Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A lesson in Muslim environmental ethics

Many environmentalists believe that conservation is an American idea. E.O. Wilson goes so far as to say that Americans invented it in his recent Atlantic Monthly essay that I posted this past Tuesday. Do you think he was referring to Native Americans?

Probably not, so it may come as a surprise to him and others that the Koran (or at least a modern interpretation of it) has provided the inspiration and guidance for the development of programs in Tanzania designed to help fishermen sustainably harvest the waters off the west coast. (GW)

African fishermen find way of conservation in the Koran

The Christian Science Monitor
October 31, 2007

Then, the local imam told him that using dragnets to fish and spears to catch octopuses was wrong.

As a devout Muslim, he listened.

"I've learned that the way I fished was destructive to the environment," says Mr. Haji, "This side of conservation isn't from the mzungu," he says, using the Swahili word for white man, "it's from the Koran."

On this remote edge of the Indian Ocean, an experimental model for implementing Muslim environmental ethics and education is yielding results. Local and international nongovernmental organizations, which pioneered the project, will publish a guidebook later this year in English and Swahili to be distributed throughout the Swahili-speaking coast of East Africa and eventually in Muslim communities around the world.

Many of the fisherman here are now members of the Misali Island Conservation Association (MICA), which helps to protect the resources of this important islet off the west coast of Pemba.

"Misali is a benchmark for the faith community," says Fazlun Khalid, the founding director of the Britain-based Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IFEES), one of the NGOs involved with the project. "It shows that Islamic leaders can empower and organize their constituents on conservation issues much faster than governments can."

Mr. Khalid was first invited to Zanzibar in 1998 by Rob Wild of CARE, who was frustrated that traditional conservation messages were not reaching the fishermen. Khalid had been eager to pilot a methodology using Islamic teachings to communicate conservation, and Misali became the first experiment of that methodology.

Khalid, together with CARE, met with religious leaders and fishermen to discuss how the teachings of the Koran related to the environment and the use of natural resources. Later, they worked with MICA to train religious leaders to incorporate conservation messages into their Friday prayer sermons.

"We researched lost teachings and put them together in a modern form," says Khalid. "The Koran gives ethical principles on guardianship and relationships with other beings, which can form the ethical foundation for conservation. And there are other sayings and practices of the prophet [Muhammad] that relate to sustainable use of resources."

One Koranic verse selected for its ecological significance was Sura 6:141: " is He [Allah] who produces gardens, both cultivated and wild.... Eat of their fruits when they bear fruit and pay their dues on the day of their harvest, and do not be profligate. He does not love the profligate."

Misali Island, a teardrop-shaped atoll that makes up part of the Zanzibar archipelago, is part of a lush marine ecosystem where more than 300 species of fish breed and swim through a maze of 42 types of coral.

Fishing and tourism, together with small-scale cultivation of fruit and spices like clove, form the backbone of Tanzania's coastal economy. More than 12,000 Pemba residents in 36 villages count on fish from Misali's waters and little else for survival.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature's Tanzania office, the biggest threats to the region's marine ecosystem are illegal fishing with destructive gear such as dragnets, small mesh nets, and poles used to break coral; catching of endangered species like sea turtles; deforestation of mangroves; and overfishing of species such as chango and kingfish.

The creation in 1998 of the Misali Island Conservation Area, a reserve of 22.4 square kilometers encompassing the island and its surrounding waters, was the first policy to preserve the reef ecosystem. The conservation area allowed for sustainable use of fish stocks except in a one-kilometer core zone around the island and was run by a management committee made up mostly of fishermen as well as government representatives. In 2005, the conservation area expanded to include all of Pemba's west coast and is now called the Pemba Channel Conservation Area.

After the formation of the conservation area, Ali Abdullah Mbarouk, a project manager for CARE International, saw that traditional conservation messages were not having the desired effect on the Pemba fishermen.

"But if people are told to do something from their religious leader, they are likely to obey," Mr. Mbarouk says.

In addition to facilitating the communication of the Islamic environmental ethic, CARE has worked to help the fishermen find alternatives to fishing. The program encourages the fishermen and their families through a credit and savings program to grow and sell produce, tend beehives, and make handicrafts. Haji, the fisherman, now grows pineapple as a cash crop and raises bees with help from his three wives and 17 children.

Many fishermen have also switched to more sustainable fishing gear.

Hamza Sleiman, chairman of the conservation committee for Wesha village, says village men have switched from dragnets, which collect unwanted fish, in addition to commercial species, to ring nets that allow better selectivity.

Though no study to assess the project has been done in recent years, a baseline study by CARE in 2000 showed that only 34 percent of fishermen thought that Islam related to their use of the sea and its resources. In 2003, another study showed the number had risen to 66 percent. It also found that the lessons learned through the project had actually spread beyond the villages directly concerned.

Yet despite the program's successes, challenges remain.

According to Mbarouk, some less pious community members have not taken the message to heart and still use dragnets and poles to poke at the coral.

Ali Thani, now with WWF and helping other Tanzanian coastal communities to apply the model, says that some religious leaders lack the education to communicate conservation issues.

"The religious leaders have to relate complex ethical issues to conservation practices and that can be hard work," says Mr. Thani. "Not all of them are up to the challenge."

But Khalid of IFEES is optimistic that the lessons of Misali can be applied to Muslim communities wrangling with the same issues.

IFEES recently began working with communities in Indonesia to rehabilitate mangrove swamps in Aceh, and manage a forest reserve on Sumatra.

"We will start small, like Misali, and empower the villages through the local Muslim teachers," says Khalid. "They are the best people to tell them it's their responsibility to manage their resources sustainably."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Our ultimate strength

The November 2007 of The Atlantic Monthly is a celebration of this extraordinary magazine's 150th anniversary. The theme of this special issue is: 'The Future of the American Idea'. A distinguished lineup of scholars, novelists, politicians, artists, and others were asked to look ahead to the future of the American idea.

I was pleased to see that E.O. Wilson, Harvard professor of entomology and Pulitzer-prize winning author (Sociobiology, Insect Societies, Biophilia, Consilience), writes about why sustainable development is so important to the future of America. For him, it has everything to do with comprehensive, long-term thinking -- something we need to get much better at. (GW)

Manifest Ecology

by Edward O. Wilson
The Atlantic Monthly
November 2007

The central issue for America is sustainable development. Somehow we, and other countries, have to find a way to continue raising the quality of life without wrecking the planet.

Let’s not kid ourselves that the United States is blessed by God. Our mostly European forebears were not given this land as a gift. They conquered it, and in the process they swept aside one race and enslaved another. They took possession of the world’s richest remaining store of natural resources and set out to use it up as fast as possible. We inherited from them, and still possess, a rich and bountiful country. Although we’re halfway down the barrel of nonrenewable resources, we have enough time remaining to learn the prudence necessary for sustainable development.

The problem, simply put, is this: Long-term thinking is for the most part alien to the American mind. We have to change that. To look far forward and to acquire enough accurate vision requires better self-understanding. That in turn will depend on a grasp of history—not just of the latest tick of the geological clock that transpired during the republic’s existence, but of deep history, across the hundreds of millennia when genetic human nature evolved. Our basic qualities may seem a crazy jumble of tribalism, piety, ambition, fear, envy, exaltation, and spirituality, but they make sense in light of humanity’s deep history. They are our essence, and now, unfortunately, a few of them also present the greatest risk to the security of civilization.

