"No Compromise in Defense of the Earth"

My friend Jennifer Thomson wrote this piece for Policy Innovations on the history of radical environmentalism. She imagines a moment in the future when it will dawn on mainstream organizations that stronger tactics will be needed to protect the Earth.

December 31, 2020

Dear Colleagues, Supporters, and Friends,

I hereby resign as president of the Reputable Mainstream Environmental Lobbying Organization. The global political will necessary to thwart catastrophic climate change has not materialized. I hold myself partially responsible.

When I assumed the helm at RMELO in July 2009 the prospects for tackling climate change through consensus-based policy seemed bright. The U.S. House of Representatives had just passed the Waxman-Markey Bill, a comprehensive attempt to tackle many facets of the climate problem. Although the Senate went on to significantly weaken the bill, it was nonetheless an auspicious precedent leading into the Copenhagen negotiations. I was proud to head an organization centrally involved in charting a successful policy course.

I kept a positive outlook even when Copenhagen failed to produce an international solution. Few could have predicted how severely the global North would retreat from the global framework toward national regulation, unwilling to stunt their own economic growth in order to offset the emissions of developing countries. Later the colliding impacts of peak oil, ecosystem collapse, and crop failure put Washington under intensified pressure from the food, energy, and manufacturing sectors. In response, my country loosened its standards for fuel efficiency, industrial emissions, wildlife protection, and waste disposal under the Palin administration.

Despite our savviest lobbying efforts, including the successful 2015 consumer boycott of Shell, ExxonMobil, and Chevron, our message of conservation and sustainability could push only so far. Our task was to muster the political capital necessary to generate the changes demanded by the evidence of the scientific community. This policy gamble has failed.

With deep ecological regrets,


After abandoning the mainstream environmental policy agenda, what options would remain for X in her pursuit of environmental justice and protection? Today we can discern an upward trend in radical, non-discursive, and often illegal interventions against the activities of polluting industries and the inertia of governments and citizens. From the anti-whaling campaigns of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to the tree-sitting of Earth First!, from Greenpeace unfurling a global warming banner on Mt. Rushmore to James Hansen getting arrested for protesting mountaintop removal mining: The momentum of direct action in defense of the Earth is mounting.

For those such as X, desperate in the face of glacial policy change, direct action embodies a clear ethical imperative: to defend our Earth and its inhabitants. This article explores the emergence and transformation of direct action in the United States, and calls for a reevaluation of the current legal and ethical interpretations.

The Emergence of Radical Environmentalism

The first Earth Day (April 22, 1970) heralded the emergence of popular environmentalism in the United States. On that day, 20 million Americans participated in rallies across the country, protesting oil spills, air and water pollution, the loss of wilderness to construction and logging, the extinction of wildlife, urban sprawl and unchecked consumerism.

The environmentalism of that period differed from the centuries-long tradition of American conservationism in two respects: in its concern for the destruction of the Earth as a whole, and in its solicitation of widespread public support. Growing dissatisfaction with the legalistic, compromise-based tactics of mainstream natural-protection organizations laid the groundwork for an environmentalism of defense. Conceiving of the Earth as a "closed system," this new movement voiced concerns about population growth and pollution, and explicitly targeted corporate and government offenders.

Direct action was the most radical child of Earth Day 1970. Environmental Action, a key organizer, published Ecotage! one year later. Defining ecotage as "tactics which can be executed without injury to life systems," the guide offered a cornucopia of practical direct actions, from cutting billboards to "liberating" the earth from pavement to crashing corporate social events.

The ramifications of Earth Day for American environmentalism were far from coherent. On the one hand, its rhetoric revealed a commitment to the revolutionary politics of 1968, affirmed even by a mainstream organization such as the Sierra Club:

A revolution is truly needed—in our values, outlook and economic organization… the crisis of our environment stems from a legacy of economic and technical premises which have been pursued in the absence of ecological knowledge. That other revolution, the industrial one that is turning sour, needs to be replaced by a revolution of new attitudes toward growth, goods, space, and living things.

Yet disagreement abounded as to the extent and means of such revolution. Should industrial capitalism be dismantled? Was exploitation of labor separate from destruction of the environment? Was a complete alteration in human values and attitudes toward nature necessary? By the end of the 1970s, as environmental activists of all stripes abandoned revolutionary rhetoric in favor of either social ecology or anti-humanism, it was clear that American environmentalism was a movement fractured along ideological and tactical lines.

Thereafter most environmental activists pursued either a reformist agenda or direct action interventions. The Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Audubon Society negotiated with legislators and corporations, while Greenpeace and others pursued whaling ships, tampered with billboards, and sabotaged construction sites. Mainstream environmentalists focused on the interdependence of living systems, banning toxic chemicals, caps on industrial pollution, and preservation of wilderness from development. Radical environmentalists sought the defense of nature for its own sake, advocating an immediate and drastic decrease in human population, the cessation of human interference in the natural world, and the immediate transition to a zero-growth economy.

Radical environmentalists initially embraced this split from mainstream organizations. Howie Wolke, a founding member of Earth First! (EF!), stated that the group was intended as the "sacrificial lamb of the environmental movement." EF! would "make the Sierra Club look moderate by taking positions that most people would consider ridiculous." These ridiculous positions would help to radicalize the public environmental consciousness.

In its 1981 manifesto, EF! described its prima facie commitment to wilderness:

In a true Earth-radical group, concern for wilderness preservation must be the keystone. The idea of wilderness, after all, is the most radical in human thought—more radical than Paine, than Marx, than Mao. Wilderness says: Human beings are not dominant, Earth is not for Homo sapiens alone, human life is but one life form on the planet and has no right to take exclusive possession. Yes, wilderness for its own sake, without any need to justify it for human benefit. Wilderness for wilderness. For grizzlies and whales and rattlesnakes and stink bugs. And… wilderness for human beings.

By asserting the value of the wild for its own sake, EF! contextualized human life within the planetary ecosphere. Human social and political life would center on wilderness preservation and restoration in their conception. This singular elevation of nature stood in stark contrast to the issues of labor exploitation and environmental justice that were central to the agendas of more mainstream groups.

