oppressive nature of the heteronormative society and to create real, long lasting change. Our movement and our society depend on it.

December 7, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Assimilation is Not the Answer for Queer Liberation

“Part of the parade is to show people we’re not extremists, we‘re real people”? When asked who she considered to be extremists, the response came “Drag queens and butch women”.

A sentiment that you would normally expect from a conservative. However, this didn’t come from the Right, but instead from a member of the queer movement. They’re words spoken by one of the organisers of the Winnipeg Pride Parade, after a debate about making the parade ‘less confronting’ and more ‘family friendly‘. This may be shocking, but in reality this statement is not surprising; its a symptom of the direction many in the queer movement are taking. An increasingly powerful section of the queer movement argues that to achieve better results we need to present queer people as members of society who are no different from anyone else. We need to present ourselves as ’normal’.

By acting ‘normal‘, some believe that we can change the minds of those who find us ’confronting’ and ’strange’. Why would be society want to discriminate against queer people once they realise that ’we’ are just like ‘them’?  These tactics are considered especially useful in debates regarding legislative change, such as same-sex marriage or adoption laws. However, it also goes far beyond that. Many, especially those in the leadership positions, are now beginning to use the idea of normalcy as a way to try to squash fears of the more dramatic changes that are the aim of many in the queer movement. ‘Normalcy’ is being used to create a perception of a queer movement that is designed to fight for acceptance into current society, rather than to change the way society is organised. This is where this tactic has become extremely dangerous.

The politics of “normal” is so dangerous for one reason; it dramatically changes the goals of the queer movement. By adopting a tactic of presenting normalcy the queer movement is moving away from having a position that is critical of the heterodoxy in to one that not only accepts, but for many embraces it as an inevitable part of society. This is creating a scenario where instead of its deconstruction, assimilation into the heteronormative society is becoming the goal of the queer movement.

Problem. This leaves out the ‘drag queens and butch women’ (and everyone else who to falls out of the mould). All this tactic does is let a few more people in the hetero-club (generally those who come closest to fitting the hetero-mould, i.e. ‘normal looking’ bio-male gay men and bio-female lesbian woman) – while still leaving some (trans* and gender-variant folk, polyamourists etc) out.  This is the essential problem of “normal“; – as long as there is “normal“, there will be “abnormal“. Whilst in this scenario some are better off, this tactic sells out not only those who will continue to be excluded, but the queer movement and its principles as a whole.

For full queer liberation to occur we can’t simply claim that the rules about gender, relationships, sex, family etc apply to us as well; we must aim to change them. As long as we aim to be ‘normal’ these changes and the deconstruction of the heteronormativity in society simply will not occur.

If we just aim to be ‘normal’ we are setting our bar too low. We must aim to change our society. Assimilation is not the answer to queer liberation.

December 7, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Should We Abolish Sex Descrimination from Sport?

At the start of 2009 Caster Semenya was virtually unknown. Now, she is one of the most famous athletes in the world, not only due to great running, but also her identity. After her victory in the World Championships, Semenya was forced to take ‘gender tests’, which after being leaked revealed that she is intersex. This has created a huge debate over the rights on intersex people and has led many to ask the question ‘what is the use of the sex binary in sport?’

The justifications for the sex binary in sport range from the idea that women cannot deal with the aggressiveness of men in competition to that sex discrimination is no different than ‘weight classes’ due to inherently different abilities that women have compared to men[1]. Sex discrimination is justified through the idea of ‘fairness in competition’.

However, this is extremely problematic. Firstly, it leaves out people such as Caster Semenya, who don’t fit into the set sex binary. Semenya, and other intersex people, expose the myth that there are only two biological sexes. There is actually significant diversity among humans in sex definers such as genitals, reproductive organs, chromosomes, and hormones. The rigid male/female sex binary does not fit the reality of sex and gender diversity. This leaves intersex athletes with the options of either giving up competition or undergoing intrusive medical procedures to ‘correct’ the issue. Second to this, sex discrimination in sport perpetuates the image of men as being ‘more athletic’, ‘stronger’, ‘faster’ and better in a whole range of ways than women. This greatly enhances the societal image of women as being ‘the weaker sex’.

But isn’t this true? Aren’t females in general not as strong as males and therefore not able to compete as well in sports?  There are two problems with this idea. First, even though testosterone does advance muscular growth (and only when work is involved), its levels differ naturally within all people, leaving many with different physiques than what is expected from a member of their sex. A general separation based on a sex binary, therefore ignores many of the physical differences that exist within all sexes (something that separation based on factors such as weight or height would not do).