Conservation and environmentalism are not hobbies; they are a survival practice. America invented conservation; we launched the environmental movement. Now we need a stronger ethic, one woven in more effective ways from science and poetry. The foundation of it will be the recognition that humanity was born within the biosphere, and that we are a biological species in a biological world. Like the other species teeming around us, we are exquisitely adapted to this biosphere and to no other—in anatomy, physiology, life cycle, mind, and, perhaps in us alone, spirit.

An allegiance to our biological heritage will be our ultimate strength. If we ignore that reality and continue to degrade the world that gave us birth by extinguishing natural ecosystems and species, we will permanently harm ourselves. By cutting away our own roots, we risk losing the dream of sustainable development.

Monday, October 29, 2007

China's quest for sustainable development

All eyes are on China these days. And for good reason. The country's economic growth is impressive. But it has come at a tremendous cost in terms of the environment. China's reliance on coal is alarming. It depends on it to meet 70 percent of its energy needs. Every week to 10 days, another coal-fired power plant opens somewhere in China. Even more alarming is the fact that nearly 14,000 new cars make their way onto China's roads each day. Pan Vue, vice minister of China's State Environmental Protection Administration is quoted in the current issue of Foreign Affairs as saying "[China's] economic miracle will end soon because the environment can no longer keep pace."

Sustainable development is the place where economic, social and environmental goals meet and are integrated. Sustainable development is China's only hope of raising the standard of living of the poorest of the poor while avoiding condemning them and the rest of the world to a seriously degraded environment and unstable atmosphere. (GW)

Hu's dilemma over development

With the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China now concluded and the beauty parade of new leaders having been won and lost, it is clear that one issue is to be the political battleground in the coming years: China's sustainable development.

James Rose
The Standard
October 29, 2007

With the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China now concluded and the beauty parade of new leaders having been won and lost, it is clear that one issue is to be the political battleground in the coming years: China's sustainable development.

It is clear that the CPC, from Hu Jintao down, agree that sustainable development, in economic, social and environmental terms, is vital for China's and the party's future. But its success comes down to a question of ownership.

For the economic sustainability part of the future, the directions seem clear. Moving away from a kind of derivative economy, one in which China is really just absorbing the growth of the rest of the world and making money from it, must be a priority. Chinese employees, particularly in industrial sectors, and stakeholders will only take being second-class citizens in the global labor market for so long. Real wages and conditions must be raised, lest the very basis of China's economic growth - a strong labor force - becomes eroded.

Here we move into social and even environmental factors in the sustainable development picture. China's closed- shop union system, whereby the state holds the reins of the only permissible union body, will become a hindrance.

Without proper representation, China's laborers are already finding the whole harmonious society/sustainable development mantra wafting out of Beijing a bit off-key. Other issues of representation emerge as other stakeholders consider the implications of China's sustainable future.

Among them is the business sector. While it is fair to oblige businesses to adopt more sustainable goals via regulation and formal and informal monitoring, it will serve China poorly if that is done through a political filter. This is not to say that business should get primacy at the negotiation table, nor that corporate leaders get to set their own agendas.

In simple terms, government support must be offered for businesses to adopt more sustainable practices and, that requires some degree of negotiation.

Other stakeholders must be brought in too; China's massive nongovernment conservationist sector, for instance, as well as international green groups, social welfare professionals, farmers, shareholders, investors, and media, to name just a few.

In short, for China to establish and maintain a truly sustainable economy and society, what we are talking about is a sense of dialogue, freedom of association, liberty of thought, debate and negotiation. Yes, what we are talking about is that word: democracy.

Sustainability has little or no resonance if it is simply a vehicle driven by Beijing's inner circle, with local party hacks and complicit bureaucrats along for the ride. That kind of sustainability is such in name only and will tend only to rumble over the very future it is purporting to encourage.

The core equation being proposed by the CPC is that economic, social and environmental sustainability is to be continually obliged to serve the greater cause of political sustainability - read, the survival of the CPC.

It is horribly flawed.

For now, and for the next few years, the answer to the question of who owns China's sustainability is the same as the question itself. You just have the change the spelling of "who." And, for all Hu's oblique references to increased democratic freedoms and to environmental and social factors, this is a worry.

It is a concern that is only exacerbated by the latest National Congress. The rise of the "princelings," particularly Shanghai heavyweight and Jiang Zemin acolyte Xi Jingping, the president-in-waiting, is potentially troubling.

Take a look at China during Jiang's reign and take a look at, say, Pudong now and at pictures from 30 years ago and you will understand why.

Which is also why the next five years, during which these various machinations will play out, will be so fascinating.

What we can hope for is that something of a flow of ideas finds its way up from the street and from the landscape to inform the new team of the value of an integrated approach to sustainable development.

The whole concept of sustainable development, the very foundation of Hu's and Wen's proposed legacy, is being constructed as a complete contradiction of its stated goals. There's nothing sustainable in the current ossified model, new faces or not.

James Rose is editor of

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Demand and supply: new scenario for sustainability?

It (almost) stands to reason given the development of personal laptop computers, cell phones, iTunes, Tivo, movies on demand, etc. that it would only a matter of time before someone would think seriously about how to develop a system capable of delivering electricity on demand. It's a concept that fits neatly into the discussion of the "smart grid".

Whether or not such a thing actually comes to fruition remains to be seen, but it is indicative of the kind of creative thinking that's going on these days focusing on how to make the electric grid more efficient. Now lest you think these discussions are only taking place within the ivory towers of European Union academia, y0u may want to check out the Galvin Electricity Initiative. This organization founded by Robert Galvin, the former head of Motorola and headed by Kurt Yeager former
president and chief executive officer of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), is leading a campaign to create an environmentally sound and fuel efficient perfect power system -- a consumer-focused electric energy system that never fails.

According to Yeager, the smart grid would be a lot more accommodating to distributed generation (local, on site power systems) and renewable energy sources like wind and solar. (GW)

Could Electricity Grid Become A Type Of Internet?

Oct. 25, 2007

In the future everyone who is connected to the electricity grid will be able to upload and download packages of electricity to and from this network. At least, that is one of the transformations the electricity grid could undergo.

Dutch researcher Jos Meeuwsen (Technical University Eindhoven) developed three scenarios for the Dutch electricity supply in the year 2050. The starting point is that in this year, 50% of the consumption will originate from sustainable sources.

Due to the security of supply and the connection with the European market, electricity networks will always be necessary says Meeuwsen. Further, due to an increasing demand for electricity it is important to include all possible energy options (including coal and nuclear energy) in the scenario development.

The exact form of future networks will largely depend on the primary energy mix chosen. In all cases engineers face new and considerable challenges in the areas of network and system integration and the development and implementation of new technology. Moreover, in all scenarios the total network capacity must increase. Small-scale networks will adapt characteristics from the current large-scale networks, such as the possibility of 'two-way traffic' and the responsibility to maintain a stable system.

Demand follows supply

In particular, the number of ways in which the total electricity supply system can be held in balance in the future will need to be expanded as more electricity is generated from sustainable sources.