EF!'s primary target was the U.S. Forest Service, which was directly responsible for the sale to timber companies of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. EF! published its repertoire of direct actions in Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching (1985). Like the ecotage of Environmental Action, monkeywrenching is nonviolent direct action. Intended to disrupt the alliance between government and industry, it includes spiking trees, tree-sits, uprooting survey stakes, disabling heavy equipment, defacing or felling billboards, liberating animals from laboratories and federal facilities, placing smoke bombs in corporate boardrooms, destroying construction sites, and jamming locks.

Monkeywrenching is neither organized nor revolutionary. However, it is always deliberate, ethical, and concerned with maintaining public support. As Ecodefense explains:

… [monkey-wrenching] does not aim to overthrow any social political or economic system. It is merely non-violent self defense of the wild. It is aimed at keeping industrial "civilization" out of natural areas and causing its retreat from areas that should be wild. It is not major industrial sabotage. Explosives, firearms, and other dangerous tools are usually avoided. They invite greater scrutiny from law enforcement agencies, repression, and loss of public support. Even Republicans monkey-wrench.

Countless monkeywrenching interventions throughout the 1980s and 1990s did not harm a single human. Forest Service estimates placed yearly damages between $20 million and $25 million, and the Association of Oregon Loggers estimated that an average ecotage incident cost the industry $60,000 to $100,000. Monkeywrenching succeeded in adding a significant externality to the extraction of natural resources. Yet for a select minority of the radical environmental movement, monkeywrenching did not go far enough in defense of the Earth.

"The Elves are Watching"

Welcome to the struggle of all species to be free. We are the burning rage of this dying planet… ELF works to speed up the collapse of industry, to scare the rich, and to undermine the foundations of the state. Together we have teeth and claws to match our dreams. Our greatest weapons are imagination and the ability to strike when least expected…

The 1997 "Beltane Communiqué" was the first public statement by the Earth Liberation Front. ELF has claimed responsibility in the subsequent 12 years for well over 100 acts of arson, destruction of heavy machinery and construction sites, tree spiking, and animal liberation, concentrated initially in the Pacific Northwest and then spread throughout the Midwest and the eastern United States.

The direct action of ELF is based on the principle of inflicting maximum economic damage upon those who profit from destruction and exploitation of the natural environment. ELF takes absolute precaution against harming any animal—human or nonhuman.

Increasingly, the ELF incorporated arson into its actions—a tactic that had been explicitly proscribed by EF! due to its tendency to "invite attention." Among its most damaging actions, ELF claimed responsibility for destroying two U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Damage Control Buildings in Olympia, Washington (1997); burning down five buildings and four ski lifts at the Vail ski resort in Colorado (1998); burning down the main office of the Boise Cascade logging company in Monmouth, Oregon, and the office of genetic modification researcher Catherine Ives at Michigan State University (1999); and destroying 10 separate housing development projects on Long Island (2000–2001). Estimates of the damages to private corporations and the federal government exceed $100 million. Yet despite the scale of property damage, no human has ever been injured by ELF actions.

The ecotage and monkeywrenching of Environmental Action and EF! assert that a revolution in human consciousness can be achieved through disabling the technological and epistemological implements of environmental destruction. By introducing arson into the repertoire of direct action, the ELF has significantly increased the risk attached to logging, mining, and development enterprises. Unlike its direct action predecessors, it is major industrial sabotage.

Time to Reconsider

The time has come to reassess the nature and goals of "eco-terrorism." The actions that have been labeled "eco-terrorism" lack a constitutive aspect of terrorism: violence. Direct action is deliberate in its targeting of machinery and buildings; it does not seek to harm organic life or to sow confusion and chaos. Just how different are the goals of direct action from those of the mainstream environmental consensus? If their common goal truly is the cessation of greenhouse gas emissions, the creation of sustainable food systems, and the ecological re-institution of society, then it is time to reevaluate the usefulness of direct action to this agenda.

Mainstream environmentalism rests upon the gamble that the reformist legislative agenda will work. If this gamble fails, its consciousness-raising will only have been in service of the latest transformation in the self-reproduction of capitalism. The risk facing reformist environmentalism is that it will become the preeminent lobbyist for greenwashing the economy. Indeed, as can be seen in the recent proliferation of energy commercials, BP, Chevron, and ExxonMobil are quite diligent in painting a thin coat of green over business as usual.

By contrast, direct action represents a position of no compromise. Its principal strength rests in the inability of corporate consumer capitalism to co-opt it. Direct action is considered criminal: After all, it deliberately destroys property and seeks to halt the growth of exploitative industries. Yet given how the United States enshrines the right to private property, often regardless of the damage it wreaks on communities and ecosystems, is it reasonable to expect a policy-based moratorium on the industries responsible for exploiting the Earth? Indeed, the current discussion around the climate bill in the Senate—specifically, the consideration being given to subsidies for coal and nuclear plants—suggests the susceptibility of the legislative process to those very industries we most need to regulate.

The recent history of American environmentalism suggests that the split between "technocratic" and "terrorist" solutions is a misleading stereotype. Mainstream organizations once spoke of revolutionizing our relationship to the Earth. Direct action is rooted in this same ethic of care for all living creatures, now and into the future. Now is the time to embrace the dialectical connection between mainstream efforts and direct action. Both contribute via different means to the same end: making coal-fired power, mountaintop removal, and old-growth deforestation unprofitable in the present and unthinkable in the future.

Jennifer Thomson is a Ph.D. candidate in the history department at Harvard University.

Further Reading

Abbey, Edward. The Monkey-Wrench Gang. New York: Avon, 1975.

Devall, Bill. "Deep Ecology and Radical Environmentalism." In Dunlap, Riley E. and Angela G. Mertig, American Environmentalism: The U.S. Environmental Movement, 1970–1990, 1992.

Foreman, Dave and Bill Haywood, eds. Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching, Second Edition. Tucson: A Ned Ludd Book, 1987. (Accessible at http://www.omnipresence.mahost.org/inttxt.htm)

Glick, Daniel. Powder Burn: Arson, Money, and Mystery on Vail Mountain. New York: Public Affairs, 2001.

