Daphne Wysham: WikiLeaks cables reveals Canadian government covering up tar sands info
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to the Real News Network Webathon. As you know if you’ve been following along, we’re trying to reach $200,000 or more by the end of December 9. We have a generous donor who’s agreed to match your donations dollar for dollar. So if you give us $10, you’re actually giving us $20. Of course, it’d be great if you gave us $100, and then you’d be giving us $200. Two hundred thousand dollars almost covers about four months of our work. And, of course, we’d like to be expanding what we’re doing. We need a producer who’s focused on various specific areas. Right now we’re all kind of a little bit too much generalists. One of the areas we want to concentrate is on the whole issue of climate-change issues, environmental issues. And we’re going to be talking about that more in just a few seconds. But if you want to donate, here’s the number: it’s 1-888-499-6772 if you want to do it by phone. But, of course, it’s probably easier and faster to do it over the Web. If you’re watching this, there should be a donate button somewhere here or somewhere down there. Now, if you want to ask a question anytime this evening, you can send us an email at: questions (at) therealnews (dot) com or you can phone. And if you phone the number 1-888–and I’m squinting ’cause my eyes aren’t all that good–1-888-816-8867. I’ll do that one more time: 888-816-8867. And that’s if you want to ask a question. And the way that will work is you’ll phone in, you’ll let us know what your question is, and then someone will phone you right back, and then we’ll bring you into the conversation. So, now, to talk about climate-change issues and the environment, we’re now joined by Daphne Wysham. She’s a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Thanks for joining us.
DAPHNE WYSHAM, SENIOR FELLOW, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: It’s good to be back.
JAY: So let’s start with where–we began the evening talking about WikiLeaks, and WikiLeaks did have some revelations of sorts to do with climate change issues. What did you find?
WYSHAM: Yeah. Well, there are several revelations having to do with climate change. One has to do with what happened a year ago in Copenhagen. As people may recall, there were hundreds of thousands of people marching in the streets. There was a lot of pressure on President Obama and other world leaders to take some sort of action. And at the last minute, Obama, together with the leaders of India and China and South Africa, agreed to something called the Copenhagen Accord. It was done in backroom deals that are sort of the stuff of mystery novels, and it seemed that, you know, it just sort of came out of the blue, no democratic consultation whatsoever. And when you began to read the fine print, you realized this was a non-binding agreement (you know, forget the fact that it didn’t include the rest of the countries that are participating in the UN process), that it actually would mean a rise of 4 degrees Celsius, which is roughly 7 degrees Fahrenheit over the coming century.
JAY: Which most scientists think is catastrophic.
WYSHAM: Is suicide for civilization. And there were a few countries that were saying no. Bolivia, Ecuador, some other countries said, we do not go along with this Copenhagen Accord. And as a result–.
JAY: And they were accused of being saboteurs, I think, by President Obama and some others.
WYSHAM: Well, more than that, they were actually denied aid money. Several million dollars in aid were cut off. Well, it now turns out not only was that happening as we suspected it was, but that there was an all-out effort, a diplomatic, you know, full-scale effort to bring every country on board his Copenhagen Accord. Even, you know, the smaller countries like Tuvalu and others that were perhaps going to be protesting because their nations were going to go underwater agreed to go along with this. And what these WikiLeak cables also reveal is that the CIA was involved in digging up whatever information they could on the various negotiators, and so that they would have something to bargain with when they sat down with these different countries. That’s one revelation. Another revelation that just came out today is that privately the US State Department was expressing serious concerns about the Canadian tar sands, and in particular about this Keystone XL Pipeline that is going to be–the plan is to bring the oil from the tar sands down to the refineries in Texas. And Obama had also made some statements about, you know, concerns about tar sands and the need for more renewable energy in Canada and that sort of thing. Well, publicly, the statements that are coming out after some of these private disclosures were basically showing that they understood the full gravity of continuing to exploit the tar sands, which are three times–the greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands are three times more potent than just simply burning oil. But publicly they denied this. Publicly they claimed that, oh, it’s not so bad, that the greenhouse gas emissions aren’t so bad. And essentially what it reveals–.