This might even mean a paradigm shift from the current 'permanently matching supply to demand' to 'continuously matching demand to supply'. Meeuwsen foresees a step-by-step integration of energy technology, ICT and power electronics that might result in an electricity system that exhibits many similarities with the Internet. Everyone connected to the system could then, within certain limits, upload and download packages of 'electrical energy' whenever they want.

An important condition is, however, the technical feasibility of the centralised and/or decentralised storage of large amounts of electricity.

Three scenarios

Meeuwsen's three different scenarios for the future of the electricity grid mainly differ in the size of the electricity generation facilities. The scenario 'super networks' consists of large-scale production locations, transportation via high voltages, a considerable import of sustainable energy (in the form of biomass) and energy from offshore wind farms. The 'hybrid networks' scenario also includes large plants with high voltages that originate from offshore wind parks and large biomass stations.

Additionally, small-scale generation takes place in and around cities and villages (wind, biomass and solar energy). Finally, in the 'local' scenario the number of local generators (in the form of micro-cogeneration units, solar energy panels, small-scale biomass plants at neighbourhood level and land-based wind turbines) is the greatest, yet large industrial processes and small consumers still make partly use of electricity from large-scale production resources.

The postdoctoral research 'Electricity networks of the future: Various roads to a sustainable energy systems' is part of the programme 'Transition and transition paths: the road to a sustainable energy system' funded by the NWO/SenterNovem Stimulation Programme Energy Research. The programme aims to develop knowledge in the natural sciences and humanities for the transition towards a sustainable energy supply.

Adapted from materials provided by Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.

Friday, October 26, 2007

"On personal integrity hangs humanity's fate"

The United Nations has issued its "report card" on the efforts around the world at establishing strategies for development that are sustainable. To no one's surprise, the news is not encouraging. Earth's vital signs are cause for serious concern.

If you feel that you've heard all this before, you may be right. But it's almost certain that you have never seen it presented in such an exhaustive and comprehensive way in one place before -- with the lines between functions and conditions of the various planetary systems so clearly connected.

In "Critical Path" -- one of his most accessible works, Bucky Fuller wrote:
"At the present moment, muscle, cunning, fear and selfishness are in powerful control of human affairs. We humans are here in Universe to exercise the Universe-functioning of mind. Only mind can apprehend, abide by, and be led by truth. If human mind comes into control of human affairs, the first thing it will do is exercise our option to "make it.

The political and economic systems and the political and economic leaders of humanity are not in final examination; it is the integrity of each individual human that is in final examination. On personal integrity hangs humanity's fate. You can deceive others, you can deceive your brain-self, but you can't deceive your mind-self -- for mind deals only in the discovery of truth and the interrelationships of all the truths. The cosmic laws with which mind deals are noncurruptible." (GW)
Humans failing the sustainability audit

By Richard Black
BBC News
October 25, 2007

With its Geo-4 report, the United Nations tells us that most aspects of the Earth's natural environment are in decline; and that the decline will affect us, the planet's human inhabitants, in some pretty important ways.

Feel like you have heard it before? Of course you have, not least from the UN.

So what, you might ask, is special about this report? Why is it worth any more than a cursory headline glance before returning to the party?

Well, first there is the sheer scale. Hundreds of researchers from a huge variety of disciplines have compiled, written and analysed its 572 pages; thousands more have reviewed the various chapters.

Second, Geo-4 covers the whole range of environmental issues, and the links between them.

In these climate-obsessed times, it is often forgotten that issues like forestry, fresh water supplies, agriculture, biodiversity, and the spread of desert land all connect to each other and to climate change.

In the language of James Lovelock's Gaia theory, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that have punctuated 2007 allowed us to take the planet's temperature; Geo-4 shows us what is going on in the blood supply, the lymph system, the intestines and the immune defences.
Third, it explores the links between social trends and environmental decline in a way that is not often done. Which other body, for example, asks whether the divergence we are seeing in the wealth of the richest and the poorest is good or bad for the environment?

And fourth, it is a staging post on a journey which in principle the international community embarked upon 20 years ago; a chance to see how far society has come, and in which direction.

Sustainable commitment

1987 was perhaps the year when the international community, through the United Nations, began to sound as though it were serious about the environment.

It was the year that the World Commission on Environment and Development, chaired by the then Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, delivered the gospel of sustainability.

When Mrs Brundtland presented the commission's conclusions to the UN General Assembly, in the form of a report entitled Our Common Future, they were well received.

The assembled governments declared they were "concerned about the accelerating deterioration of the human environment and natural resources and the consequences of that deterioration for economic and social development".

They agreed that sustainable development - by which they meant "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" - should become a central guiding principle of the UN itself, as well as its member governments.

They called upon governments - ie themselves - to "ensure that their policies, programmes and budgets encourage sustainable development".

Officially, it was now acknowledged that environmental protection and human development were inextricably linked; there could be no sustainable economic development without environmental protection, and no sustained environmental protection without equitable economic development.

The Brundtland Report set the scene for the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit five years later, which would deliver more specific global commitments on climate, biodiversity, desertification and forests, turning the commission's broad vision into narrower objectives, more measurable and so - perhaps - more achievable.

Our Common Future contained fine words, and fine sentiments; Geo-4 suggests they have not been acted upon.

Nature's poor

Almost everywhere it looks, Geo-4 finds evidence of decline in the years since.

From over-fishing and pollution in the oceans to climate-changing emissions in the atmosphere, it concludes that pretty much everything is going downhill.

More greenhouse gases, more widespread pollution, declining availability of fresh water, deforestation, degradation of farmland, ocean acidification - it is hard to come up with a more comprehensive and, frankly, a more depressing list.

Yet humans are living longer; and in most parts of the world, living standards are higher. Unep calculates that per-capita GDP has gone up from close to $6,000 to just over $8,000 over the last 20 years.

So what, you might ask, is the problem?

Marine fish stocks provide perhaps the clearest example.

Three-quarters of marine fisheries are exploited up to, or beyond, their maximum capacity.

Today's industrial-scale fleets deploy giant nets which could fit a phalanx of jumbo jets through their mouths, they use sonar to find shoals of fish and GPS to locate fertile fishing grounds.

Yet they are finding less and less to catch, because there is less and less there; eventually, there may be nothing at all worth hunting.

There could be no clearer example of a society engaged in unsustainable development; a society that is "meeting the needs of the present", but in doing so is very definitely "compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

Humans might be living longer and richer lives now, this implies; but environmental degradation must at some point curb or even reverse the trend.

To use the jargon, the world's store of financial capital is rising at the expense of its natural capital, the bits of nature that humans rely on to provide food and water and to re-process our waste.

It finds that the unsustainable label sticks to everything examined by Mrs Brundtland's team: "There are no major issues raised in Our Common Future for which the foreseeable trends are favourable".

Growing concerns

Since Brundtland, the world's human population has increased by 34%; although the rate of growth is slowing, it is a long way from stabilisation.

A larger population needs more land to live on and grow food, hence causing more deforestation and more encroachment into areas previously left for nature. It means extracting more water for drinking, industry and agriculture; more energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Brundtland suggested developing policies that simultaneously aimed to restrain population growth while reducing both poverty and environmental destruction.