Green is the New Red blog: www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/

Manes, Christopher. Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism and the Unmaking of Civilization. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1990.

North American Earth Liberation Front Press Office: www.elfpressoffice.org.

Pickering, Leslie. Earth Liberation Front 1997–2002. Portland: Arissa Media Group, 2007.

Rosebraugh, Craig. Burning Rage of a Dying Planet: Speaking for the Earth Liberation Front. New York: Lantern Books, 2004.

Taylor, Bron. "The Tributaries of Radical Environmentalism." Journal for the Study of Radicalism, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2008: 27–61.

This article carries a Creative Commons copyright. Photo: Julia Butterfly Hill tree-sitting in 2006, by Mark Dixon (CC).


Setting the Bar at 350

350copyWhere do we draw the political and ecological lines on climate change? How much carbon will the atmosphere take? Policy Innovations Managing Editor Evan O'Neil talks with Phil Aroneanu, director of creative media for 350.org, an international campaign to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Phil and Evan met last year on the inaugural Climate Ride from New York to Washington.

EVAN O'NEIL: Phil, the number 350 is your campaign's rallying cry. Where does it come from?

PHIL ARONEANU: 350 is the safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in parts per million. It's a concentration, and it's been going up for the past hundred years—roughly since the Industrial Revolution started and we began burning coal, oil, and gas to power our economy.

We learned about the 350 target from Dr. James Hansen, a preeminent climate scientist, and the director of the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies at Columbia University in New York. He has studied the world's climate history, the temperatures and fluctuations in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and has shown that a number of so-called planetary "tipping points" happen at 350 ppm.

What that means is once we're past 350 ppm—and we're at 389 ppm now—we may begin to pass the point of no return in terms of ocean acidification, ice-melt in the Arctic, species decline, and a number of other systemic problems. We don't know what concentration exactly will hit those tipping points, but we know that we're in the danger zone.

The good news is that we can turn it around if we take action now to stop burning coal, oil, and gas, and stop cutting down huge swaths of trees in the developing world. That alone won't get us back to 350 ppm, but it's a good start. We're hoping 350—both as a policy target and as a symbol of a prosperous, clean-energy future—will become a rallying call to the world's leaders, so that as they negotiate the future of our planet in Copenhagen this December, they will have the public support to move boldly forward.

EO: James Hansen recently argued against cap and trade, instead favoring a tax and dividend system. Does 350.org side with him?

PA: 350.org doesn't take a policy stance on domestic legislation in the United States. What we want most is an international agreement that gets us on the road back to 350 ppm. That said, we're not completely oblivious to the importance of what the United States does domestically vis-à-vis other countries. What we want is the United States to go to Copenhagen with an equitable approach to the agreement and strong emissions targets in line with the science.

Targets should be in the range of 30 to 40 percent by 2020 and 80 to 100 percent by 2050. Anything less will lead us down the path of catastrophic climate change. In addition, the agreement should provide significant resources above and beyond those reductions towards technology transfer, adaptation for those hardest hit by climate change, and clean energy development in poor countries.

What would be worse than the United States going to Copenhagen with a weak mandate would be going to Copenhagen with no bill at all, and that's the tricky part. We don't feel that any of the proposals that Hansen, Reps. Waxman and Markey, and others have put forth are wrong—it's a matter of what we can do in this short window of time before Copenhagen that matters, and making sure that it gets us on the path to a fair agreement that passes the 350 test.

EO: What are the pressure points for the December climate negotiations in Copenhagen? Is the agreement that is taking shape strong enough?

PA: Right now in Bonn, Germany, delegates to the UN and ministers are editing the draft of the agreement—moving commas around, putting certain phrases in brackets and moving other phrases into the negotiating text. Last I saw, the 350 target was in the draft [in brackets] along with 450 ppm. We know that 450 gives us about a 50/50 chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. We don't feel that 50/50 is good enough—would you drive across a bridge if there was a 50 percent chance that it would collapse into the water below?

We feel like many of the world's leaders want to do the right thing, but there's been an atmosphere of malaise and foot-dragging—a sort of UN bubble of sorts—where governments still spout the stale rhetoric of the past two decades. World leaders need to be jolted into action. This isn't time to take baby steps; we're already in the danger zone. We need a distributed mass mobilization of ordinary global citizens to let our leaders know that foot-dragging is no longer OK. That means pressuring everybody from your mayor all the way up to President Obama. Only a truly global grassroots movement will make enough noise in enough places to make the agreement happen.

EO: What sort of compromises will it take for COP15 to produce an internationally "equitable" agreement?

PA: I think there are many different conceptions of equity. Some equity advocates call for no carbon trading at all, understandably fearful that indigenous lands will be yanked out from under them to sell forest credits, or that carbon traders will make billions of dollars off the market while poor countries languish in poverty (Climate Justice NOW). Other people are calling for massive wealth redistribution, accounting for historical responsibility for CO2 emissions (Greenhouse Development Rights). Still others are calling for deeper cuts from developed countries based on a right to survival (Small Island States).

What is clear is that any agreement that doesn't provide a pathway out of poverty for the billions of people around the world who haven't built consumptive lifestyles based on carbon, as we have in the Global North, will not be a fair one.

EO: Activism of any sort takes a lot of dedication. What made you choose this path? Why the environment?

PA: I don't think I ever had an "aha!" moment. I've always been interested in nature and the environment. I'm an avid outdoorsman, and love to climb, ski, bike, run, camp, and do almost anything else outside. After I learned about climate change from my high school physics teacher in the late 90s, I helped launch No Car Day in my hometown, and sort of kept going from there.

I should note that activists—especially climate activists—must have some sort of fire within them to do the work that they're doing. To see the science getting worse day by day, but still have faith in humans and our collective power to change the world for the better, takes some chutzpah.

EO: What have you found most challenging as a climate activist?

PA: Climate change is a challenging issue mainly because many of us who are responsible for it won't feel it on our own skin in a significant way until it's too late. Communicating the urgency of the problem, and recognizing that nothing short of a complete transformation of our economy will solve it, is sometimes daunting. I'm optimistic that we'll solve the problem, and that I'll leave my kids with a planet that's still livable so that they can visit the special places in the world that I love, and discover new ones.