JAY: [inaudible] carbon capture [inaudible]
WYSHAM: Yeah. And what it reveals is that basically they were kowtowing to the Canadian government officials. And of course the Canadian diplomats–this is something we’ve learned independent of WikiLeaks, but the Canadian diplomats here in Washington were actually acting on behalf of the tar sands by pushing to weaken clean fuel standards here in the United States, some of the laws that we actually have on the books that require us to buy–for the US government to buy fuel that is not–that is as clean as possible. The Canadian government was working hand-in-glove with ExxonMobil and other oil companies to try to weaken these laws. So this kind of sort of–you know, when you begin to see how the State Department is recognizing clearly that tar sands is a serious threat to the global climate, and yet publicly they’re not disclosing this, they’re acting like it’s no big deal, similarly, of course, with the Copenhagen Accord, you know, what we’re hearing now in Cancun is, well, look, this is just–this is, you know, we need to put money on the table as part of adaptation finance; it’s not bribery if we offer money to developing countries. Well, certainly we expect the US and other countries to provide hundreds of billions of dollars in an adaptation finance, but that’s very different from–.
JAY: Now, for people that haven’t followed, adaptation means we know there’s going to be a certain amount of catastrophic effect in certain areas of the world. At the very least, the richer countries should be paying something to compensate, if for no other reason [than] that the richer countries contributed most of the carbon emissions.
WYSHAM: Yeah. And the UN actually suggests that the number may be in the hundreds of billions per year, not just $100,000,000,000 but $3-4-500 billion a year by 2020 that we’ll be needing to pay in adaptation finance. The US has agreed to what is called fast start finance, which is the $30 billion that’s supposed to be on the table by 2012. But essentially that’s just repackaged development aid that we’re calling adaptation and mitigation financing.
JAY: Now, is anything going to come out of Cancun? It’s not even–at least in Copenhagen there was some press about it, and there was sort of build up, a bit of a drama–would anything come out? And even though not much did come out, Cancun’s not even on the pages of the newspapers.
WYSHAM: Well, it’s too bad it’s not on the pages of the newspapers, ’cause there are some very serious issues that are being discussed there. And people who have seen me on your program know that I’m not a fan of carbon offsets, and essentially what’s happening down in Cancun is one big carbon offset deal that they’re trying to strike with land-use change and forestry. Now, forestry is essentially going to be covered under what’s called REDD–Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation. It’s an attempt to essentially save the forests by paying countries to stop deforesting, which sounds like a good idea. Yeah, let’s pay them. Of course, that may not actually solve the problem if you’re ending up paying corrupt government officials or corrupt timber industries that are engaged in black-market trading of forest products. But, okay, let’s leave that aside; we’ll deal with the corruption later. Well, it turns out it’s not just about putting money on the table; it’s also about a quid pro quo where we actually get, in exchange, the right to continue emitting that equivalent amount of greenhouse gas emissions that we claim is now stored in, say, Brazil’s Amazon. Okay, that’s bad enough, because we know that the Amazon actually can release CO2 under stress: it gets warm, if it catches on fire, sometimes trees release a lot more CO2 than they store. Now they’re talking about a similar process for soil carbon, for land-use change that’s associated with agriculture. Well, you can imagine what this means. What it means is essentially the price of land is going to skyrocket–and it already is in parts of Africa–which means that the poorest, 70 percent of whom are women, are going to see the land rights taken away from them while carbon market bidders have a bidding war on whether this land is going to be used as a soil carbon offset or a biofuel plantation or some other way of essentially outsourcing our emissions reductions to the developing world. That’s what’s being negotiated in Cancun. That’s why the indigenous peoples are up in arms and are saying, wait a minute, we don’t even have land rights, and you’re talking about the rights to the carbon that’s stored on our land? So there was a massive protest today in Cancun. Hundreds of thousands of people were out on the streets. I doubt that it was covered in the press, in the mainstream press, but it was a very vocal protest. We heard that all the buses were shut down, that they were blockading the streets with this protest. And, you know, it’s too bad that the press isn’t following this issue, because this is essentially now yet another bargaining chip. You know, not only do you have to go along with what we want because we’ve got the Copenhagen Accord and 140 or 150 countries are going along with this and the US is pushing this agenda and this is what we want, which is a non-binding agreement that’s going to result in a 4 degree centigrade rise in greenhouse gas emissions, but in addition, now we’re going to say, okay, you want anything more, money down the road, call this a carbon offset, call that a carbon offset.
JAY: And obviously the big problem with this offset businesses is it could be completely fictitious, what the offset is,–
WYSHAM: Oh, it is. It’s totally fictitious.
JAY: –’cause nobody can actually guarantee that any of the offset ever happens.
