(Mercer Island, WA) On Sunday March 28th, the best spellers in the Puget Sound area gathered to test their skills at the King and Snohomish County Regional Spelling Bee. This year, Kela Harrington, 7th grader at Islander Middle School, won the regional bee and will be representing the Mercer Island School District at the National Spelling Bee on June 2nd, 2010 in Washington D.C. The Scripps National Spelling Bee is largest national non-sports competitive event available to Elementary and Middle school students. Each year, about 10,000,000 children participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee qualifying process.

Read more about the regional competition at:
For more information about the national bee, visit http://www.spellingbee.com/

Earth Hour 2010
It’s as simple as a flick of the switch.

What began in 2007 as a campaign to get Sydneysiders to turn their lights off, has grown to become one of the world’s biggest climate change initiatives. In 2010, at 8.30pm on March 27, people around the world will turn their lights for one hour – Earth Hour. Join more than 1 billion people who, together, can reinvigorate our fight against human-induced climate change.

Earth Hour 2010 is a global call to action to every individual, every business and every community, a call to stand up, to take responsibility and to get involved in working towards a sustainable future. Iconic buildings and landmarks from Europe to The Americas will stand in darkness. People across the world will turn off their lights and join together in creating the vital conversation about the future of our precious planet.

Earth Hour is a message of hope and a message of action. Everyone can make a difference.

Join us for Earth Hour 2010, turn off your lights at 8.30pm Saturday, 27 March and sign-up here at http://www.earthhourus.org.

On Earth Hour hundreds of millions of people around the world will come together to call for action on climate change by doing something quite simple—turning off their lights for one hour. The movement symbolizes that by working together, each of us can make a positive impact in this fight, protecting our future and that of future generations.

So, don’t forget to turn off your lights on March 27th at 8:30 PM!

(Seattle, Feb. 14, 2010) During the past week, the shrieks of global warming critics reached a fever pitch as the nation’s capital and other cities stretching from the Mid-Atlantic to New England struggled to recover from record-setting snow. Senator Jim DeMint, R-S.C. declared that “its going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries uncle.” Senator Inhofe R-O.K. and his family built an igloo in honor of Al Gore and put up signs asking people to honk if they liked global warming.

But a few weeks of extreme winter weather in one small corner of our planet cannot wipe out centuries-long upward trends in global temperatures. It doesn’t even have much sway over global averages for the month of January. In a recent report, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that globally, January 2010 was the fourth warmest on record. Yes, much of the continental United States did experience below average temps, but the Northwest and much of Canada (persistent rain is hampering Vancouver Olympic organizers) were much warmer than normal. Here are some other highlights from the study:

  • The land average surface temperature in the Southern Hemisphere was the warmest on record for January.
  • Global ocean average surface temperature was the second warmest on record.
  • Worldwide land and surface temperature for January was the 12th warmest on record.

But some may ask? How can you have massive snowstorms in the midst of global warming? Actually, most climate scientists believe that extreme weather events; i.e. hurricanes, heat waves, torrential monsoon rains, droughts and even snow storms will become more common as the planet warms. The worldwide symptoms of human-induced climate change advance unabated. Glaciers and polar ice caps are accelerating their retreat. Oceans continue to acidify, destroying coral reefs and underwater ecosystems. Ever expanding deserts, egged on by persistent droughts and poor land use practices, are swallowing up thousands of square kilometers of formerly productive land yearly.

Most climate experts agree that the real lesson that Americans should learn from ‘snowmadgeddon’ is that the nations of the world need to redouble their efforts to craft a binding global agreement to forcefully confront climate change, or face a future ravaged by even more destructive and deadly weather events…including bigger winter snowstorms.

Written by Dr. Jonathan Harrington

Wordle: Climatediet.com

(Seattle, WA) Every hour of every day, someone in America dies because of a lack of access to affordable healthcare. Millions more lie awake in bed at night, worrying about some symptom or potential health issue that they or another family member are experiencing but cannot get looked at because they have no health insurance. Our broken and inequitable health care system is like a deep, festering wound that never heals.

One year ago, Barak Obama promised the nation that things would change. He told us: Yes, we can provide affordable healthcare to all. Yes, we can take meaningful action to combat global warming and yes, we can create jobs and fix our broken financial system. The Democrats amassed commanding majorities in the House and Senate. For a fleeting moment, it seemed like all things were possible.

Flash forward to today. An obscure special election in Massachusetts has thrown the entire Democratic agenda into disarray. Obama and company place responsibility for the loss of this critical Senate seat squarely in the lap of the hapless Democratic candidate Martha Coakley. White House political wizards Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod say they did not see this coming. If only Coakley would have asked for help earlier, all would be well. So, if health care reform goes down the tubes we can blame her, right?

Not so fast. If Mr. Obama wants to find someone to blame, he should look in the mirror. Letting health care reform ‘bubble up’ from below was a terrible tactical error. Legislation could have been passed last summer if the administration would have provided a clearer roadmap at the beginning of the process. Obama was riding high in the polls, the people were with him and they were yearning for change. It was clear from the beginning that getting a bipartisanship bill through Congress was going to be impossible. Valuable time was lost trying to placate the whims of one or two Republican senators.