EO: You and I met during a special event last year, essentially a climate conference on bicycles. What made you decide to do Climate Ride?

PA: It was easy: I love biking, and my life's work is dedicated to solving climate change. It only seemed like a natural fit. Also, I wanted to help my friends who run Focus the Nation—they're good, hardworking organizers who, with few resources, have managed to engage thousands of educators, community leaders, and students around the country, and teach them about climate change. It's important to support projects like FtN because those are the people who will find new and innovative ways to make change, and stay one step ahead of the status quo.

EO: What was the most valuable thing you discovered as a rider?

PA: There were a variety of people on the ride, most of whom work on climate change in some way. It was incredibly useful for me to talk to people in the private sector who are actually producing the goods and services that are going to explode as we move beyond the carbon age. It was enlightening to hear their challenges, and inspiring to hear their plans for the future. It helped me envision the world of climate activism as a much broader movement, and made me feel that, yes, we can win this fight.

EO: 350.org is organizing a big climate action this year on October 24. What should people expect? How can they get involved?

PA: October 24 is going to be the widest-spread action on climate ever. We've already registered over 1000 actions in every corner of the globe. It's easy to get involved—all we're asking people to do is get together with friends, family, and neighbors at an iconic place near you and take a picture with the number 350 displayed prominently in the picture.

You don't ever have to have done something like this before, and we have lots of information, tools, and a page for each action at 350.org, where you can invite people, keep track of RSVPs, and post announcements. October 24 might seem like far away, but we want to make sure that each action is planned and ready to go so that our leaders know that we are holding them accountable.


Green Business Boom for Carbon Trust

EVAN O'NEIL: Good afternoon. I'm Evan O'Neil, Managing Editor of the Carnegie Council's online magazine, policyinnovations.org.

I'm speaking today with Michael Rea, Chief Operating Officer of the Carbon Trust, and his associate, Scott Kaufman, who is their U.S. Project Manager. Welcome to you both to the Carnegie Council.

We are hoping to discuss a little bit this afternoon the activities of the Carbon Trust, what its mission is, how it came to be. Michael?

MICHAEL REA: Let me explain a bit of the background of the Carbon Trust. The Carbon Trust was originally set up in the United Kingdom about eight years ago. Our mission is to accelerate progress towards a low-carbon economy.

When we were set up, one of the first things we did was look at how it was possible to make the transition to a low-carbon economy. At that particular time in the United Kingdom, we were talking about reducing emissions by 60 percent by 2050 versus 1990.

When we analyzed that problem, we came to the conclusion that we would need to do things: we needed to deploy energy-efficiency technology at mass scale; and the second thing we needed to do was to develop new and emerging low-carbon technologies. And, roughly, we'd get half-way with energy efficiency, but to get to the full 60 percent at the time we needed to develop new technologies as well.

That's why the Carbon Trust ended up with this, if you like, dual set of activities. So we have one set of activities where we work with companies and public sector organizations to help them reduce their emissions—and I'll say a little more about that in a second, if you like—and the second part is we are very active in very-early-stage pre-commercial, pre-venture capital (VC) technology development.

EVAN O'NEIL: What have been some of the promising technological innovations in that realm? Has anything sprung out that has really been a leader in that industry so far?

MICHAEL REA: I think our thinking has evolved over time. When we started, it was very much, as I say, around energy efficiency. Lots of companies are still implementing pretty basic energy-efficiency measures, like best practices in lighting and heating.

But then, over the past two or three years, we have started to work with larger companies. For example, we work with 75 percent of the FTSE 100 in the United Kingdom. For a number of those companies, we are starting to look at more strategic issues about how their business model might evolve over time.

And then on the other side, the technology development side, as you referred to, a lot of our work really is about getting very-early-stage technologies out of universities. You asked for a couple of examples.

We have a £10 million initiative, £5 million with a team in Cambridge University and £5 million with a team in Imperial College in London, looking at the next generation of photovoltaics, so photovoltaics can deliver power at a tenth of the cost of today's technology. Now, these are highly speculative investments, and if they pay off, obviously they are going to be very successful. But they are also extremely high risk.

That is the kind of space we are playing in. Helping the corporates, we are trying with smaller companies to push the boundaries of what is possible, and the same on technology development, where we are also trying to do the same thing.

EVAN O'NEIL: The original idea and the funding for the Carbon Trust came from the U.K. government, correct?

MICHAEL REA: That's right, yes. Our funding today is about £100 million, and that's primarily from the U.K. government. But as time has gone on we have also developed some other funding mechanisms. So we have a commercial VC business, and that complements our publicly funded early-stage technology-development business. So as these technologies start to emerge to the point where they look like they may be commercial, we have a VC arm that can come in and accelerate their progress towards the market. And then we take the profits that we get from that particular arm and reinvest them back into the core mission of the company, because basically we are a public company and everything we do is about serving the mission of the company to accelerate progress towards a low-carbon economy.

EVAN O'NEIL: Being in a close relationship and partnership with the U.K. government like that, are there any social justice components that you have to incorporate into your work, or is it primarily a very business-oriented endeavor? Or do you see those two things as blending?

MICHAEL REA: It is probably a blend of a broader social good but with a very businesslike approach. So, in effect, we sit between business and government.

As well as doing lots of work with companies on the ground, helping them to do broadly the right thing on emission reduction, we also work with them and with policymakers thinking about how the policy framework can evolve in a way that accelerates progress towards a low-carbon economy, so the public good element. But it does that in a way that accelerates business development.

In terms of ethos, we are very much a private sector company, so we do everything in a very businesslike, professional way.

EVAN O'NEIL: Scott, one of your main interests at Carbon Trust is the carbon labeling schemes, engaging consumers in purchasing goods which are produced in more sustainable fashions, and communicating it to the customer through labels on products. Can you tell me a little bit about how that certification system has been developing in the United Kingdom and what your plans are for moving it abroad?

SCOTT KAUFMAN: Sure. We developed primarily in the United Kingdom, but it was meant to be an international standard, called the PAS 2050, which is a guide for companies that want to do the life-cycle product carbon footprint for the products that they make and sell on the consumer market.

