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In defense of islands, the Arctic, ourselves
A spear through the global warming beast’s heart? 

by Jan Lundberg

Enele Sopoaga is one of the prime leaders of the world, although he is “only” the United Nations ambassador from Tuvalu which has a population of 10,000. 

Tuvalu is threatened by certain sea-level rise from global warming.  The island nation in the South Pacific is no higher than four meters above sea level.  A one-meter sea-level rise would not mean only some proportional destruction of Tuvalu, for the extreme weather associated with climate distortion means that averages mask the inevitable high-water disasters.  

To put this in global context, an international news development dated January 23, 2005 should sober everybody up: “Global warming has already hit the danger point that international attempts to curb it are designed to avoid, according to the world’s top climate watchdog (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chairman Dr. Rajendra Pachauri).” 

His Excellency Enele Sopoaga came to Berkeley, California on February 14, 2005 to take part in a “Valentine Gift to the Planet” and celebration of the world’s adoption of the Kyoto Protocol on February 16th.  This international treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions is shunned and violated by the U.S. and Australia, renegade nations evidently not part of the world community of nations.  The implications of that status can be historic and involve war.  And what may seem sufficient politically today – Kyoto Protocol's 5% cut in emissions between 2008 and 2012 compared to 1990 levels – is but a prelude to what must and will be done "tomorrow."

Tuvalu may be stepped on today by powerful bullies erasing an entire nation’s future, but other countries are already suffering too; hence the creation of the Association of Small Island States.  Arctic nations have also made appeals to the U.S. and other polluters destroying the climate.  These helpless victims who have lived by the sea for thousands of years can be ignored and even let die, but the answer to "who would be next?" is possibly "Everyone, eventually." 

By the time the clear danger of “Hitler coming up the driveway” would be recognized by "people who matter,” it is too late.  It is not only the low-lying regions, such as the high-populated Bengal Basin, and the island nations, that stand to endure near total destruction.  As the greenhouse effect may have already attained runaway status, the entire biosphere may be at risk.  Fortunately, there are still effective approaches on climate change that are outside the corporate mind-box.

The Tuvalu islands location

Ambassador Sopoaga gave a heartfelt speech at Berkeley city hall’s Peace Bell, referring to war for oil as an element in policy causing global warming.  He understands fully the consequence of our fossil-fuels dependency.  In his remarks he called for (1) a shift to renewable energy and (2) a reduction in fossil energy consumption.  He also spoke of world-subsidized insurance programs and other means of mitigation for climate change. 

The technofix versus radical conservation

However, His Excellency's first two priorities need to be reversed.  For it is the immediate slashing of energy consumption, especially in the “developed world,” that will yield the greatest and fastest possible relief for Tuvalu, the Inuit peoples, and all of us – including other species.  Unfortunately, the environmental movement is dominated by those funded to tout almost exclusively the technofix approach.  They in effect contend and pretend that present consumption can simply be modified and fine-tuned, regardless of (A) today's and tomorrow's overpopulation and (B) the impossibility of any known package of alternative fuels to fully substitute for petroleum. 

I told His Excellency that I had had no car for 16 years, and that there has to be a culture change such as a halt in road building.  He repeated the phrase “culture change” appreciatively, and added that we all need “less Bush.”  That latter statement is one of restraint, when discussing a veritable enemy of one’s country and the planet. 

In a pro-wind-power opinion piece in the New York Times/International Herald Tribune on February 17, author Bill McKibben made this powerful point:  "There are more than 100 coal-fired power plants on the drawing board in the United States right now; if they are built America will spew ever more carbon into the atmosphere.  And that will endanger not only the residents of low-lying tropical nations that will be swamped by rising oceans, but also the residents of the Siamese Pond Wilderness [who do not want ten towering wind turbines in the Adirondack Park, New York state]."  However, he said absolutely nothing in his piece about avoiding the need for using energy – an approach we can call radical conservation:  "Right now, the choice is between burning fossil fuels and making the transition, as quickly as possible, to renewable power," he claims.  

One of Mr. McKibben's statements can be interpreted as advocating conservation: "Just to slow the pace of this rapid warming will require every possible response, from more efficient cars to fewer sprawling suburbs to more trains to – well, the list is pretty well endless."  But his short list does not spell serious conservation, when stopping our purchase and use of machines is much more crucial than building and buying more efficient ones.  Car-free living and halting any new roads construction are overdue "innovations."  His examples are not energy-slashing measures that will cut the global warming beast off at the knees.  Does Mr. McKibben mean that fewer sprawling suburbs should be built, or that some should be depaved and turn into ecovillages?

Mr. McKibben should know that renewables cannot support today's fossil-fueled overpopulation nor float any semblance of the maximum-entropy growth-economy raging along – it is about to hurtle over a cliff called post peak-oil collapse.   The grim reality on the alluring technofix and the warning on the global economy's petroleum dependence are unfundable and unprintable subjects in mainstream circles, something Mr. McKibben would be aware of.  Is slashing energy use just, you know, so 1960s or something?  Perhaps the main difference today is that the economy is much tougher than in the 1960s when idealism and one income per household got us pretty far.

Culture Change and other climate activists are not against renewable energy, and we are for it when envisioned for specific, local applications.  But we do not support as a prime solution any fantasy-policy that doesn't make for an energy equation helpful in today's world.  In 1970 perhaps, the technofix had a real chance.  In 2005, selling cars and maintaining the petroleum infrastructure are even more vital for the corporate media.  Such media are happy to give us a rare glimpse of climate catastrophe so as to claim to be providing us with objective coverage of the big picture.  For reporters, authors and even activists, the need to get their stuff published can be more important than telling the whole truth.  To be fair, it is also true that people do not understand petroleum's capabilities – whether cheap or stratospheric in price – compared to the limitations of alternatives such as wind power or solar in (not) providing farm chemicals, tires, asphalt, plastic, etc.

The Arctic and the spear

An speaker for victims of industrialists’ climate violence equally eloquent to Ambassador Sopoaga is Sheila Watt-Cloutier of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference.  She testified for Senator John McCain’s committee in late 2004: “Global warming connects us all – the planet and its people are one:  The Inuit hunter who falls through the depleting and unpredictable sea-ice is connected to the cars we drive, the industries we rely upon, and the disposable world we have become.”  Her people number 155,000 from Siberia around through North America to Greenland.

"The Inuit people of the Arctic regions are preparing to
charge the United States with human rights violations, saying that country is the leading culprit behind climate change, which threatens their way of life – and their very survival." [ IPS news story, Feb. 15]  This is also the position of the International Institute of Bengal Basin which is concerned about the extremely high-populated, low-elevation Bangladesh coastline.

The Inuit Circumpolar Conference will present a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights/Organisation of American States in the next few months.  Their goal is for the OAS to find against the United States, the world's leading producer of greenhouse gases (29 percent), for causing global warming and threatening the Inuit's existence.

This legal tactic raises the ante.  This trend of more extreme action is the only direction our movement can go.  Yesterday's appropriate response to deliberately-induced climate catastrophe was, in international forums, to “engage the U.S. and Australia to pledge reductions of their greenhouse gas emissions.” [Ambassador Sopoaga's speech in Berkeley] – the main approach today.  All right, but for self-defense at this late hour, it is also true that a spear needs to be driven into the heart of the global warming beast due to the urgency and scale of the threat.  What form the spear may take – it can even be love – is as important as the timing; whatever works! 

It was in this spirit of urgency and taking action that the Global Warming Crisis Council was formed in 2003 (see Culture Change Letter #26), and why the U.S. embassy in London has been picketed regularly for years in the name of climate protection.  The threat of global warming today has even gotten the Pentagon doing some planning, but the global warmers still control government and they say we must fry for their profit.  What do you say?

As inadequate as the Kyoto Protocol is for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, it is a step that can be added to.  And its mildness and allowance for market mechanisms expose, when it is rejected completely by the U.S., the real and anti-life purpose of the corporate state. 

Cities such as Berkeley, Arcata and others across the U.S. have adopted the Kyoto Protocol.  Sport Utility Vehicles have been targeted by activists who believe property destruction is distinct from violence (i.e., harming humans or life).  These actions and many others, such as the report you are reading, may or may not be part of the spear vanquishing an insane enemy out to kill us. 


We do not lack for knowledge or leaders to cope with the challenge of global warming.  What is lacking is conscious people.  Hundreds of millions more people could already be reducing waste and saving energy and trees, if enough people took small steps and took the trouble to communicate and plan with others.  The process must work foremost with the greatest wasters of all, who needlessly and uncaringly flaunt wealth and pretend that the world is a sewer the size of the universe. 

The Earth is unpredictable and alive with feeling and purpose.  Recognizing the power of change and respecting the right of other species to survive and thrive will prepare those of us who are compassionately aware of climate change to anticipate and participate in a complete revolution of values – culture change – that will have to prevail if life as we know it is to endure. 


- On "greening the petroleum economy"- The technofix isn't
- Global Warming Crisis Council story: 
- GWCC webpage:  - New Scientist magazine covers climate change Feb. 2005
- Kyoto USA: 
- Inuit Circumpolar Conference: 
- The Independent/UK’s story by Geoffrey Lean: “Global Warming Approaching Point of No Return, Warns Leading Climate Expert.” January 23, 2005
- Inter Press Service News Agency article on Inuit lawsuit
- Boston flood threat due to warming: Boston Globe 
- Melting Planet film on web
- International Institute of Bengal Basin
- Global warming is real, studies of oceans indicate CNN-International
- Bill McKibben's windy piece 
- Photo of Enele Sopoaga from
- Photo of Inuit mother and papoose: from shades
- Photo of Tuvalu island from

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