If that was ever feasible, politicians and their advisors now generally consider population growth such a sensitive issue that it has virtually disappeared off the sustainability radar.

By pointing out that global population growth is a significant environmental issue, Geo-4 might just encourage politicians to bring it back out of the closet, so that it can at least be discussed again.

Human salvation?

Sustainable development is not the easiest concept to catch up with; certainly it is much harder for a government to measure whether greenhouse gas emissions are rising, or whether economic growth is accelerating than to evaluate whether its overall policy portfolio is sustainable.

Jonathon Porritt has argued on this website that sustainable development is not just a "boring catch-phrase", but the key to a better future for humankind and the natural world.

As he also argued, there has never been more talk about it; in fact, if a tree were planted every time a modern European politician uttered the SD-phrase, loss of forest would probably be a thing of the past.

Geo-4 shows us that if 20 post-Brundtland years have upped the rhetoric, they have done little to change the reality; despite a plethora of good intentions, global society is less sustainable than ever.

Without major changes in direction, we had better hope that the people who believe that human ingenuity, technology and economic growth will always solve our future problems turn out to be right.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Are there any convenient truths?

"But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination
Published Oct 22, 2007 12:12 AM

Will it really help save the planet from environmental ruin that former Vice President Al Gore has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?

That might seem like a strange question. So let’s ask another: Has it helped stop illegal and predatory imperialist wars that Jimmy Carter got the prize in 2002; that Yasser Arafat had to share it in 1994 with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin of Israel; that Nelson Mandela was awarded it jointly with F.W. de Klerk of apartheid South Africa in 1993; or that Le Duc Tho had to share it with Henry Kissinger in 1973?

If the Nobel Peace Prize has stood for anything, it is rehabilitating war makers who have finally decided to pull back from their bloody adventures after being forced to do so by the incredible heroism of mass struggle. The imperialist military is then free to rebuild itself in order to strike out again when political conditions are more favorable.

The awarding of peace prizes to both sides in these conflicts was meant to hide the truth: that a national liberation struggle for sovereignty and independence has nothing in common with an imperialist bloodbath for neocolonies, resources and cheap labor. It is the de Klerks, Kissingers and Carters who are rehabilitated by being associated in the popular mind with real heroes of the peoples’ resistance.

However, this time the recipients are not associated with any particular war—certainly not the all-out attack on Yugoslavia by the U.S. Air Force during the Clinton-Gore presidency and the dismembering of that socialist country.

Gore and the IPCC have been given the peace prize for their work in raising awareness about global warming.

It is certainly true that Gore’s book and popular film “An Inconvenient Truth” shook up a lot of people about the dangers of melting polar ice caps and glaciers, rising sea temperatures leading to more powerful hurricanes and typhoons, and the widespread and unpredictable effects on climate—including droughts as well as floods—that can result from the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Yet while Gore’s film painted the picture of a looming catastrophe for the planet and all its inhabitants, it had very little to say about how to stop it. Buy low-wattage light bulbs. Ride a bike to work or school. Invest in green industries.

Nevertheless, the extreme right wing in the U.S. is frothing at the mouth about him receiving the Nobel, as can be seen in the many on-line comments on this subject.

Gore, of course, is not a scientist. He is a politician who has taken up the issue of global warming since losing the presidential election to George W. Bush in 2000—even though he got a clear majority of the popular vote and there was undeniable exclusion of African-American voters that cost him the key state of Florida. But he didn’t put up a fight when a rightwing-dominated Supreme Court gave Bush the election.

So Gore, who happens to be an heir to a family fortune built on oil—his father was very close to Armand Hammer of Occidental Petroleum—found himself without a job.

From denial to cooptation

Two decades ago, the early reaction of the huge transnational corporations to the news of global warming, especially the ones related to energy, was to mount a well-financed campaign of denial. They feared being forced to cut back production—and lose profits.

In 1988, 300 scientists and policy makers from 48 countries met and issued the first call to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The next year, 50 oil, gas, coal, automobile and chemical manufacturing companies and their trade associations formed the Global Change Coalition. For a decade, the GCC lobbied politicians—a legal form of bribery—and placed “experts” in the media who pooh-poohed global warming.

The GCC disbanded in 2000, although its members would lobby the new Bush administration against signing the Kyoto Accords. State Department briefing papers obtained by Greenpeace showed the administration thanking executives of Exxon- Mobil, the world’s largest oil company valued at close to $400 billion, for the firm’s “active involvement” in helping determine the U.S. government’s climate change policy. (The Guardian, June 8, 2005)

But by the time Gore was looking for something to do, the evidence of climate change was undeniable. Big money had to change its tactic. It made the adjustment to “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

So-called green development is now a huge international industry. There are several ways capitalists can make money while supposedly putting a dent in global warming.

One is through the market for carbon credits. The Kyoto Accords put a “cap” on greenhouse gas emissions that is intended to modestly reduce them by 2012. The United States did not sign the accords but some state and local authorities have decided to regulate emissions. Wherever these “caps” exist in the world, polluting companies can legally exceed them if they buy carbon credits—the right to emit x amount of carbon dioxide. The credits are bought from other companies or even from countries which don’t exceed the imposed limits or which take an action—like planting trees—that sops up carbon dioxide from the air.

Generally, it is poor, developing countries that are being pressured to sell their credits—and forgo development—to polluting, richer countries.

Selling carbon credits now is a very, very big business.

The newly created Environmental Markets Network advocates for “market-based economic solutions to global environmental and climate issues.” In January it was announced that Jon Anda, a vice chairperson in charge of global capital markets at the investment banking firm of Morgan Stanley, was leaving his job there to become president of EMN.

A release from the new firm said that EMN would “focus on climate change legislation, where a cap on greenhouse gas emissions and a sound trading system offer a roadmap for economic growth and sound environmental policy.”

EMN is a spinoff of Environmental Defense, which in 2000 joined with a group of companies that had left the global-warming-denying GCC: Dupont, British Petroleum, Shell, Suncor, Alcan and Ontario Power Generation, as well as the French aluminum manufacturer Pechiney.

The board of directors of Environmental Defense has included executives from Morgan Stanley as well as the Pew Center for Global Climate Change—funded by the Pew family of Sun Oil fame, the Bush-connected Carlyle Group, Berkshire Partners and Carbon Investments. (“The Corporate Climate Coup,” ZNet, May 8)

This rush of the biggest and most polluting transnationals into setting up organizations that will supposedly save the world should give anyone with a progressive bone in their body pause.

‘Green finance’

The business publication Euromoney focused its September issue on “green finance,” interviewing “the thought-leaders at the world’s largest banks about their strategies to assist in—and benefit from—the challenge of climate change.”

Featured was an interview with Gore, who told the magazine, “Markets are the key to climate change.”

Gore had teamed up with Goldman Sachs executives David Blood, Peter Harris and Mark Ferguson to establish the London-based environment investment firm Generation Investment Management, with Gore and Blood (honestly!) at its helm. In May 2005, Gore, representing GIM, addressed the Institutional Investor Summit on Climate Risk and emphasized the need for investors to think in the long term and to integrate environmental issues into their equity analyses.