We did that so that any company doing a carbon footprint for any given product would be using the same methodology. So we are trying to encourage a standard approach to this kind of activity across all sectors.

The idea is for a company to follow this methodology, measure their carbon footprint according to it, and to commit within two years after completing that and getting certified by the Carbon Trust to reduce the footprint of the product that they use the standard to measure.

MICHAEL REA: There were broadly two reasons we developed the standards. The first reason was we wanted companies to take a more holistic view of their carbon footprints. We have been working for many years looking at the direct emissions of an individual company, and we saw lots of cost-effective opportunities to reduce emissions. But we wanted to take a very different lens, which was the end-to-end supply chain lens, because our hypothesis was that there were lots of carbon-saving and cost-saving opportunities, which indeed we found as we worked with these companies.

But the other reason we did it was the feedback we got from companies around greenwash. There was a concern that consumers didn't believe companies when they made claims about being green. So the feedback we were reacting to was: Can you develop something that gives our stakeholders and our consumers and our workers confidence that we are really doing the right thing about reducing emissions?

We created this standard approach, which broadly has three elements: The first element is about measuring a footprint of a product in a completely consistent way. We have, as Scott was saying, some very good practical guidance about doing that.

The second element, which in some ways is the most important element from the Carbon Trust's perspective, which is about reduction, because ultimately if we are going to move to a low-carbon economy, we have to not talk about reducing emissions, but actually reduce emissions. So a core part of what we do is about companies making a commitment to reduce the footprint of their product or service over a two-year period, as Scott was saying.

EVAN O'NEIL: So there is both a business case for doing this and also a very environmental case. Are you finding that with the product analysis there is a lot of room for improvement?

SCOTT KAUFMAN: In both cases we have found that there is a pretty strong correlation between the life-cycle carbon emissions of a product and the money savings that are possible when measuring and then reducing them. There is definitely a relationship between those two things. That encourages the business case for doing this kind of good environmental work, which is very encouraging.

EVAN O'NEIL: Are businesses sensitive to their brand in this way? Are they worried that, aside from being accused of greenwashing, that by putting a label on something that perhaps people are saying, "It's not quite as green as it could be?" Are there concerns in that direction, or is there mostly a positive brand dividend that you guys are finding from your partners?

MICHAEL REA: What we're finding in terms of consumer feedback and consumer research is that consumers are very positive about the whole initiative and the labeling activity. So they value the fact that there is an independent verification of the footprint of the product or service, and we provide that. They value the fact that the company in question has made a commitment to reduce the footprint of that product. They value the fact that there is a number. For some of our partners we do put a number on the label on the pack.

But I would also say that consumers generally don't understand what that number means. So as well as working with companies to develop the approach, one of the things we also have to do over time is to educate consumers as to what is a carbon footprint, why is it important, and ultimately what does it mean. That is very much work in progress.

While I think we have nailed the measurement bit and we have pretty much nailed the reduction bit, the communication bit and how we do this in a way that really helps consumers to understand these numbers is still very much a work in progress. We are taking different approaches with different partners to really try and experiment and understand what really works, as well as to over time educate consumers more broadly, as I was saying earlier.

EVAN O'NEIL: How far can the reductions go, since the reductions are such an important part of the three-part process? Are you aiming for carbon neutrality, or is there a wall that a company will hit with a particular product where it can't really squeeze any more efficiency out of its process? Do you then turn to carbon credits or offsets? What's the solution when a company has gone just about as far as it can?

MICHAEL REA: We are probably quite a long way from the wall just yet. It's quite interesting. I think our collective intuition would be at some stage we are going to come up to a stopgap where we can't go any further. We haven't found that yet, actually.

That depends on how broad you set the framework. We found that companies can reduce their carbon footprint by 20–30 percent by looking at energy-efficiency measures. And then if we look at complementing that with emerging energy supply measures, you can get up to 50 or 60 percent.

We have been doing quite a lot of work with Tesco in the United Kingdom looking at the carbon footprint of their stores. They have managed to reduce the footprint of their stores over the past few years. Their newest store versus the average of a store five or six years ago has gone down by 50 or 60 percent.

Similarly, we have been working with Walkers Crisps in the United Kingdom. They originally committed to reduce the footprint of their product by 3 percent, which is interesting, because they already had made significant reductions over previous years. I think they and we are very pleased that they have just been reaccredited. They have managed to reduce their footprint by 7 percent.

EVAN O'NEIL: For energy specifically?

MICHAEL REA: The total carbon footprint of, in this case, a packet of crisps.

EVAN O'NEIL: The life-cycle carbon footprint.

MICHAEL REA: Right, the life-cycle carbon footprint. So that covers the fertilizer, the transport, the processing of potatoes, the packaging, etc. And they have made a follow-on commitment to reduce that even further.

So we are not pushing the boundaries yet. But to go back to your question, I think our guidance to companies is to take a tiered approach. Firstly, if you are starting off on a low-carbon journey, look at your direct carbon footprint and basically do as well as you possibly can on it. And then broaden out and look up and down the supply chain at carbon-cost-reduction opportunities. And then, beyond that, look at renewable generation.

And yes, offsets can have a role. But I think we are very conscious when looking at offsets to ensure that they are additional. I think we look very hard when companies are thinking about offsetting, convincing ourselves and them that they are really going for additional carbon reductions.

EVAN O'NEIL: Scott, speaking of the supply chain issues, when you guys are doing the certification and looking at the PAS 2050 standard, how does the global element factor into it? Do you have some significant challenges when measuring the ecological footprint over a global scale?

SCOTT KAUFMAN: There are, obviously, very significant challenges. Pretty much all products are global at this point. Most companies don't own their entire supply chains, not even close. So in some cases it's possible to go to the suppliers and find out what the emissions are for the components that the company is getting from their suppliers. But in other cases we have to use what's called secondary databases, where there are these general collections of data that represent given processes or materials. We plug those into the footprint to give the overall results.

As this activity becomes more mainstream over time, those sources of information are improving. There's more and more of it. People are looking for it more and more. So there are more resources going into the development of these data sources.

Not only that, as influential companies look to suppliers for this information more and more, there is a demand for better providing of these data over time, just direct emission sources along the supply chain. So it's a challenge now, but I think as we go forward it's getting easier and easier, fortunately.

EVAN O'NEIL: While the Carbon Trust is based in the United Kingdom and you are working globally, what has been the experience in the American market using these standards here? Have companies been willing to adopt them? I know in some ways we seem to be a little bit behind the times as far as the European momentum toward green technologies goes.

I know PepsiCo and their Tropicana orange juice were just recently profiled, and I think you guys had a hand in helping them figure that out. Can you tell me about that experience?

SCOTT KAUFMAN: We starting working with PepsiCo on U.K. operations, but the international component became very attractive to them as well. They wanted to look at their core base of operations in the United States.

So we consulted with Tropicana and guided them through the process of creating a very comprehensive carbon footprint. We then certified that footprint. A few weeks ago the results were released.

At this point in the United States there is a little bit more of a reluctance to go directly on-pack with the communication of the number of the results, but Pepsi has been very forthcoming with publicizing the results. There was an article in the New York Times, as you mentioned, and they are planning right now to have the results and an explanation of what goes on behind this process on their website.

We are continuing to explore ways going forward, as we look at other products, how the United States is best positioned to present these results to the public, whether it's on-pack or other forms of advertising that we have explored in other areas.

EVAN O'NEIL: Michael, turning to the policy realm both internationally and regionally where you guys are located in Europe, what are some of the barriers to making carbon accounting a more common practice? Do you favor global cap-and-trade; is that helpful to your industry? What would you hope to see come out of the Copenhagen negotiations later this year?

MICHAEL REA: I think we would like to see some type of comprehensive agreement that creates a level playing field for countries and for companies to really accelerate progress towards a low-carbon economy. I think there is a lot of great experience that we can draw on in Europe, but there is also a lot of great experience we can draw on from the United States.

As you know, there is a huge amount that has been going on at the state level and at the corporate level. As I travel around the United States, I get a real sense of optimism around what could happen post-Copenhagen and a real sense from businesses that coming out of recession there will be a real opportunity to reposition business models to low-carbon business models.

We think global cap-and-trade is probably a key element of a global agreement and having a consistent carbon price is very important. We have a lot of experience in Europe with the EU emissions trading scheme. As you know, there are lots of concerns about the competitiveness implications of that if there aren't similar schemes or a linked set of schemes globally.

We have done a lot of work on the whole competitiveness issue. Our broad conclusion is that for most sectors competitiveness really shouldn't be an issue, but there are certain commodity sectors, such as steel and cement, where there are issues in the absence of a global deal. So one thing we would like to see is real progress on a global carbon price.

The second thing we'd like to see is real progress on the barriers to energy efficiency and technology transfer so that we can apply the best available technology in all countries and in all organizations around the world.

The third element that we think is very important is technology innovation. So again, accelerating and going at a much faster rate around key emerging technologies that will make a difference to 2030 and beyond.

EVAN O'NEIL: If I can push you on the technology transfer aspect for a minute, for us here at the Carnegie Council we're obviously interested in ethics in international affairs. What's the best mechanism for technology transfer, getting these green technologies to developing countries, at least in a similar time frame, if not the same time, as they are deployed in the West?

MICHAEL REA: We have gone through a process of learning on that. I think the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), for all its faults, has been very successful around helping to deploy power-generation technologies and large-scale-efficiency technologies. I think we need to build on that experience and ensure that the kind of projects that are being funded are additional and that the money flowing in through CDM is really working as hard as possible.

But we also need to look at the innovation side, about how developed and developing countries can collaborate on emerging technologies. So if we look at China, United States, India, coal carbon capture and storage is a key topic area, and it seems like an obvious area where collaboration around demonstrating the technology and demonstrating whether it works or not, and whether it works at some kind of economic scale, would be a major contribution to pushing this whole low-carbon agenda forward.

So we need to think about certain technologies that are of a scale where no one individual country can take them forward at the pace they need to be taken forward.

And then there are other technologies, arguably, where individual countries can make a real difference. For example, in the United Kingdom we are having a major push on offshore wind and deploying offshore wind at scale and getting the cost of that technology down. That makes sense from a U.K. perspective because we have the best offshore wind resource in Western Europe, and we also have a lot of engineering capability and experience through our North Sea oil production that we can leverage.

So that is an example of where the United Kingdom can make a difference in moving forward a technology that perhaps others could benefit from. Whereas carbon capture and storage is, I think, of a scale where a number of countries need to come together to really move it forward.

EVAN O'NEIL: So the economic crisis that is pretty much monopolizing everybody's minds these days, how has the reaction been in the green technology sector? Is this viewed as a crisis? Does the price of oil and its fall hinder what you guys have been able to roll out, or is this really just an open field and you're planting lots of seeds and new ideas?

MICHAEL REA: Again, if you look at the two sides of our activity, what we have found with smaller companies, because a lot of what we do helps companies to save money as well as doing the right thing for the environment, we have seen increased interest in terms of what we do. For larger corporates, I think for some that are finding it pretty tough, they are finding it difficult to keep their eye on the long-term view.

On the other side, we work with lots of corporates who are looking at the opportunity around coming out of recession and repositioning their business model. They have the kind of balance sheets that allow them to do that.

On the tech development side, it has slowed down. Venture capital funding is a lot more difficult to find. Project financing is difficult to find. So it is quite frustrating in a way that there are lots of technologies that are now starting to emerge but, at least in the very short term, the funding isn't there at the scale required. But I think that's only a short-term issue. I do expect funding to start to flow again for those technologies that are genuinely seen as commercializable. We are very active in that space, and other investors are interested. This is an opportunity.

EVAN O'NEIL: Just one final question. Keeping your own house clean, do you guys go for carbon neutrality at the Carbon Trust?

MICHAEL REA: We are, I suppose, slightly unusual in that. If you look at our activities in the United Kingdom, we help companies to reduce their emissions by 5 million tons per annum. Our own carbon footprint is about 250 tons. So we don't offset that directly, but we say 250 tons compared to 5 million we're probably doing okay.

EVAN O'NEIL: Great. Thank you. Michael Rea, Scott Kaufman, thank you for joining us here at the Carnegie Council.


The Copenhagen Climate Fairness Problem

Here's my comment/response to a blog post by Devin Stewart where he relays the climate change fairness concerns of a Toyota exec:

This Toyota exec's frankness points out some of the key problems with climate negotiations, specifically how difficult it is to accomplish development and reductions simultaneously. First of all, Japan is unlikely to meet its own Kyoto targets. In fact, their emissions have increased over 1990 levels. So either they're not trying hard enough, or the Kyoto mechanism is simply useless.

Second, it's a little ironic for an automobile executive to be talking about the unfairness of emissions targets and reduction mechanisms, given the enormous contribution of his industry to the problem. I would be curious, though, to see Toyota-specific statistics on whether the company has reduced its own emissions.

Third, I'm highly skeptical of the ability or willingness of a business association like Keidanren to make much of a dent through voluntary cajoling of its members. Though, to be fair, they do have both a charter for ethical behavior and a charter on the global environment. Does this go deeper than greenwash? Tough to say.

Fourth, if Japan is truly a "nation of seafaring traders," then it's likely to resist appropriate taxation of shipping fuel. As Elisabeth Rosenthal reported in the IHT last year, "Under longstanding trade agreements, fuel for international freight carried by sea and air is not taxed." This raises the specter of whether green trade tariffs will be necessary, especially given the recent rumblings in both Chinese and American political circles over trade, consumerism, protectionism, and who should pay for carbon.

Fifth, the Toyota exec is onto something with the concept of harmonized standards. From a trade perspective, cars should meet minimal common standards that would give them access to all similar markets. But this approach might lead to the lowest common denominator dominating.

Sixth, the Japanese culture of thrift often takes some of the blame for the country's economic stagnation, once again highlighting the perils and paradoxes of trying to grow an economy, be ecological, and be generous internationally.

Fundamentally, though, the Toyota exec's gripe about Mittal steel points to a major hiccup in climate negotiations: the clash between internal inequality and international inequality. Because countries are the negotiating bodies, the internal differences of commercial power and social development are smoothed out, and the negotiations become a competition for reaping the rewards of development and avoiding the bill for cleanup.

To solve this in a transparent way, perhaps the responsibility question can be generalized into the following categories:

Historical contribution to emissions (justice)
Current contribution to emissions (severity)
Per capita emissions (development)
Capacity to respond (efficiency)
Domestic inequality (fairness)
Full participation (common sense)

Each of these factors could be weighted in calculations to determine a country's level of cuts, with an inequality measure such as the GINI coefficient used to mediate the inequality problem. The greater a country's internal inequality, the deeper their cuts must be. But all countries would be required to cut. This is a global problem; We're all Annex I countries now. Time is running out.

After reviewing my list I might also add "Emissions trend" as a factor, representing intention. Countries with emissions that are declining or whose growth is slowing would be rewarded with less stringent targets on a sliding scale.

Adapting to climate change is going to hurt, one way or another. But Lance Armstrong never won any races by taking the easy route on training day. Setting strong targets is necessary to make even the most minimal progress.

The other key thing that the Toyota guy points out is a distaste for carbon as a commodity. It's "subprime" as he says. My sense is that he's correct, but only in the short term because the global market for carbon is in its infancy. It's not a global standard. Were carbon neutrality required everywhere, then adding carbon to a corporate or national balance sheet would make perfect sense. Is that the way forward: Carbon Zero Growth?

One downside of trading carbon is that it may be just another way to distance ourselves from the true cost. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely shows that using an intermediate token that can be redeemed for cash tends to increase cheating.


Cosponsors of Heartland Institute Conference on "Global Warming: Was it Every Really a Crisis?"

A convention of climate change deniers is going on in New York today and tomorrow, organized by the free-wheeling marketeers at the Heartland Institute. Here's the rundown on their dinosaur cosponsors:

Accuracy in Academia
Accuracy in Media
African Center for Advocacy and Human Development
Alternate Solutions Institute
American Policy Center
Americans for Prosperity
Americans for Tax Reform
Atlas Economic Research Foundation
Australian Libertarian Society
Ayn Rand Institute
Business & Media Institute
Carbon Sense Coalition
Cascade Policy Center
Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change
Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy
Climate Skeptics Party
Climate Strategies Watch
Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Congress of Racial Equality
Cornwall Alliance
Economic Thinking/E. Pluribus Unum Films
European Center for Economic Growth
Freedom Foundation of Minnesota
Free to Choose Network
Frontiers of Freedom
George Marshall Institute
Grassroot Institute
F.A. v. Hayek Institute
The Heritage Foundation
Hispanic Leadership Fund
Institute For Liberty
International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project
Initiative for Public Policy Analysis
Institute for Private Enterprise
Institute for Public Affairs
Instituto De Libre Impresa
Instituto Juan De Mariana
Instituto Liberdade
Instituto Bruno Leoni
International Climate Science Coalition
The Lavoisier Group
Liberales Institut
Liberty Institute
John Locke Foundation
Manhattan Libertarian Party
Mannkal Economic Foundation
Minimal Government Thinkers
New Zealand Centre for Political Research
Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine
Public Interest Institute
Science and Public Policy Institute
Science and Environmental Policy Project
Scientists and Engineers for Secure Energy
60 Plus Association
Sovereignty International
Tennessee Center for Policy Research
Young America's Foundation


Social and Political Innovation through Social Media

Last week I attended a great panel on Social and Political Innovation through Social Media as part of Social Media Week NYC. It was hosted by Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) at the New York Times building and organized by Toby Daniels (@tobyd). The panelists included Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook and director of online organizing for President Obama's campaign; Andrew Rasiej, founder of Personal Democracy Forum, an annual conference and website covering the intersection of politics and technology; and Jamie Daves, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur with more than ten years of experience in the public sector who has helped found a number of successful nonprofit and political organizations. Here are the highlights from my notes:

Jamie Daves emphasized the disruptive effect new media technologies have always had when they shift the social balance of power to new agents. He also mused whether the two components of democratic capitalism can continue to function in their current forms worldwide given the current trends and uncertainty. Daves said that the rise of social media is creating the largest accrual of social capital we've ever seen. This trend forces corporations to no longer be faceless, and it forces the people who work in business to engage as individuals, leading to an increase in personal responsibility and accountability.