Second to this, even if males are in general ‘stronger’ than females, this does not mean that they are more athletic. Strength should be just one element in the definition of skill in sporting competition, something that current sporting competition forgets. Too much emphasis is now placed on strength in sport (e.g. the increasing role of a strong serves in tennis), perpetuating the image of females as being ‘less athletic’ by focusing athleticism around a predominately male attribute.

The stereotype of the weaker ‘sex’ is a prevalent and destructive one. To remove it we must remove sex discrimination in sport and allow people of all sexes to compete freely using an array of skills as the tester of athleticism. We can no longer accept the image of women as being the ‘weaker, less athletic sex’ or an imaginary binary determining what athleticism is. Removing sex separation and discrimination in sport would be more inclusive for intersex athletes, and address sexist attitudes to women. If we really want to create ‘fairer competition’ we must stop assuming someone isn’t good enough because they don’t have a pair of testicles and focus on people’s actual skills instead.


[1] Tannsjo, T (2000) Against Sexual Discrimination in Sports in Tannsjo, T & Tamburrini, C (eds.) (2000) Values in Sport. E & FN Spon, London

November 19, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Human Rights, Options for a Progressive Future | Leave a comment

Is Obama Scared of Tacking Action On Queer Rights?

Alongside healthcare is was pinned as one of the key issues that created chaos for Bill Clinton in his first years, lead to the rise of the right and the eventual Democratic defeat in the 1994 mid-term elections. The issue was allowing queer people to serve in the military; a debate that lead to the development of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, which allows queer people to serve, but not openly. Now, in 2009, Barack Obama seems to be scared that if he tackles the same issue head on, along with many others important to the queer rights movement, he will also succumb to the same fate of Clinton in the 90’s.

Obama has always had good rhetoric regarding queer rights. Throughout his campaign and presidency he has promised action on a majority of the key issues on the queer agenda, including repealing the two most controversial queer policies; the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy and the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) (which federally defines marriage being between a man and a woman and allows states to refuse to recognise same-sex marriages performed elsewhere). Obama has also agreed to sign laws that will enhance hate-crimes legislation, ensure queer adoption rights and outlaw discrimination in the workplace. However, in the first six months of his presidential tenure very little work has been done on achieving these key issues. Not only has there been no legislative action on any of these items (except hate crimes legislation), Obama has also caused frustration through refusing to sign an executive order halting the enforcement of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy until it is officially overturned. This leaves open the question, is Obama just talk on queer rights or is he scared that tackling the issue will cause him political problems?

Whilst there are probably a number of reasons for Obama’s inaction, it seems almost certain that the biggest thing holding him back is a fear of a similar backlash to what Clinton received. Although Obama has been positive about queer rights, he often does so in a hidden manner, leaving positive actions largely unannounced and speeches to queer activists out of sight from the media. In other words, Obama is attempting to give the queer community exactly what it wants, but is attempting to do so in a way that won’t outrage his conservative adversaries (who he believes could make a political issue out of it).

Obviously, this is having a number of effects. First and foremost it is now delaying the attainment of extra rights for queer people. Second, and possibly more damagingly, it sends a clear message that discussing queer rights and taking positive action in a strong manner is still a difficult area for progressive politicians, therefore leaving others cautious about taking positive action in the future. By not standing up and fighting loudly for these rights Obama is saying that it is still okay for there to be an opposition to queer rights and is making this opposition legitimate, in turn creating further equality problems in the future. Last, As long as Obama continues to delay, he will be making it harder for him to make the changes as required. With political landscapes changing quickly, opportunities to change policies can often be lost quickly and as long as Obama continues to delay he will make it harder for these policies to be changed. It is therefore important that continued pressure is placed on the Obama administration to affect these changes sooner rather than later, before it becomes too late.

For more information on these issues and to help place pressure on Obama to take action you can visit the Human Rights Campaign at www.hrc.org

The Courage Campaign (http://www.couragecampaign.org), which is a California based campaign is also doing a lot of work on queer rights, with a special focus on overturning proposition 8 and the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.

July 19, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Human Rights, Monitering the Left | , , | Leave a comment

Progress on US Climate Bill

There has been further progress on the US Climate Bill in the past week with the US House of Representatives passing the cap and trade bill with a vote of 219 – 212. The vote, providing a major victory for Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi will now see the bill, which mandates for 17% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 80% cuts by 2050 (based on 2005 levels), sent to the US Senate ready for debate after the July recess. Here is faces an uncertain future, with doubts over a number of controversial issues within the text of the bill.