“I believe that integrating the issues relating to climate change into your analysis of what stocks are worth investing in, how much, and for how long, is simply good business,” Gore explained to the assembled investors. Applauding a decision to move in this direction, announced the day before by General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, Gore declared that, “We are here at an extraordinarily hopeful moment ... when the leaders in the business sector begin to make their moves.” (ZNet)

What Gore’s Nobel prize underscores is that the biggest banks and corporations have moved, and are now up to their eyeballs in schemes to make “green” money.

Many people, especially those saturated by the U.S. monoculture that touts capitalism as the best of all possible worlds, will say, “What’s wrong with that? If they make money while solving global warming, why should I worry?”

Let’s look at the track record of these corporations once again.

They said technological change would eliminate hard, dangerous jobs and make everyone middle class. Instead, it has enriched the wealthiest one-tenth of one percent of the population beyond their wildest dreams, while leaving poverty intact and festering and more workers in minimum-wage jobs.

They said we didn’t need socialized medicine, where everyone gets free health care like in Cuba, or even a single-payer plan like the ones in capitalist Europe. The market would take care of it. Now U.S. medical care is the most expensive in the world, 47 million people here have no coverage, and the owners of the pharmaceuticals, HMOs and medical supply companies are among that richest one-tenth of one percent. The United States ranks 41st in the world in women surviving their pregnancies while babies born in the U.S. are three times more likely to die in their first month than babies born in Japan. (Save the Children report, May 10)

They convinced millions of workers to buy homes with ballooning mortgage rates, saying they could always refinance as the market went up. The market went down and 2 million families face the loss of their homes this year.

They said nuclear power was going to provide cheap, limitless energy for everyone. It proved so dangerous and costly that the big money went back to coal and oil and left the radioactive mess behind for the government to clean up.

In all these cases, the rich get richer while the problems continue.

Now they’re saying that investing green will save the world from the pollution they have caused.

‘Climate change? Social change!’

While many of the well-funded, mainstream environmental groups have bought into the view that nothing can be done without cooperating with the profiteers, not everyone concerned about climate change takes that view.

Take, for instance, the Durban Group for Climate Justice, formed in South Africa. It describes itself as “an international network of independent organizations, individuals and people’s movements who reject the free market approach to climate change. We are committed to help build a global grassroots movement for climate justice, mobilize communities around the world and pledge our solidarity with people opposing carbon trading on the ground.”

An associated group, Global Justice Ecology Project, says that large-scale production of biofuels, carbon trading and carbon offset forestry are “false solutions to climate change.” On the production of biofuels, which divert food crops into fuel production and are one of the hottest items on the corporate agenda these days, it says: “The stage is now set for direct competition for grain between the 800 million people who own automobiles and the world’s 2 billion poorest people.”

And it quotes the Brazilian Landless Workers’ Movement: “The only goal [of biofuels] is to maintain current patterns of consumption in the First World and high rates of profit for multinational corporations.”

It is the poorest and most oppressed who are already suffering the most from climate change—be they in New Orleans and Mississippi or in African countries hit, paradoxically, by both record droughts and floods.

The slogan of the Durban group is “Climate change? Social change!”

That is the right track. To bring the planet back into balance again, the means of production must be liberated from the class whose personal profit has been the driving motive of technological change for several centuries now.

Science and technology are not to blame. It is the social system under which they have developed that has perverted technology from its original purpose: to solve humanity’s problems in the struggle to survive and flourish. Capitalism has been one headlong rush to produce more and more, create markets where none existed before, and even destroy other countries’ industries in order to profit from rebuilding them.

Gore can never oppose this system—he is an advocate for it and a son of the ruling class.

Grassroots groups that work with the landless, the hurricane survivors, the villagers fighting Occidental Petroleum in Colombia, and the hungry deprived of food by biofuel production may never get the money and publicity now flowing to Gore’s projects, but they are the true environmentalists. They will be an integral part of the growing class struggle for a socialist system that totally reorganizes modern life, building mass transit, not Hummers; schools, not bombs; and energy-saving housing, not estates for the rich.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

San Francisco's green blackout

This Saturday evening San Francisco residents are being asked to participate in a voluntary "blackout" to demonstrate how much energy can be saved (and light pollution eliminated) when people make a concerted effort to "do the right thing" on behalf of the planet. Saturday's event is a demonstration. It remains to be seen if it will have any lasting effect.
Let's hope so.

In my home state of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has set a goal to meet future demand for electricity through conservation and efficiency measures -- not by building new generation plants. New plants would be built under the governor's plan. They would be powered by renewable energy and would begin displacing carbon dioxide that is currently being emitted by the state's dirtiest fossil-fuel burning power plants. (GW)

Some cities try going 'green' with blackouts

On Saturday evening, it's "Lights out San Francisco," where people will voluntary turn off lights for an hour. The aim is to raise awareness of light pollution and the energy wasted by lights left on.

The Christian Science Monitor
October 19, 2007

Citizens plan to shut off nonessential lighting for an hour in the name of conservation – and community. Restaurants will serve dinner by candlelight, astronomy buffs will be out with their scopes, and musicians will rock out on power from a biodiesel bus.

If participants are expecting a total blackout or a quick fix for global warming, they might have to settle instead for a free energy-efficient light bulb and an event T-shirt that reads: "Good things happen in the dark."

"Our expectations in terms of actual energy savings are not as high as our expectation in terms of just communicating how easy it is to do something very simple," says Nathan Tyler, who's bringing the idea to San Francisco and Los Angeles – and eventually nationwide.

For anyone who has wondered about the wastefulness of the bright lights in big cities, it turns out that some simple fixes do work. US skylines, particularly in California, have become "greener" in recent years with the help of new technologies, tighter regulations, and simple changes in behavior.

"If you look at the San Francisco skyline at night, it's a whole lot darker than it used to be," says Ken Cleveland, director of government public affairs for the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) here. "Some people in the past would have lighting on their buildings at night as part of their signature, [but] times are changing."

Many buildings now have installed motion sensors to shut lights off automatically, often with the help of money paid into a fund by electricity customers.

Other creative ideas are coming, too:

•In a move last month that could spread nationally, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) will now allow high-rise owners to meter each tenant's electricity usage and penalize energy hogs, rather than rely on one bill for an entire building.

•BOMA plans to roll out a "green lease" program early next year that would commit tenants to recycle, conserve water, avoid toxin-emitting furniture, and shut off unused lights and computers.

•San Francisco lawmakers will vote in coming months on a measure to ban the use of older, energy-wasting fluorescent tubes in the downtown commercial district.

California has been a pioneer in energy efficiency, particularly with its stringent building standards. Those regulations, along with appliance-efficiency standards, have saved more than $56 billion in energy costs since their inception in 1978, according to the California Energy Commission. Californians now use less energy per capita than residents of any other state.

But a desire to do more is growing, both among businesses facing rising energy costs and policymakers responding to public concerns about global warming. A new poll from Yale University found that 62 percent of Americans believe life on earth faces major disruptions from climate change unless immediate and drastic action is taken.

Mr. Tyler hopes the Lights Out event will show that small, individual efforts can be collectively powerful and bring people together. He first stumbled on a similar event while traveling in Sydney, Australia. The one-hour event there cut out the release of 25 tons of carbon dioxide, comparable to taking 49,000 cars off the road for an hour.