Well, time’s up. The political capital has been spent. Recession weary voters are tired of hearing more promises. Trust in government is near an all time low. Any attempt to use esoteric procedural maneuvers to ram a revised bill through the Senate will be viewed with suspicion. Bending or breaking long standing Senate traditions will only further harm the already dysfunctional institution.

Fortunately, there is still one viable option on the table. Speaker Pelosi and her colleagues can swallow their pride and pass the Senate version of health care legislation. If there is one lesson we can learn from the Massachusetts race and falling Administration poll numbers, it is that while ideology driven political elites fight to steer the country in their respective directions, the American people almost invariably veer towards the center of the road. The public is already uncomfortable with the more moderate Senate proposal. It’s the best we can do, so lets get the job done now.

Written by: Dr. Jonathan Harrington 1/20/2010

(Seattle, WA) One week after Google announced its objections to Chinese government censorship and related security breaches, the war of words between the Internet giant and the Chinese government continues to intensify. China’s initial response to the crisis has been muted, especially given the sheer size of Google’s breach of self-censorship protocols. For a few short hours, China’s Internet was suddenly open and free. How will the Chinese respond going forward?

It is clear that a raging debate is going on among CCP leaders about what steps they should take next. Certain Google managers and programmers who orchestrated the Google opening most likely violated multiple Chinese laws and regulations, and could conceivably face arrest. However, jailing them would turn them into martyrs, and could precipitate a diplomatic crisis with the United States. The government could simply shut down Google.cn and other domain registrations, yank Google’s business license and send its foreign staff packing. They could even threaten Google advertisers and 100 million users to quit the service or face possible criminal or civil sanctions for aiding and abetting the spread of state secrets; i.e. disseminating uncensored news coverage about forbidden issues like the Tiananmen Square Incident to foreign entities.

On January 18th, a prominent government-run newspaper, the China Daily published an Op/ed article in its online edition which gives us a preview of what we can expect next from the Chinese in their war against Google. Rather than immediately shutting down the firm, the government has decided to tap into lingering concerns shared by experts and users worldwide about Internet privacy and the behemoth’s growing influence over global commerce. The article, “Do no evil (claim) lays bare web giant’s hypocrisy,” written by a Japan-based professor Philip Cunningham, asserts that Google’s complaints about hackers trying to read user emails or spy on its operations reek of hypocrisy. What about Google itself? Google gathers incredible amounts of information about its customers. What is the company doing with all that data? Are they ”doing no evil” as their corporate mantra says?

The author continues, “Internet users communing alone with their computers at all times of day and night leave a long, detailed electronic trail about their fears, fetishes, tastes, likes, dislikes, health concerns, political leanings and pet peeves that open numerous windows of vulnerability, almost as if the Internet were a trusted friend, which it decidedly is not.” He concludes that “Google’s founders may be decent guys with no intent to do evil, but they have created a “Frankenstein.” Other China Daily articles have pushed forward the additional argument that Google was already doing poorly in the China market, so it trumped-up a cover story to burnish its ‘freedom loving’ values to hide its business woes.

China’s varied verbal attacks may draw some netizens to the government’s defense. China’s “rally around the flag” call for Internet users to stand up against Google’s imperialistic, flagrant disrespect for Chinese culture, society and political stability may well placate some users. However, millions of other users who last week suddenly experienced for the first time what a free and open Internet looks like, may have second thoughts about the sincerity of Chinese government claims.

It seems to me that if Google really wants to “walk the walk” in promoting Internet openness, now is the time to act. Rather than making a slow exit, Google management should try to continue to operate in China and push the envelope to see how far the government is willing to go. In the end, China may very well take draconian measures to shut it down. However, it may also try to reach an accommodation. The latter could have wide-ranging implications for Chinese culture, society and the future of the Internet. At the moment, Google seems to have the upper hand in the war for hearts and minds outside China as well as among a minority of China’s 350 million Internet user. Now is the time for Google to show its true colors.

Written by:

Dr. Jonathan Harrington (January 18th, 2010)–Associate Professor of International Relations/Troy University

For more information about Dr. Harrington, visit www.climatediet.com

Are high energy costs getting you down? Give the climate, and your pocketbook a boost in 2010 by taking control of household energy use with Google PowerMeter. Google PowerMeter is a free Internet-based service offered by Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm, which allows consumers to monitor how much energy they use at home. PowerMeter works in conjunction with an Internet-enabled energy monitor. An energy monitor measures electricity use through your existing wiring system and transmits this information through a network router to your computer. For more information on where to purchase an energy monitor visit The Energy Detective (USA, from $199.00) or AlertMe (UK, from £69). The PowerMeter interface breaks down watts used and their associated cost by the hour, month or year. The Google service is not the only consumer energy management application on the market, but it is the easiest to use. Energy readings are monitored through iGoogle, a personalized homepage information service that is available to all registered Google users. PowerMeter also compares your energy consumption with other users. In a post-carbon world, less is better.