There is no doubt that the bill will be substantially changed in the Senate. The question remains however as to how much this will occur and what effect this will have on any future passage of the legislation. Overall there are a few sticking points that continue to provide problems for legislators in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Costs:

The continued argument being pushed by opponents to the climate bill is that it will substantially increase costs of energy to consumers in a difficult economic time (ignoring that the bill will not come into effect until 2012). The problem here is not the large number of Republicans who are arguing this (as they are largely outnumbered in both houses of Congress), but rather the few more conservative Democrats who are concerned over this issue. A number of these Democrats voted against the bill in the House; the question is whether the Senate leadership will be able to provide enough incentives to win these Democrats over in the Senate, where their support is much more needed.

Free Permits:

The second big sticking point continues to be the handing out of permits for free. The bill mandates that 85% of the permits under the cap and trade system will be given out for free, with the funds raised by the auction of the 15% to be distributed to lower income earners to offset increase costs created by the bill (this is up from the 53% of permits that were going to be given out when I last posted on this bill). This large number of free permits was largely put in place to please the interests of Democratic members of Congress based in energy intensive states (i.e. the ‘rustbelt’ of the US). However, this is causing problems within the Democratic caucus, with many (including many conservative pundits) arguing that this not only doesn’t make economic sense, but also takes away a large amount of money that can be used to offset costs for consumers and/or to be placed into investment in renewable energy. It is almost certain that this clause in the bill will be changed in the Senate, with the big question being how much and whether this will cause serious problems for further passage in the House.

Use of Offsets and Nuclear Power: Other problems related to the bill include the use of offsets and nuclear power as a means for the reduction of emissions. It is now clear that if the Democrats want to see this bill passed they will to some level be forced to embrace nuclear power as a greenhouse free option. This of course is causing major problems within the Democratic caucus, with many opposing any nuclear option within the climate bill. Second, there is a large amount of criticism over the use of offsets within the climate bill as a means to reduce greenhouse emissions, with critics arguing that offsets do not equate genuine reductions.

Where to From Here

The future of the climate bill is very much unknown. It is certain that the bill will be changed in the Senate, with it possibly being strengthened in some ways (through an increase in the percentage of permits being sold) and weakened in others (with possibly more concessions to specific interest groups). However, it is unknown as to whether these changes will gather the support required to pass the Senate and block any attempt at a filibuster. Second to this, it is unknown as to whether the bill will then be able to re-pass the House if changes made in the Senate put off House members.

What I am certain of however is that there will be a bill eventually. With the Environmental Protection Agency recently winning a battle that allows them to determine Greenhouse gasses as ‘dangerous emissions’ and therefore being given the right to regulate these emissions, legislators will soon realise that emissions are going to be regulated whether they like it or not. It is therefore certain that pushes to have legislation on the issue will increase as legislators decide that they would prefer to regulate emissions on their own terms rather than letting the EPA do it for them. The question is therefore, how good can this legislation be and when will it be passed. Most indicators show that it probably will occur this year (with Democratic members of Congress not wanting to embarrass Obama in his first year), but whether this will be a good bill this time is not certain. Only time can really tell as to whether this will be the case, leaving this as an issue both to continue campaigning around and to continue watching.

July 3, 2009 Posted by | Climate Change and the Environment, Monitering the Left, Options for a Progressive Future | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

US Climate Bill An Okay Start

As US legislators debate the content of the biggest climate bill ever introduced into the US congress, debate is raging as to whether this bill will deliver the action required to curb US Greenhouse emissions. Whilst we are not going to know exactly what the bill will look like if and when it passes the US House or Representatives and Senate, probably by the end of this year, we can make some major guesses based on the drafts that are now being discussed in the committees of Congress. These drafts give a picture of something that although may not be perfect is quite dramatic and will see a real shift in the energy policies of the United States. The question still remains however; will this bill provide what is needed for the US to take real action on climate change?

The Bill

There are really three key issues regarding the effectiveness of such a climate bill; the reduction target, the renewable energy target and how much the bill forces polluters to pay for their pollution. Here is how the bill looks regarding these three issues:

Reduction Target: The bill proposes the introduction of a massive cap and trade scheme in the United States, which has the current aim of cutting Greenhouse emissions by 17% by 2020 (based on 2005 levels) and 83% by 2050. The target for 2020 was originally a 20% cut, but this has been watered down due to concerns from some Democrats in the House.