"I was having dinner with my friend in the harbor there, and they started handing out candles, and we had this amazing candlelit dinner," he says. "It occurred to me, what a great mechanism to get people involved save energy."

He put up a basic announcement on the Internet in April, and the idea spread fast. San Francisco's City Hall, the Chamber of Commerce, PG&E, and three corporate sponsors stepped up to help his staff of five.

Now, people are e-mailing from around the country wanting to help, prompting Tyler to move more quickly on plans for a nationwide Lights Out on March 29. Los Angeles city officials couldn't wait, and the city will be taking part on Saturday.

The San Francisco police say they aren't planning any special street presence despite snickers from some corners that darkened downtowns could be a crime magnet. Streetlights and other essential lights won't be turned off Saturday.

There's a danger that participants might get disappointed, notes Aaron Israel with the Bay Area chapter of the Sierra Club. "We applaud any efforts like [this] to be creative about our energy challenges," he says, but notes that turning off lights for an hour is "not a sustainable habit."

The Sierra Club is sponsoring its own climate challenge competition to see which households can reduce their electric bills the most in 30 days.

Still, the Lights Out event has put a twinkle in the eye of amateur astronomers, who expect they will be able to see the Andromeda Galaxy with the naked eye.

"You should be able to see the Milky Way – that in itself is just an incredible event from Lands End [in the city]," says Kenneth Frank with the Astronomical Association of Northern California. "I had heard in New York when they had the power outage, a lot of people looked up and [saw the Milky Way and] called the police department not understanding what they were seeing."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Kansas Governor takes a bold stand against coal

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that carbon dioxide is a pollutant. Now the traditionally conservative state of Kansas, under the leadership of Governor Kathleen Sebelius is using that ruling to block the development of more coal-fired electricity generating plants in the state. She rather see more renewables -- especially wind energy generated in her state and she's employing all of the tools at her disposal to achieve that goal.

Revolution(s) in the air over Kansas? (GW)

Power Plant Rejected Over Carbon Dioxide For First Time

By Steven Mufson
Washington Post
Friday, October 19, 2007

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment yesterday became the first government agency in the United States to cite carbon dioxide emissions as the reason for rejecting an air permit for a proposed coal-fired electricity generating plant, saying that the greenhouse gas threatens public health and the environment.

The decision marks a victory for environmental groups that are fighting proposals for new coal-fired plants around the country. It may be the first of a series of similar state actions inspired by a Supreme Court decision in April that asserted that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide should be considered pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

In the past, air permits, which are required before construction of combustion facilities, have been denied over emissions such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury. But Roderick L. Bremby, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said yesterday that "it would be irresponsible to ignore emerging information about the contribution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to climate change and the potential harm to our environment and health if we do nothing."

The Kansas agency's decision caps a controversy over a proposal by Sunflower Electric Power, a rural electrical cooperative, to build a pair of big, 700-megawatt, coal-fired plants in Holcomb, a town in the western part of the state, at a cost of about $3.6 billion. One unit would have supplied power to parts of Kansas; the other, to be owned by another rural co-op, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, would have provided electricity to fast-growing eastern Colorado.

Together the plants would have produced 11 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, nearly as much as a group of eight Northeastern states hope to save by 2020 through a mandatory cap-and-trade program they plan to impose. The attorneys general from those states had written a letter opposing the permit.

The proposed Holcomb plants had become the center of a political dispute in Kansas, inflaming traditional tensions between the eastern and western parts of the state, dividing labor unions and posing a test for the energy policies of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who is head of the Democratic Governors Association and is believed to harbor aspirations for federal office.

Kansas, long a conservative Republican stronghold, is not generally considered to be on the leading edge of environmental causes. The GOP leadership in both the state Senate and House of Representatives endorsed the project. Although the regional United Steelworkers union opposed the plant, the state AFL-CIO supported it.

"Now the Sebelius administration rockets to the forefront of the states [working] to solve the global warming crisis," said Bruce Nilles, a Sierra Club lawyer.

Like many governors, Sebelius has been promoting the expanded use of renewable energy, especially wind. In her state of the state address this year, she said: "The question of where we get our energy is . . . no longer just an economic issue, nor solely an issue of national security. Quite simply, we have a moral obligation to be good stewards of this state."

But she said she was leaving the air permit decision on the Holcomb plants to Bremby, her close political ally.

Tri-State and Sunflower spokesmen sharply criticized the decision and said they were examining their legal options. Bremby's decision "has no basis in law or regulation," said Steve Miller, a Sunflower spokesman. "We still believe fiercely that this is the right project, that this is the right thing to do for customers and that the secretary has made a horrible error."

Miller said that Sebelius had pledged not to oppose the plants but that her position was clear after her "moral steward" remark. "That implies that we're not moral stewards of the land, which we don't appreciate one bit," he said.

Lee Boughey, a spokesman for Tri-State, said Bremby had disregarded his own staff, which had recommended issuing the permit.

The plants' powerful supporters included the speaker of the state House, Melvin Neufeld, who had earlier gathered the signatures of 46 GOP members, including key committee chairmen, for a letter to Bremby. The letter said, "Without your approval of the permit as proposed by Sunflower, our state and its citizens will lose access to the low-cost energy source and millions in economic development." Thirty-one Republican House members declined to sign the letter.

Neufeld said the plants would bring in new tax revenue, create hundreds of jobs, prompt the expansion of transmission lines that could also be used for wind power and keep energy costs low for Kansans by producing enough power to export to other states.

But the plants had aroused strong opposition, especially in the half-dozen eastern counties from Topeka to Kansas City, which have enough voters to carry statewide elections.

Bob Eye, a former state legislator, said of yesterday's decision: "Is it without precedent? Yes, as far as I know, in this state or any other." But he argued that "CO{-2} . . . is a pollutant, not just because the Sierra Club says it, but because the Supreme Court said it."

Holcomb's previous claim to fame had been the savage murders that Truman Capote described in his book "In Cold Blood." Holcomb was a place, Capote wrote, that stood "on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call 'out there.' "

But Eye argued that wind projects were building a new constituency for renewable energy resources even "out there" among the people who were supposed to be the biggest backers of Sunflower's plans. FPL Group, a Florida power firm with a wind farm in Kansas, said it is making payments to about 30 landowners there.

Sunflower, which already has a smaller coal-fired plant in Holcomb, has portrayed the proposed plants as part of a "bio-energy center" that would include an ethanol plant and an $86 million facility that would use a still-experimental algae process to capture carbon dioxide emissions from the proposed generating units. But one investor in the center had pulled out before yesterday's decision.

Even without yesterday's permit denial, the Holcomb project faced economic challenges. A proposal to build a third new unit there was dropped earlier. Tri-State must also meet a renewable portfolio standard adopted recently by Colorado. (Tri-State supported the measure.) That requires utilities to use renewable energy sources to meet 10 percent of their sales. Because Tri-State's purchases of hydropower do not count, it uses less than 1 percent renewable resources. Two-thirds of its power comes from coal. It is negotiating to acquire some wind power.

