Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A student blog for SUNY Buffalo Law School’s climate change class that will attend COP21 in Paris!

Welcome one and all. This is the blog for SUNY Buffalo Law School’s climate change class and our climate change delegation.

The 2015 course takes place from November 4 – December 2 in Room 406 of O’Brian Hall on Mondays and Wednesdays from 2:15 to 3:45 PM.

The 12 students (plus the instructor) will regularly be blogging about climate change issues here in the run up to COP 21 in Paris.

We have a 6-student delegation traveling to Paris for the second week of the negotiations where we will be working with Islands First and others.

Those students (plus the instructor again) will be blogging and vlogging and using all kinds of social media options to share their experience.

Stay tuned!


Climate Change in Music

Ever since middle school, I’ve been troubled by the fact that popular music covers such a small spectrum of topics. I feel like this problem has improved in recent years, but there is one important topic that remains largely untouched by the mainstream music industry: climate change.
At first, this may not seem so strange. Popular music often focuses on shallow topics, or topics that are relatable to as many people as possible. Obviously love is an easy topic, or partying. But there’s no shortage of popular music which covers meaningful topics: there’s an abundance of powerful protest songs, as well as music covering heavy or unpleasant topics like race, mass incarceration, institutionalized racism, etc. So where are the climate change songs?
I just read a BBC article (linked at the bottom of this post) which tackles this issue. Unfortunately, this article doesn’t offer a tidy answer or solution.
The article quotes Paul Hartnoll, an artist who used to be in a band called Orbital which attempted to write popular climate change music:
We won’t actually get a stream of good climate change songs until it starts “affecting people when they get up in the morning and people’s relatives start dying from it,” Hartnoll suggests.
“The one good thing is songwriters aren’t the ones who are meant to be saving the world are they? I know many try, and valiantly, but it’s the politicians who’ve got to do something. Let’s hope they get on with it.”
I agree that people generally care more about things that directly impact their lives, but I disagree with Hartnoll’s second point. Songwriters are the ones who are meant to save the world. The gears of politics, particularly on an international level, move too slowly to address present crises. It’s up to the cultural leaders, the songwriters, the actors, the people with a platform and an audience, to inspire a shift in the way the public views the world. Many celebrities dismiss their responsibilities too easily. I don’t understand how someone with a voice and an audience can claim that he doesn’t have a responsibility to improve the world. We need climate change music to win the hearts and minds of the public. Otherwise there will not be enough support for political action until it is too late.

Are Climate Change Labels On Products the End of Denial?

Although fairly brief and too vague in its important content, I found this article to be particularly interesting for class at the present moment, given the start of our Sustainability Game. As of November 17, in the city of Vancouver, Canada, gas pumps are required to have climate change warning labels. This move came as a result of a unanimous vote from city councilors.
The main goal of the climate change label is to help the masses realize that they are contributing to climate change through their gas purchases, and environmentalists are cheering at the implementation of the label. The article emphasizes that this is a change that is historic on a global scale, yet fails to detail anything about the actual climate change labels. Although “Horizon” is a successful non-profit and this motion was passed, the article was unable to give any concrete facts about the labels. The Mayor of Vancouver made it clear that it is time to take action and move forward to a society on reduced carbon or carbon-free diet, but failed to even mention how the climate change labels on the gas pumps would address this.
I found this article to be noteworthy given the Sustainability Game the class has just begun because of how difficult it is, as displayed in creating the rules in class, to determine how to properly project an individual’s carbon footprint. I found it especially interesting that a large non-profit working cohesively with various municipalities in Canada, were unable to describe the characteristics of the label at all, even in the basic sense of whether they will portray a negative or positive message. I feel accomplished in class that we were able to figure out a basic framework for climate change accountability.
Despite the article’s clarity, it’s momentous to see a city realize the gravity of the issue and begin to tackle it head on. I believe it is the start of a series of significant changes to come.
North Vancouver adding climate change warning labels at gas pumps

“Unfortunate” American Politics, Global Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Concentration Show Lack of Commitment

The World Meteorological Organization recently reported that the global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide surpassed a 400 parts per million, “breaching a symbolic barrier set by climate scientists and policy makers.” The chief of the W.M.O.’s Atmospheric Environment Research Division commented that crossing this threshold “only shows that our commitments are not there.”
France is pressing for such binding commitments at the upcoming Conference of the Parties in Paris. On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry made the “unfortunate” statement that there were “not going to be legally binding reduction targets like Kyoto.” In response, the French Foreign Minister stated, “Let’s not confuse, which Mr. Kerry may have done, the legal nature of the agreement, an international treaty, and the fact that quite clearly measures we agree to must be implemented in reality. This is not a policy discussion of hot air, this is a real agreement with real terms.”
The State Department attempted some damage control by clarifying the U.S. position as one that supports both binding and non-binding terms. However, as the WMO points out, we have already passed the “symbolic threshold” set by scientists and policymakers. It is far too late for the U.S. to be engaging in soft, theoretical discussions about curbing emissions. Even the State Department’s politically correct statement shows the U.S. cannot commit to the idea of binding terms, let alone the commitments themselves. Unfortunate indeed.