Renewable Energy Target: The bill would also require energy companies to source 15% of their power from renewable sources by 2020, a cut from the original proposal of 25% by 2025.

The price polluters must pay: Whilst the original bill proposed the sale/auction of all pollution permits it looks almost certain that changes intended to gain the support of key Democratic Senators from the greenhouse intensive rustbelt states (i.e. Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania) will see at least some of the permits given out for free to greenhouse polluters. For example, Business Green reports that drafts available would see 35% of permits given to the energy industry, 15% to heavy industrial firms and 3% to auto makers, leaving the other 47% to be sold.  At the moment I cannot find any sort of discussion regarding how much these permits would originally be priced at, which is another key point regarding the bill.

The Reaction

There is no doubt that there are people who are disappointed with how the bill is going at the moment. The watering down of the original targets related to emissions reductions and renewable energy targets as well as the fact that many of the permits will be given out for free has many people complaining, some who argue that the bill is now worthless. For example, Greenpeace claims:

“A piece of legislation that started out as a real opportunity for the US to combat climate change has been co-opted by special interests and now threatens to do more harm than good.”

Whilst I believe Greenpeace has succumbed to using a little too much hyperbole, their arguments are fair. Whilst the cuttings of the targets could be considered to be minor (given that the reduction target has only dropped 3%) the fact that permits are now going to be given out for free is a serious concern. Giving out free permits not only takes money away from possible investment to create a ‘green economy’ but also has been proven to be a policy disaster in a range of ways (see the European experience, where the existence of free permits dramatically dropped the price of carbon, making greenhouse reductions extremely difficult).

However, on the other side of the coin one needs to ask whether these sorts of compromises were ones that we should have expected from the US climate deal and if so, can we deal with them? I think there is no doubt that this bill was going to be watered down. In its original form this bill was extremely ambitious, which is great. However, even with the control of the Democrats in both houses of Congress there was always going to be problems, especially from those Democratic Senators from the ‘rustbelt’ area. It seems like these changes will allay the fears of these Senators and will probably ensure the passage of the bill.

So, do these changes compromise the bill and will they stop the it having any effect? Whilst the cuts in the bills targets are extremely disappointing, I don’t believe they create the biggest problem for these bills. Cuts of 17% by 2020 and 83% by 2050 are quite impressive coming from a US Congress that has historically been dominated by climate sceptics and even though 17% by 2020 is not enough, the bill importantly improves on this by 2050, which is a key date. However, the bigger problem lies in the giving out of free permits. It is very likely that this will cause problems for the bill in the future and it does divert a large amount of money (at current estimates $40 billion) from possible investment in green industries.

I am not sure if I am convinced, however, that this will make the climate bill as useless as Greenpeace claims. It is an unfortunate reality of the US political system (unlike Australia, the EU and other industrialised countries) that having a climate bill with such targets and with such a large amount of money being poured into it is a huge achievement and whilst this bill is definitely not perfect, has been compromised to some extent and should be better we must be happy that it is most likely going to be passed. The US environment movement should and will need to continue to fight for changes in the bill once it is passed (as has occurred in the EU) but it must also be happy with the fact that the country that used to lag behind the rest of the world is now probably going to leapfrog a number of countries (i.e. Australia) when it comes to climate action. This is not the perfect start but it is probably better than I would have expected, which is nice for a change.

June 6, 2009 Posted by | Climate Change and the Environment, Options for a Progressive Future | , , , | 4 Comments

California Supreme Court Upholds Prop 8.

In news today from California, the California Supreme Court has ruled to uphold Proposition 8, therefore ensuring that same-sex marriage stays illegal in California until at least November 2010. The ruling came after a court battle that saw opponents of proposition 8 argue that the proposition was illegal as the measure revised the states equal protection clause of the constitution to such an extent that it should have been counted as revision to the constitution, which would have required legislation to be passed in the California State House of Representatives. The court made a 6-1 ruling arguing that it was not their duty to overrule the ‘will of the people’ in this situation. At the same time however, the court made a 7-0 ruling stating that all same-sex marriages completed during the time it was legal in California will stay legally married.

This ruling sets up an interesting battle in California for 2010. There is no doubt now that the gay rights movement will now take its campaign back to the ballot box in 2010 with a proposition to overrule Proposition 8. With the extremely close victory for Proposition 8 and what is considered to be a changing tide in the United States towards a more open mindedness about same-sex rights, this will set up an interesting battle and one that could see the gay rights movement have its first win at the ballot box.