Monday, October 22, 2007

That sinking feeling

News that some major cities around the world are already succumbing to rising sea levels and are in fact sinking provides further evidence for why adaptation is a dangerous strategy in response to climate change. Surrendering to global warming literally puts more than 600,000,000 people in jeopardy. Consider the level of ecosystem devastation and it becomes clear that even if we could accurately predict the right climate change scenario (which we can't), no amount of money or engineering expertise could cope with the impacts. (GW)

Bangkok Sinking Under Rising Seas

Major Cities Around the World at Risk of Being Swamped

Associated Press
October 21, 2007
KHUN SAMUT CHIN, Thailand (Oct. 20) - At Bangkok's watery gates, Buddhist monks cling to a shrinking spit of land around their temple as they wage war against the relentlessly rising sea. Jutting above the water line just ahead in the Gulf of Thailand are remnants of a village that has already slipped beneath the sea.

Experts say these waters, aided by sinking land, threaten to submerge Thailand's sprawling capital of more than 7 million people within this century. Bangkok is one of many of the world's largest cities at risk of being swamped as sea levels rise in coming decades, according to warnings at the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change held here.

"This is what the future will look like in many places around the world," says Lisa Schipper, an American researcher on global warming , while visiting the temple. "Here is a living study in environmental change."

The loss of Bangkok would destroy the country's economic engine and a major hub for regional tourism.

"If the heart of Thailand is under water everything will stop," says Smith Dharmasaroja, chair of the government's Committee of National Disaster Warning Administration. "We don't have time to move our capital in the next 15-20 years. We have to protect our heart now, and it's almost too late."

The arithmetic gives Bangkok little cause for optimism.

The still expanding megapolis rests about 3 1/2 to 5 feet above the nearby gulf, although some areas already lie below sea level. The gulf's waters have been rising by about a tenth of an inch a year, about the same as the world average, says Anond Snidvongs, a leading scientist in the field.

But the city, built on clay rather than bedrock, has also been sinking at a far faster pace of up to 4 inches annually as its teeming population and factories pump some 2.5 million cubic tons of cheaply priced water, legally and illegally, out of its aquifers. This compacts the layers of clay and causes the land to sink.

Everyone - the government, scientists and environmental groups - agrees Bangkok is headed for trouble, but there is some debate about when. Anond, who heads the Southeast Asia START Regional Center, believes total submersion may not be imminent, but Smith disagrees.

"You notice that every highway, road and building which has no foundation pilings is sinking," says Smith. "We feel that with the ground sinking and the sea water rising, Bangkok will be under sea water in the next 15 to 20 years - permanently."

More than one-tenth of the world's population, or 643 million people, live in low-lying areas at risk from climate change, say U.S. and European experts. Most imperiled, in descending order, are China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, Egypt, the U.S., Thailand and the Philippines.

Fractured Bangkok

Once known as the "Venice of the East," Bangkok was founded 225 years ago on a swampy floodplain along the Chao Phraya River. But beginning in the 1950s, on the advice of international development agencies, most of the canals were filled in to make roads and combat malaria. This fractured the natural drainage system that had helped control Bangkok's annual monsoon season flooding.

"It's the only city in the world where a car has collided with a boat," says Smith, recalling a deluge where residents commuted by rickety boats down roads flanked by high-rises.

As head of Thailand's meteorological department in 1998, Smith warned with little success that the country's southwest coast could face a deadly tsunami. He was proven right.

He urges that work start now on a dike system of more than 60 miles - protective walls about 16 feet high, punctured by water gates and with roads on top, not unlike the dikes long used in low-lying Netherlands to ward off the sea. The dikes would run on both banks of the Chao Phraya River and then fork to the right and left at the mouth of the river.

Anond, an oceanographer who studied at the University of Hawaii, says other options must also be explored, including water diversion channels, more upcountry dams and the "monkey cheeks" idea of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The king, among the first to alert Bangkokians about the yearly flooding, has suggested diverting off-flow from the surges into reservoirs, the "cheeks," for later release into the gulf.

"There is no one single solution to respond to climate change," says Anond, whose team is putting forward recommendations based on several scenarios. "We have to start doing something about this right now."

As authorities ponder, communities like Khun Samut Chin, 12 miles from downtown Bangkok, are taking action.

The five monks at the temple and surrounding villagers are building the barriers from locally collected donations and planting mangrove trees to halt shoreline erosion.

The odds are against them. About half a mile of shoreline has already been lost over the past three decades, in large part due to the destruction of once vast mangrove forests. The abbot, Somnuk Attipanyo, says about a third of the village's original population was forced to move.

The top of a broken concrete water storage tank protrudes from the muddy sea, which swirls around rows of electricity pylons and telephone polls now stuck offshore.

The monastery grounds are less than a tenth of their original size, and the waterlogged temple is regularly lashed by waves that have forced the monks to raise its original floor by more than three feet. Among a group of villagers attending morning prayers at the temple, 45-year-old shrimp farmer Rakiet Phinlaphak looks toward the watery horizon from the promontory and says, "I have seen the sea rising higher since I was a child."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

"We've all got to die of something."

If you or someone you know doubts the existence of "environmental racism" please read or have them read the following AP story on Port Arthur, Texas officials' love affair with its oil refineries and their attitude with regard to the health, safety and welfare of its most vulnerable citizens. (GW)

Toxic Town Lures Industry While Residents Wheeze

By Monica Rohr, The Associated Press
October 20, 2007

PORT ARTHUR, Texas - There is a quiet battle for the future of this industrial town, one of America's most polluted places.

On one side is ex-mayor Oscar Ortiz, who in the waning days of his administration worried about one thing. But it wasn't the toxic chemicals that spew from petrochemical plants, the town's richest landowners, through the windows of its poorest residents.

What rattled white-maned, barrel-chested Ortiz, who ran Port Arthur for nine years, was that someday the petrochemical plants would go away.

"The only money here in the city of Port Arthur that amounts to anything comes from industry, from petrochemical companies," said Ortiz, leaning back in his chair in an office decorated with framed photographs of refineries. "If industry goes away, people might as well go away too because there'll be no money. That's the continued salvation of this city."

Hilton Kelley, like Ortiz born and raised in Port Arthur, is the opposition.

Kelley does worry about the toxic chemicals, the foul-smelling air and the west side residents who suffer from asthma, respiratory ailments, skin irritations and cancer. As the city's most visible environmental activist, Kelley has long campaigned for more restrictions on industrial construction and stricter monitoring of plant emissions.

"I grew up smelling the SO2 (sulfur dioxide) smell, the chemicals. I remember seeing little kids with sores on their legs, with mucus running in August. It's ridiculous what we've had to deal with," says Kelley, a former actor with the sonorous voice of a radio announcer. "We're not trying to shut doors of industry. We're just trying to push these guys to do what's right."

Ortiz calls Kelley an alarmist who likes to "stir things up" in the minority community Kelley accuses Ortiz of sacrificing the community's welfare in exchange for slim tax revenue from the plants.

One man represents Port Arthur the way it has always been; the other symbolizes a growing call for change.

But change, especially in a place like Port Arthur, never comes easily.

"This city is not going to change. It is a refinery town -- tomorrow, next year, 100 years from now. It will always be a petrochemical area," says Ortiz.

And if its residents are getting sick from the pollution?

Well, says Ortiz: "We've all got to die of something."