Don’t wait for our elected leaders or captains of industry to ‘fix’ the energy/climate crises. We can all do our own part by making small lifestyle changes, like cutting back on household energy use, to reduce our carbon footprints, and save money. Click here for more information about Google PowerMeter. You may also want to check out an informative University of Oxford study that examines the impact of near real-time energy consumption feedback on consumer behavior.

By Dr. Jonathan Harrington (1/1/2010)

Note: Dr. Harrington has no affiliation with any companies referred to in this article.

Much time has passed since the end of the Copenhagen climate meeting (COP 15), but there is still widespread disagreement about what, if anything, was achieved at what was billed a “historic moment” in humanity’s struggle to reign in the specter of human induced climate change. Historic the moment may well be, but possibly for different reasons than the organizers originally envisioned.

During his closing press conference, UN Climate Chief Yvo de Boer noted that the “the agreement (Copenhagen Accord) is “politically important, demonstrating a willingness to move forward. It brings together a diversity of countries that have put in place a letter of intent with the ingredients of an architecture for a response to climate change…but it is not legally binding.”

Contrast this UN doublespeak with comments made by China’s chief negotiator Su Wei who flatly announced that “this is not an agreed accord, it is not an agreed document, it is not formally endorsed or adopted.” This characterization is reaffirmed by the first sentence of the Decision of COP 15 which states, “The Conference of Parties (COP), takes note of the Copenhagen Accord of 18 December 2009.” The two and a half page document then goes on to describe what the member states would have agreed to if the Accord had been adopted. To be fair, most national delegations did support the Accord, but the COP decision-making process requires any final agreement to be adopted by consensus, which did not happen.

An “unprecedented deal” as Obama declared, it was not. It may be “an important step” but that is not what was supposed to happen in Copenhagen. The 1992 Rio Convention was a first step, as was the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The December 2007 “Bali Roadmap” committed the world’s leaders to deliver a legally binding post-2012 architecture that would guide businesses and governments towards a low carbon future within two years. We are still waiting.

One of the most damaging results of COP 15 is that the all but a select few world leaders were shut out of the final negotiating process. Around 120 presidents and prime ministers attended the Summit, but only a small handful was involved in crafting the actual Accord. Previous drafts crafted and negotiated by thousands of researchers, officials and activists who worked 20 hour days to fill in the details of complex proposals to strengthen carbon markets, set meaningful emissions reduction targets and create a new framework for reducing deforestation in developing countries (REDD) were largely ignored by Obama and friends. This served to further deepen the sense of distrust that developing countries and citizens worldwide feel for the UN climate regime. Those who had hoped that Obama would miraculously save the day were sorely disappointed.

The big winners in Copenhagen were China and other developing countries interested in avoiding making mandatory commitments to reduce emissions. The Kyoto Protocol only requires developed country signatories to take concrete steps. The rest of the World essentially gets a free pass. Without a formal legal/regulatory framework, developing countries can make “aspirational” claims about future emissions without fear of retribution. Some use the term “symbolic politics” to characterize the tendency of politicians to make bold statements without substantive follow through. A less charitable name for it is “green washing.”

To be fair, mitigating and adapting to climate change is something that most developing countries cannot afford to do on their own. Less wealthy nations also rightly insist that developed countries should pay for damage done by past emissions. Hearing their cries for help, Hillary Clinton parachuted into town on the next to last scheduled day of the conference bearing tidings of great joy, a promise to marshal $100 billion in yearly climate related aid by 2020. $100 billion sounded like a nice round number, a sound bite that lit up the newswires. However, few details were given about where this aid will come from. Similar promises have been made before. One neat little trick that donor countries like to play is to take existing official development assistance (ODA) and “reclassify” it as environmentally related aid. Overall outlays do not increase; they just gets used differently for things like saving rain forests rather than building schools or feeding the hungry.  

Clinton promises that some of the money will come from yet to be developed mandatory carbon trading markets in the United States and elsewhere. Carbon trading is already a reality in the European Union (EU). The main benefit of a carbon market is that it integrates the social and environmental costs associated with GHG emissions into the price of doing business. The present EU price for one tonne of CO2 equivalent emissions is about 11 EUROs (12/21/09). Putting a price on carbon provides businesses with an incentive to reduce emissions, usually through increased energy efficiency or switching from high carbon (coal or oil) to low carbon (solar or wind) energy sources. Governments can use their own cut from the proceeds generated by carbon trading to make additional social and environmental investments (like providing more help to developing countries). However, in order to make this system work, governments must first establish legally binding rules and regulations to guide market operations and establish emissions caps for large firms. COP 15 was supposed to establish a framework for setting up these markets. If businesses do not know the rules of the game, they will not make necessary investments to reduce their emissions.

So, where does this leave us? A majority of world leaders established a set of nonbinding aspirational goals to combat global warming. Some of these goals are more robust than previous statements. Click here for a full list. Certainly research interest in and public awareness of global warming has increased. These are all steps in the right direction. However, without a clear, legally binding global accord, these steps alone will not get us to where we need to go. Historians, and our progeny, will remember Copenhagen. But the jury is still out on whether it will be recalled as a positive turning point in our collective response to confront climate change or a failed last ditch effort in humanity’s accelerating slide towards uncontrollable global warming.