In the long run this could be more beneficial for the gay rights movement. If they had won today there was a good chance that there would be a backlash within the community who saw this as ‘activist judges’ who were overruling the will of the people. However, if they manage to pull over enough people to claim a victory in 2010 it will be claimed to be proof that the tide is shifting in the United States towards a society more willing to accept same sex marriage. This could create a situation where politicians could begin to feel even more comfortable in supporting same-sex rights, therefore promoting further action in the future. 

Whilst this ruling will ensure that same-sex couples will continue to suffer now, this vote could have a silver lining that will see stronger action in the future.

May 26, 2009 Posted by | Human Rights, Options for a Progressive Future, Uncategorized | , , | 3 Comments

A Nuclear Free World Starts with An End to the Hypocrisy

News today that North Korea has tested a nuclear device just north of Pyongyang has sent shivers down the spine of many around the world. The test was confirmed earlier today as a nuclear test from the North Korean Government who stated that it was part of its ‘nuclear deterrent policy’. It was quickly condemned by leaders from around the world, with US President Barack Obama calling it a “blatant violation of international law”. 

Whilst this test is a scary reminder of what the North Korean Government can and may be willing to do in the future, it should also serve as a reminder of the great hypocrisies of the nuclear powers of the world. At the same time this test was completed and its condemnations occurred a total of 8 other countries (The US, Russia, China, France, UK, Israel, Pakistan and India) continue to posses large stocks of nuclear weapons with none of these countries having formal plans for disarmament (even though Barack Obama has declared it to be a goal).

This post is not designed to condone North Korea’s nuclear test (under the guise of ‘if the US can have them, why can’t North Korea) and in fact I strongly condemn and hope the world does everything it can to stop this nuclear program in its tracks, but is rather here to argue that to stop further nuclear proliferation from nations such as North Korea we must see an end to the hypocrisy of the world’s nuclear powers and the beginning of nuclear disarmament by these powers. 

The logic behind the need for nuclear disarmament is simple. First, there is the obvious threat that nuclear powers pose to the world; a threat that is terrifying when one thinks about it. Nuclear weapons are without doubt the most awful inventions of human kind and an invention that the people of the world should be able to live without. Second to this however, is the mere fact that the continued ownership of nuclear weapons by the world’s nuclear powers creates a negative feedback, in which more states desire to own nuclear weapons. In other words if state A owns a nuclear weapon and state B, which does not own a nuclear  weapon perceives state A to be a threat, then state B is likely to attempt to obtain a nuclear weapon. When state B obtains this nuclear weapon, it is then likely that state A will boost its stocks to ‘out-muscle’ state B creating a continued cycle. On top of this, if state C perceives state B to be a threat it is likely that state C would desire to become a nuclear power and therefore create a new cycle. It is this sort of situation that originally saw the development of the vast nuclear stocks held by the then USSR and the United States and is seeing the creation of arms races in the Middle East (between Iran and Israel) and Southern Asia (between India and Pakistan) and in this situation the only way to end the nuclear cycle is for state A to act to disarm its nuclear weapons and therefore remove the original threat.

However, there would be people who would disagree with such an analysis and would bring up the theory of mutually assured destruction (MAD). The MAD theory states that if two states hold nuclear weapons, neither would ever dare to deploy a weapon as they would be assured destruction by the weapons of their foe. It is this reasoning that it is theorised stopped the possibility of nuclear war between the US and USSR during the cold war. However, with the end of the Cold War this theory has become defunct. Why? Because with the end of the Cold War we saw an end to a struggle between two large nations that held nearly all of the world’s nuclear weapons and the opening of the nuclear stage to many more countries, some of whom do not have a threat posed to them by other nuclear powers. For example, if Israel determined to drop a nuclear weapon on Iran sometime in the future, which nation would dare to use a nuclear weapon against Israel (given that Iran has no proven nuclear capabilities just yet)? Unlike the US and the USSR in the Cold War, Israel does not have the threat of mutually assured nuclear destruction.

The threat of nuclear weapons is still real and still extremely terrifying and it is about time that the world’s nuclear powers gave up on the hypocrisy and began to take action on disarming their nuclear weapons and ridding the world of human’s most atrocious invention. I congratulate Barack Obama for his call to begin action to start nuclear disarmament and hope it is followed with some serious concrete actions during his term as President. 

May 25, 2009 Posted by | Options for a Progressive Future, Security, War and Violence | , , | Leave a comment

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