Despite Terror Attacks, UN COP 21 Still Set to Go Forward As Planned

The UN Climate Change talks that were to be held in Paris from November 30, 2015-December 11, 2015 will go forward despite the November 13 Terror Attacks in the city. Many major world leaders had committed to coming to the talks with the hope of coming to a firm and legally binding commitment to tackle climate change.  The French Government decided that they would go forward with the Convention and hold a “crisis meeting” to determine the increased security measures that would be put in place to protect the expected attendees, which include over 120 world leaders and between 10,0000 and 40,0000 delegates.
When asked about whether France would still hold the Climate Change talks  the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Saturday the climate conference would go ahead as planned.
“COP21 must be held”
The summit is more important now than ever, French Energy Minister Segolene Royale told Le Point magazine: “If not, terrorism wins,” she said.
President Obama and other world leaders have also reaffirmed their commitment to attend the talks.
The Parisian people are adamant about allowing life to return back to normal and it seems that the government believes continuing on with a world conference is a way to boost spirits, especially if an international binding agreement is made.

Misleading Title in Recent Climate Change Study

I recently read a summary of a study completed by researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) which stated that Idea of slow climate change in the earth’s past misleading. As I understand it, they are saying that the current methods of probing the geological record do not allow for good estimates of rates of climate change. Other disciplines, such as evolutionary biology and sedimentary geology, have corrected for these biases, but climate science has not and therefore underestimates rates of change.
We already knew that there were very rapid climate change events in the past. Volcanoes, asteroid impacts, etc. would cause very severe and very rapid changes to the climate. Some people may try to imply that this paper indicates that recent climate change is not particularly noteworthy or cause for concern. That is not the case. We have hundreds of thousands of years of annual ice layer data and thousands of years of tree rings. We have a very long period of “high resolution” records that demonstrate that the recent changes to the climate are extremely unusual and rapid.
What we don’t have is this kind of data going back millions of years. For that, the kinds of information are only indicative of changes over much longer periods of time than one year. This paper seems to be looking at ways to “fill in the gaps” by modeling what is going on in between.
This is of course important work, but it seems rather technical and more relevant to the scientific community than laypeople. The conclusion that recent warming is highly atypical and indicative of the large effects that human activity is having on the climate is entirely unaffected by this paper.
I would prefer if they renamed the title of the brief review to “Rapid climate change, on the scale that we see today, has happened several times in the past. These periods of rapid climate change also correlate with mass extinction events.” This gets the point across in a way that does not accidentally come across as downplaying climate change.

“Cli-Fi” and How Science Fiction Can Incite Climate Change Action

Climate change is arguably the most pressing issue of our generation. Open any newspaper, listen to any radio show, or scroll through any news website and you are bound to find at least one story concerning issues related to climate change. Despite its heavy media coverage, many people, especially young adults and children, will find climate change to be anything but simple. Climate change is a complicated issue because of its global reach and the variety of problems it causes. It doesn’t take an expert to realize reading scientific reports without a scientific background is extremely difficult, and I don’t think the world needs any more low-budget animated films for high school earth science classes. Is there a way to explain the effects of climate change to the general public, including young people, in an easily digestible form?
The Emergence of Climate Fiction
“Cli-fi” or climate fiction, is an entirely new sort of sub genre of science fiction that deals with effects of climate change or global warming. Climate fiction’s focus is less on doomsday scenarios that appear in more traditional science fiction and more on mitigating and adapting to changing ecosystems. Teachers see forms of climate fiction as a new way to teach students about the current threats of climate change. Cli-fi classes are even being taught in college classrooms across the United States, Britain, and Australia (including SUNY Geneseo!)
Themes of climate change, global warming, and the mortality of the human race in the science fiction genre are nothing new. Books on the imperiled existence of humankind due to changes in the earth have been around even as early as 1960. Well-known examples of movies, tv series, and comic strips that have addressed climate change issues include Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Captain Planet, Star Trek, Avatar, Doctor Who, and Transformers.
There is even a professor at the University of British Columbia using Star Wars to teach students about global warming effects and the importance of the IPCCC.
As a child of the Harry Potter generation, I think it is entirely possible to use fiction to not only teach people about the very real threats facing our earth, but to incite hope that we have the power to make a difference.