Air Quality Among the Worst

Port Arthur, located next to the Louisiana line, sits in a corridor routinely ranked as one of the country's most polluted regions. Texas and Louisiana are home to five oil refineries considered among the nation's 10 worst offenders in releasing toxic air pollutants, emitting 8.5 million pounds of toxins together in 2002.

Yet even here, Port Arthur stands out.

Its skyline is framed by the smokestacks and knotted steel pipes of the refineries and chemical plants clustered along the edges of the town. Flares from the plants glow red against the night sky, as incinerated chemicals filter into the air.

The smell of rotten eggs and sulphur hangs stubbornly over the apartments and shotgun houses on the west side. Port Arthur, population 57,000, is on the EPA's list of cities with dangerous ozone levels, and the state has flagged its excessive levels of benzene.

Many cities along the Texas Gulf Coast are dotted with refineries. But the companies' high tax bills are used to improve schools, create green space and bulk up city coffers. Port Arthur waives most property taxes to lure industry.

Eric Shaeffer, a former EPA official who runs the Environmental Integrity Project in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit advocacy group, has written two studies on pollution in Port Arthur. "It's one of the worst I've seen," he said.

The Veolia Environmental Services plant in Port Arthur recently started incinerating nearly 2 million gallons of VX hydrolysate, the wastewater byproduct of a deadly nerve gas agent.

Besides the pollution the state and EPA allow as part of the cost of doing business, the plants spew more toxins during "upset events" -- unpermitted releases caused by lightning strikes, human error, startups and shutdowns.

Plant officials cite statistics showing steady progress in reducing some emissions, but Shaeffer cites a continuing hazard.

"When you get releases, it really hits people right in the chest," said Shaeffer. "It's one thing to be driving past the plants on the highway. It's another thing for kids to be out on the swing sets when there's a release."

Struggling for Air

Jordan, 5, and Justin, 7, play on the swings at Carver Terrace, the public housing project they live in next door to refineries run by Motiva and Valero that produce half a million barrels of oil a day and belch thousands of pounds of pollutants into the air.

Jordan's lungs are so weakened from a lifelong battle with asthma and bronchitis that he can't shout or call for help like other children, says their mother, LaShauna Green.

He must inhale medicine every four hours through a plastic mask that swamps his chubby face. Every two hours, he must take one of seven prescription drugs that keep his air passages from tightening.

Justin struggles to breathe after climbing just one flight of stairs.

Those troubles vanished when the Green family left the area for a year following 2005's Hurricane Rita. But two days after their return to Carver Terrace, Justin was rushed to a hospital twice in one day with respiratory attacks.

"When you start getting this kind of toxic chemical soup, we don't really know what the combination of all these things are doing," said Debra Morris, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston who studied Port Arthur-area pollution.

Texas oil was first discovered near Port Arthur. For decades, the region nurtured industrial build-up with generous tax abatements. In return, the companies would promise to pay later and to create local jobs.

Ortiz defends the incentives as the only way to keep his city alive.

"The one main substance that keeps the city floating is the refineries," he said.

Refineries and chemical plants contribute about 67 percent of the city's budget through some taxes, Ortiz said. Still, without the abatements the city would have collected tens of millions of dollars more.

The city of Port Arthur has at least 28 tax-abatement deals with refineries and chemical plants. Surrounding Jefferson County has at least six, including with Motiva, Total, and Valero, which will pay no property taxes for the first two years of a nine-year contract, and then pay 10 percent of the taxes it would owe for the next seven.

Motiva will pay no taxes on a $3.5 billion expansion project for the next three years. Total taxes rise to $4.16 million by 2012.

Jeff Branick, assistant to Jefferson County executive Ron Walker, says the Motiva expansion is expected to create thousands of temporary construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs; Valero's project is expected to create 40 to 65 jobs, he said.

"It's going to be pumping a whole lot of money into the local economy," Branick said. "It creates hotel-motel tax revenue and will be attracting people from the outside who will be coming here to work and renting houses."

Ortiz also points to a new development on Pleasure Island, a resort with golf courses, new hotels and bustling shopping centers springing up on the city's south side. All, says Ortiz, spurred by the growth of the industrial complexes.

However, that prosperity bypassed Port Arthur's predominantly black west side and central city neighborhoods where singer Janis Joplin and sports legend Babe Zaharias were raised.

"This town is like a forgotten grandmother. It helped nourish the growth of the area, now all the wealth is moving (out)," said Kelley. "It's not fair to leave this entire community unnourished."

Boom Misses Many in Town

Despite the development, Port Arthur is not as prosperous as other refinery towns. Its median household income is two-thirds the Texas average; its homes are valued at less than half the state average. Port Arthur public high school students pass the test required for graduation at about half the state rate.

By comparison, the Houston suburb of Deer Park -- home to its own refinery row -- collects more taxes from its petrochemical complex. Before the state equalized school funding, its school district was nearly the richest in the state. The median home price is 25 percent higher than the state average and its median household income is 30 percent above the state average.

Both cities have roughly the same percentage of residents in chemical or construction fields.

Kelley is not the only one raising questions about how things are done in Port Arthur.

Some city officials have also started to question the benefits of the tax abatement deals.

In most, companies promise to "give Port Arthur residents a fair opportunity to apply for employment" but don't require jobs go to city residents. One company's pledge to use local labor and contractors defined "local" as covering a nine-county region.

Councilman Michael Sinegal says he frequently hears from residents who say they have been rejected for jobs at the plants. Overall unemployment here is about 6 percent, while among blacks it's 14 percent, he said; the state rate is 4 percent.

"The bottom line is that the people of Port Arthur are getting the negative byproduct from the plants, but should be getting an abundance of positive byproduct," Sinegal said.

Valero said the refinery has hired 161 people since Jan. 1, 2005. About 20 percent live in Port Arthur.

The city council recently ordered a study on contractors' hiring practices so it can devise a monitoring plan.

"We've let the community down," Sinegal said.

In late August, a group of 28 state lawmakers joined Kelley and others in urging Texas Gov. Rick Perry to block further shipments of VX hydrolysate to Port Arthur. Perry declined to intervene.

The latest assessment by state environmental regulators of Port Arthur showed that benzene had dropped to acceptable levels for the first time since 2000. Valero officials said they reduced emissions by more than 82 percent between 1996 and 2005, and had reduced "upset" emissions by 98 percent. Residents, however, still suffer higher rates of progressive pulmonary diseases than people elsewhere in the state.

Last year, Motiva agreed to give $3.5 million to help fund medical care, air monitors and a revitalization program for Port Arthur's west side community. The agreement was part of a settlement with Kelley's Community In-Power Development Association, after it challenged the plant's expansion.

And, 50 years after Carver Terrace was built, the Port Arthur Housing Authority plans to demolish the units and move residents to new homes throughout the city.

Was Carver Terrace's proximity to the refinery the authority's prime motivation? No, said authority chief Cele Quesada. "Of course, in the back of everyone's mind, there is awareness that we are on the fenceline. We would rather see a green area here than 180 families."

The likely buyer? Motiva Enterprises.

Kelley, who was born in Apartment 1202-E in Carver Terrace, commented: "When you appeal to the conscience of man, how these things are impacting our children, you can get them to see our point. But a lot of the times, the bottom line still wins."