Notes from a warming world

Temperature Gauge

Big Brother Is Watching

First they spied on the peace activists. Then they targeted the anti-death penalty organizations. Then they came for the climate justice groups.

missing image fileCourtesy Josh TulkinPlacards: Weapons of Mass Destruction?

During 2005 and 2006, undercover agents with the Maryland State Police used aliases to infiltrate meetings, rallies, and the e-mail lists of organizations seeking to end the war in Iraq, halt the death penalty, and promote a transition to a clean energy economy. At least 53 nonviolent activists had their names and personal information entered into state and federal databases that track suspected terrorists.

One of those people was Josh Tulkin, a coordinator for the Earth Island Institute-sponsored Energy Action Coalition and a field director of Power Vote. Tulkin’s crime? Helping to pass the Maryland Healthy Air Act, which is reducing emissions from the state’s coal-fired power plants.

In an e-mail to Andy Revkin, a New York Times reporter who has a blog called DotEarth, Tulkin elaborated on the reasons why he might be considered a threat to US national security: “I served as a youth delegate to the United Nations. I organized a coalition of faith leaders, students, nurses, doctors, and everyday citizens to clean up Maryland’s air and protect her shores from sea level rise and global warming. I have never been arrested. I have no police record.”

Tulkin’s supposed accomplice in this al-Qaeda-like sleeper cell was Mike Tidwell, founder of the Chesapeake Climate Action Coalition. He used similarly brilliant understatement to defend himself: “Since 2001, I have devoted my life entirely to the peaceful promotion of windmills and solar panels.… Apparently not everyone liked my work.”

The ACLU is representing Tulkin and others against the Maryland State Police’s unconstitutional surveillance of their activities.

Gore Should Be Worried

Perhaps former Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Al Gore should also be worried about finding himself on a terrorist watch list. After all, in September, Gore urged young people to engage in nonviolent protest to halt new coal plants.

During a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative, Gore said: “If you’re a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration.”

The audience – which included some of the world’s most influential business leaders, academics, elected officials, and environmentalists – greeted the call to action with loud applause. Hopefully the FBI can get a copy of all the attendees’ names.

Digital Emitter

Your new flat screen television or wafer-thin solar panels might appear the apotheosis of the gleaming, green economy, but these high-tech tools are – like that old, dirty coal plant – helping to roast the planet.

A gas used in the manufacture of liquid crystal flat-panel displays, microcircuits, and thin-film photovoltaic cells is 17,000 time more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It turns out that nitrogen triflouride, NF3, is much more prevalent than scientists believed – and the problem is worsening.

Most of the gas goes directly into the production process of high-tech gadgets. But about 16 percent escapes and is emitted into the atmosphere. A 2006 study estimated that there were fewer than 1,200 metric tons of NF3 released in the air that year. New research by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography shows that the actual amount was around 4,200 metric tons. The quantity of NF3 is growing by about 11 percent a year.

Addressing the issue will prove difficult, since the Kyoto Protocol, which was written before NF3 was perceived to be a threat, does not cover the gas. “From a climate perspective, there is a need to add NF3 to the suite of greenhouse gases … thus providing meaningful incentives for its wise use,” says Ray Weiss, a Scripps geophysicist who conducted the study.

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