Dark Clouds Looming Over Volkswagen

VW shares took yet another blow earlier this month when the company self-reported “irregularities” in carbon dioxide emissions levels.  The company will have to recall nearly 800,000 European cars, as nearly all of them are said to have been impacted in some way by these “irregularities”.  All of this comes just weeks after Volkswagen had to set aside nearly 7 billion Euros to meet the costs of having to recall almost 11 million vehicles from around the globe.  Those vehicles are said to have been fitted with so called “defeat devices”, which essentially tricked the cars ECU to allow the vehicles to pass emissions testing of nitrogen oxide.
Over the past decade, small displacement, 4 cylinder engines have taken over the market place.  In addition to having low operating costs, such as great fuel efficiency, these small engine vehicles are almost always cheaper to purchase than model versions of the same car that are outfitted with a larger displacement engine.  These 4-bangers are becoming so popular, that, in addition to their line of sedans, manufactures are now placing them in small to mid-sized SUV’s.  Additionally, it is easier for manufactures to get these cars to pass local emissions testing, primarily due to less exhaust gasses as a result of less cylinders burning less fuel.  Despite the fact that consumers thought they were purchasing more environmentally friendly vehicles, VW has done nothing but left its consumers wondering just how much damage they have personally contributed to the carbon footprint.

Say it Ain’t So…Climate Change Could Mean Less Sex

Climate change can do a lot of things, but most people may think at least it stays out of the bedroom, right? Not so fast, According to a study that was just released climate change could negatively affect people between the sheets.
A team of three economists poured over 80 years of U.S. fertility data and concluded that sweltering days, when temperatures climb above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, are followed by fewer births 8 to 10 months later. To put it delicately, these heatwaves coincided with “not tonight, honey.”
“Hot weather leads to diminished “coital frequency,” according to a new working paper put out by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Three economists studied 80 years of U.S. fertility and temperature data and found that when it’s hotter than 80 degrees F, a large decline in births follows within 10 months. Would-be parents tend not to make up for lost time in subsequent, cooler months. “
Hey maybe if nothing else works to motivate people to stop global warming this might.

Uninhabitable cities due to climate change?

Attached is a Time article about how in the next century some cities may become uninhabitable due to climate change ( The article discusses a study published in Nature Climate Change (according to Wikipedia this is a monthly peer-reviewed scientific journal), which found that by the end of the century heat waves in Doha, Abu Dhabi and Bandar Abbas could reach threshold temperatures of 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
The article did end by optimistically stating that “[t]he extreme heat waves forecast in the study may be avoidable if countries around the world take action to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions,” and made a nod to the Paris climate change negotiations.
This raises a few questions: (1) Do you think this research sounds reputable? (2) Is the threat of uninhabitable cities striking enough to light a fire under people in regards to addressing climate change? (3) Could these countries recover under the theory of loss and damage?

An app that tracks your carbon footprint: Is this a bottom-up approach to addressing climate change?

Our readings demonstrated, and we discussed in class, how international law is created using a top-down approach. The framework convention/protocol approach is no exception. Heads-of-state and their delegations meet in a room to negotiate and make the treaties that will apply to everyone else.
We also discussed how much each of us sacrifices to combat climate change. We ride bikes to work, drive fuel-efficient cars, etc. But we don’t really know how much these efforts help in reducing our carbon footprint.
A relatively new company called Oroeco has created an app that relates to both of these discussions. Oroeco claims to be using a bottom-up, as opposed to a top-down, approach to address climate change. Oroeco’s app quantifies how much CO2 an individual’s activity generates. Part of its calculations are based on what people purchase, and it tracks this by linking to the banking app Mint. For example, if Oroeco sees that you purchased $30 worth of gasoline, or that you purchased a plane ticket, it will calculate how much carbon those purchases will generate. It also puts a carbon value on things you eat, and your home energy use. After all of this tracking, the app gives you tips on how to reduce your carbon footprint, and it even lets you purchase carbon offsets. The app also adds a social component to let you compare your carbon reducing efforts to your friends.
This is apparently a bottom-up approach because it is empowering everyone (everyone with a smartphone and an internet connection), not just world leaders, to reduce their carbon emissions. I think this is a very cool and somewhat practical app, but I would not consider it a true bottom-up approach because it is clearly aimed at people in the middle-to-upper classes of developed nations. A true bottom-up approach would take into account the efforts and ideas of the billions of people in India and China, but this is definitely a start.
For more information on Oroeco, see the links below: