The Thin, Wet Khaki Line: Reflections on the Beach

The battle belonged that morning to the thin, wet line of khaki that dragged itself ashore on the Channel coast of France.”

– Gen. Omar N. Bradley

I just spent a gloriously warm and beautiful summer day at Omaha Beach in Normandy, the tip of the spear in the famous invasion to wrest Europe back from the Nazis in June, 1944.

Monuments, museums and cemeteries abound along the northern coast of Normandy. But even in places where there’s nothing visible to the eye except beige sand, aqua blue water and bikini-clad sunbathers, there’s a weight that pulls from beneath the surface, an undertow of sorrow, as though the enormity of the events of 67 summers ago have left an indelible mark on the land here.

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Flights of Fancy: Including US Airlines in EU Carbon Trading System Triggers Fears of Air-mageddon

Suddenly, it seems, airlines around the world – including in the US – have just woken up to the fact that they’ll soon have to take part in Europe’s carbon emissions trading scheme. And they’re freaking out.

I don’t really understand the hysteria. They’ve known since 2008 that starting at the end of this year, airlines and freight companies that fly into the European Union will have to either cut their greenhouse gas emissions to meet EU standards or buy carbon permits for that excess pollution.

Now, all of a sudden, it’s front page news. There are lawsuits and diplomatic protests and congressional bills and lobbyists howling and righteous indignation steaming from boardrooms across the planet. It’s as though they didn’t think the Europeans were serious about actually making them do it, and now that it’s clear they are, the industry is scrambling to try to avert Air-mageddon.

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Why Do They Hate Us? The Vacuum that Feeds the Rise of Right-Wing Parties in Europe

Now, Norway has its very own Timothy McVeigh …

As with the Oklahoma City bombing 16 years ago, the initial public reaction to the horrific events in and near Oslo was to finger Muslim extremists. The online comment boards of the New York Times quickly filled with denunciations of “radical Islam” and “a religion of hate.” A few voices cautioned that little was yet known about the killer or killers. But – as with Oklahoma City – most felt comfortable in the assumption that the jihadis had struck again.

Now that 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik has confessed to police that he did indeed set off the bomb at a government building in Oslo, then went to a youth camp on nearby a island and methodically hunted down and executed 68 people, attention is shifting to the growing popularity of right-wing, anti-immigrant parties in Western Europe.

But rather than wonder why Europeans seem to be increasingly sympathetic toward xenophobic neo-fascism, the continent’s leaders should ask themselves why they’ve given their people with legitimate concerns about their economic and cultural future no place else to go.

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How Green Was My Palm Oil: New EU Standards for Sustainable Biofuels Rekindle Debate

A Lufthansa flight last week marked the first time an airline has used biofuels on a standard commercial flight. The airline says the mixture of regular jet fuel and biofuel (made from jatropha and camelina plants and animal fats) will help power daily flights on the Hamburg-Frankfurt run during a six-month trial. Lufthansa expects using the mixture will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 1,500 metric tons during that period.

This high-flying demonstration of the technical advances of transport fuels grown on a farm instead of drilled from the ground comes as the economic and environmental benefits of biofuels are being hotly debated in Europe.

In Brussels, the European Commission just approved sustainability standards for biofuels that are supposed to make sure they’re produced in ways that don’t hurt the environment or exploit the world’s poor.

But environmental groups say the new standards fail to address biofuels’ shortcomings, and a series of leaked EU reports are casting doubt on the long-term viability of the entire enterprise.

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One Fish, Two Fish: Europe Takes Another Stab at Saving Dwindling Stocks

Europe enjoys a “green” reputation in energy, transportation, recycling and more. But when it comes to managing its fisheries? Not so much.

The European Commission says 75 percent of Europe’s stocks are overfished, and despite a fishing fleet that’s double the size it was 20 years ago, catches are dramatically down. That’s because there are more boats chasing fewer fish. This has also led to hundreds of millions of euros being spent in subsidies to keep politically-important fishing fleets afloat.

Meanwhile, current rules have crews tossing more than a million tons of dead fish overboard each year to avoid exceeding catch limits. Videos like this have helped inflame public sentiment at the flagrant waste of a depleted resource. More than half a million people have signed a petition by British TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to stop the practice.

EU fisheries chief Maria Damanaki just anounced what her office called a “radical” revamping of Europe’s nearly 30-year-old Common Fisheries Policy, that she said would “get our fish stocks into a healthy state to preserve them for present and future generations.” She said she intended to meet Europe’s international commitments to make all fisheries sustainable by 2015.

That’s a pretty tall order. How’s that supposed to happen?

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REACHing Across the Atlantic: US, EU Begin to Tango on Chemical Regulations

Barack Obama seems to be growing adept at finding alternate ways of skinning the cat.

After acknowledging his party’s “shellacking” in the recent elections, the president announced that he was giving up on trying to get a cap and trade climate bill through the Senate. He insisted he was still committed to taking action on climate change, but cap and trade, he said, “was just one way of skinning the cat. It was not the only way.”

In what may be one modest example of how Obama plans to get things done as he faces an increasingly uncooperative Congress, the administration has announced an agreement that brings the US just a bit closer to Europe’s groundbreaking program for regulating chemicals.

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Looking Forward from Cancun

Greenpeace activists form the word hope as a question with their bodies, next to a giant life saver, during a demonstration near the site of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, Friday, Dec. 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Israel Leal)

It was time to put up or shut up.

Delegates to the United Nations climate conference in Cancun knew if they came out of the talks empty-handed, the whole effort to reach a global warming treaty could collapse. The agreement that emerged over the past weekend made just enough progress to keep the talks alive for another year.<--break->

The end result fell far short of what’s needed to stop climate change, and major areas of disagreement weren’t even touched.

But given the low expectations going into the conference, the Cancun agreement does provide badly-needed momentum for a U.N. process that was in danger of sputtering out.

I came away from Cancun with the sense that some of the most interesting action on climate change is going to come from two directions that have little to do with Congress or international negotiations.

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On the Ground in Cancun: Global Warming’s Evil Twin

The focus of attention at the U.N. climate summit in Cancun, Mexico is global warming caused by too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But there’s another impact of high carbon levels that poses a whole different set of problems: it makes the ocean more acidic.

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On the Ground in Cancun: Youth Activists Throw Down the Gauntlet

Nearly 200 countries are represented at the U.N. climate summit this week in Cancun, Mexico. There are also caucuses speaking up for the interests of women, indigenous people, and others whose voices often haven’t been heard.

Today I spent some time with another under-represented group; young people.

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On the Ground in Cancun: Using I.T. Against Climate Change

Technology companies from around the world are gathered as part of the U.N. climate summit in Cancun, Mexico this week. The tech wizards say they can be a powerful force for fighting climate change.

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