WYSHAM: And the US government–and I’ve said this before–the US Government Accountability Office and other US government agencies have actually said that offsets are impossible to verify. And we know that physics and chemistry is not impressed by these wheelings and dealings. Forests can die. Soils can dry out and release more carbon than they store.
JAY: Right. Okay, we’re going to take a call. Lindy from California. Go ahead.
LINDY, CALLER (CARMEL, CA): Hello. How are you this evening?
JAY: Good. Thank you for joining us.
LINDY: Can you hear me?
JAY: Yes, we hear you well.
LINDY: Thank you. Okay. I would like to ask about the aerosols that I see on a daily basis being sprayed above my town, which is Carmel, California. And it is happening unabated. It’s ruining our skyscape. And this is also a very established agricultural area, and it’s shortening the length of our daylight time, which is affecting our strawberries, our tomatoes. And in my own personal garden, my bees are disappearing, my flowers don’t grow, my plants get funny diseases. I’m very scared, and I’d like to know if you can shed any light on [inaudible]
JAY: And when you’re saying aerosols, what is it you’re talking about, specifically?
LINDY: Well, some people call it chemtrails.
JAY: Okay. You’ve got your computer on. We’re hearing an echo. Okay, I think I know what we’re talking about. Daphne, do you know enough that we can go to it? Okay. Lindy, we’re going to–Daphne will answer your question, but we’re probably going to hang up right now ’cause we’re hearing a bit of an echo. But thanks very much for calling. So what do you know? First of all the aerosols, and then this issue of chemtrails we’re hearing a lot about on the Internet these days. What is that all about?
WYSHAM: Well, my understanding of the chemtrails issue, you know, or the story about chemtrails, is that there is this attempt to alter the climate with these trails that airplanes spread in the upper atmosphere. I haven’t seen any scientific proof that this is what’s going on. Clearly what happens when planes fly at a particular level in the Earth’s atmosphere, they do leave a trail, because there’s moisture, and that freezes, and so on. And, of course, they do leave, also, pollutants up there. In terms of aerosols in general, I mean, sulfate aerosols and other particles do actually have an impact on climate. They can–as we saw with the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, when you have certain aerosols that are naturally ejected into the upper atmosphere, you actually have a global cooling. So it is possible through man-made means to begin to alter the global climate. But I don’t think that’s what she’s asking about.
JAY: Okay. So we have just a few more minutes. Let’s just talk a little bit of politics in Washington right now. So the Republicans are taking over the House in January. There wasn’t a heck of a lot of progress on climate change legislation anyway, and what there was was all about cap and trade, which you’re not a fan of. What do you think is going to happen out of Washington? And if the answer’s not much, then what should people be trying to do?
WYSHAM: Well, I think Obama has one ace up his sleeve–well, he’s got several, but one very important ace up his sleeve, which is the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. He’s also got some other rules that are on the books to regulate mercury from power plants and so on that could be used as a way of putting pressure on coal-fired power producers to basically shut down or severely curtail their emissions.
JAY: Now, the Republicans have threatened to try to actually stop the EPA from doing what the Supreme Court I think told the EPA they could do.
WYSHAM: Right. Exactly. And the question is: will Obama cave as he seems to have done on the tax cuts for the rich with EPA authority? And I think what we all need to do is make sure that he hears from enough of us that that is absolutely unacceptable.
JAY: So the issue of the EPA is a line in the sand, assuming there will be some lines in the sand from this administration.
WYSHAM: It’s a line in the sand, and not just EPA authority on greenhouse gases but other co-pollutants, like mercury, that we need to make sure that those neurotoxins and other co-pollutants that come along with burning coal are–that the EPA uses all of its authority to go after those pollutants. But in addition, Obama could be making some serious major shifts in investment towards the kinds of clean-energy green jobs that we keep hearing about but haven’t seen much of. I mean, we’ve got China just taking off on the renewable energy front, and Secretary [Steven] Chu recognizing this, and so on. That’s something that we could see a lot more of if he’s willing to take those kinds of risks. I’m not so sure he is, given his willingness, for example, to go along with the XL Pipeline bringing tar sands from Canada. So that’s also going to be a big battle. I think you’ll see a lot more activism on the tar sands issue because it’s sort of a–it’s a deadly embrace between the US and Canada. I mean, both of us are clearly–Canada is playing a very corrosive role at the international level in terms of the climate negotiations because they’re wedded to this incredibly destructive project.
JAY: Thanks for a much for joining us.
WYSHAM: Thank you.
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