Activists Protest Climate Talk Collapse

Last week, activists at the climate change conference in The Hague burned their passports, staged mock suicides, and built a wall of sandbags.

For most people, the actions seemed extreme -- "shrill" to quote the New York Times. Sure global warming is a problem, but wouldn't it be more dignified to show some more slides of polar bears taking the sun and children swimming to school?

Then again, how else do you get Americans to pry their eyes away from the recount in Florida to look at what their sitting government -- supposedly the environmental good guys -- were doing in The Hauge?

Three years ago in Kyoto, 166 countries singed the Kyoto Protocol, including the U.S. It was a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by the year 2012. The meeting in The Hague was supposed to hash out the details.

And nobody denied climate change was a reality. It's just that rather than approaching it as a crisis calling for swift action, the American and Canadian delegations appeared to see global warming as an accounting challenge calling for some especially creative math. The North American delegations poured their expertise into figuring out how to classify trade, foreign aid and forest management as emissions cuts. Everything was on the negotiating table -- everything except reducing greenhouse gases to the levels agreed upon in Kyoto.

Each loopholes was more ingenious than the next -- until finally the Europeans finally walked away in disgust.

The North Americans wanted pollution "credit" for giving money to developing countries to get them to reduce their emissions. Rather than cleaning up our own acts in the North, we want to pay off Southern countries to clean up theirs. It's a new kind of free trade: pollution swaps that allow rich countries to keep on spewing.

By far the most destructive position in The Hague -- the deal breaker -- was that the carbon soaked up by forests and farmland should be counted as emission reductions.

Yes, it's true: after allowing the clear cutting of North American forests, bulldozing over environmentalists who had the audacity to argue that trees clean the air (those flakes), our politicians went to The Hague armed with Power Point presentations about the magic of photosynthesis.

If we count the carbon soaked up by trees North Americans can keep belching fossil fuels and never have to look at sustainable energy sources like wind and solar.

Isn't nature handy -- I mean, when it doesn't cost anything?

This week is the first anniversary of the massive protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization. People often wonder why so-called extremists feel the need to take to the streets. The answer was in The Hague last week. Finally, eight years after the Earth Summit in Rio, we were going to move from endless talk to concrete, if modest, action. But the summit collapsed. Don't worry our politicians assured us, now that all the issues are on the table, we can have another meeting, and get down to some serious talk. I, for one can't wait.

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Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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