Rasiej said Obama scored points by being the first national candidate to use the pronoun "we." He also noted that an organized minority will always triumph over a disorganized majority, and that social media technologies have lowered the cost of organization.

Chris Hughes noted that the strategy behind my.BarackObama.com was to provide an organizing toolset for supporters to do their own outreach, fund raising, and event hosting.

Rasiej noted that Whitehouse.gov is lackluster so far concerning social media. "Technically every citizen should have their own login," he said. But government doesn't have a Chief Technology Officer to guide things yet, and discussion moderation tools are still imperfect.

Hughes said these things require time, technology, and money. The Bush White House had only one person manning the Web. And the goals are more complex once you're in office, whereas a presidential campaign has one focus: winning.

Daves noted that it was naive of government to be scared of contact when it could actually benefit from the crowd-sourcing of answers. The trick is to connect common strands and the people who weave them. To illustrate his point, Daves cited one of the recent crane crashes here in NYC. There had been numerous citizen complaints about the shakiness of the construction site, but the local government didn't put their comments together into a bigger picture, and the people had no means of finding each other online to amplify their message.

Rasiej said 95 percent of human behavior is about maintaining position, so it's no wonder governments are slow to adapt to new technologies. For example, he came to be known as "wifi guy" when he ran in 2005 for Public Advocate in New York City because he wanted to modernize the city's telecom infrastructure. Nowadays a pejorative and reductive moniker like that might not stick, or might be a positive, because the upside is that social norms change relative to power and technology.

Daves emphasized that the universal service model for broadband connectivity is essential. He cited Pew statistics showing that 75 percent of people 18–24 are active in social networking.

Rasiej replied that older demographics are fast catching up and show some of the strongest growth rates. Globally he said many people will receive a mobile phone before they get access to clean water. Old institutions may fade in the face of these new technologies. One example where mobile phones could prove particularly useful is election monitoring. They may also unleash a new type of grassroots populism. For example, reform of marijuana laws consistently rises to the top of online forums where users are allowed to vote on commonsense priorities for their government.

Daves commented on the roles and responsibilities of old versus new media. We shouldn't look to the New York Times for social solutions, he said. They do a great job articulating the problems, but the mobilization will come from elsewhere.

A question was raised about the economic meltdown and whether this signified a broader meltdown of trust in our society. Hughes responded that transparency is actually natural to Internet technology. Rasiej agreed, stating that in a world of social media it's easier to build than destroy, and there's more vetting than ever before. Everything is recorded, meaning that to fear Big Brother is to fear ourselves.

Another question was raised about the momentum built by the Obama campaign and where it will go now. Hughes, speaking now as a private observer, said they had compiled 13 million emails and that 2 million accounts had been created on my.BarackObama.com, so the infrastructure of a movement does exist and could be channeled into activism, service, and other goals.

A question was raised as to whether social media will chip into the two-party system. Rasiej believes we have drifted into a somewhat post-partisan era where people may be more likely to self-identify as empowered citizens rather than Democrats.

Rasiej also discussed the potential of social media to save politicians from being "sound bited" to death in traditional press conferences. Interactivity can spur a virtuous circle between representatives and their constituents, as was somewhat the case when a cadre of my.BarackObama.com supporters staged the FISA Rebellion, forming a popular group within Obama's own site and threatening to suspend their fund-raising if they didn't get some straight answers from him on warrantless wiretapping. Obama responded directly to prove that he was willing to listen.

Rasiej seemed adamant, however, that social media will not morph government into rule by popular referendum, à la thumbs down in the Coliseum. But I wonder if he isn't being a little preemptive in his reasoning here. If the evolution of technology makes it possible to give more power back to the people, A LOT MORE POWER, why shouldn't it? One can conceive of a People's Digital Parliament rising in parallel to the traditional structures of government and wielding significant influence over legislators. Perhaps it would eventually be annexed to the government as a new branch with specific and limited authority. There may come a day when the dusty documents of a predominantly agrarian society, ingenious though they were, will have to be discarded and rewritten to fit the new ethics, politics, and technologies.

Meanwhile, said Daves, Members of Congress pay attention to four "M" words: Message, Membership, Media, and Money. And Rasiej concluded that there will be no expansion of participatory democracy in America without rebuilding education. Education funding and our view of it has been choked for decades, he said, citing the one hour per week that New York City school children spend on a computer.

Just Registered for 5 Boro Bike Tour!

It would be sweet to have some compadres saddle up and ride the 5 Boro Bike Tour with me on May 3. Hurry, though. It's limited to the first 30,000 riders who sign up. My Climate Ride pals Rob Rose and Skylar Lyon are already registered.


Behind the Great Firewall of China: Freedom, Control, and Democracy on the Internet

The Great Firewall of China is widely known, but what does it look like, how does it operate? Policy Innovations advisor Rebecca MacKinnon gave a fascinating presentation on Freedom and Control on the Internet at the Open Society Institute in New York earlier this week, detailing some of the trends and practices in Chinese censorship.

Search engine censorship is one of the primary forms. Rebecca showed examples of the different sets of image results one gets from Google.com and from Google.cn when searching for Tiananmen massacre. Google.com, the global site, returns photos depicting violence and victims. Google.cn, the Chinese domestic version, shows nothing of the sort. Instead the results include at least one photo of the Nanjing massacre.

Rebecca also showed what happens when you try to visit banned sites or post sensitive words to a blog. Banned sites are made to look like you're experiencing a temporary technical error, and blog posts with sensitive words can elicit a pop-up that says the "community editors" will get back to you shortly, so don't repost your text. Of course, you never hear from them and your draft never gets published.

The Chinese government is also proactive about shaping opinions online, throwing their support behind organizations like anti-CNN, a website that combats "the lies and distortions of facts from the Western media." They also pay members of what has come to be known as the 50-Cent Party to post opinions favoring the government and its policies in online forums. 50 Cent refers not to the American rapper but the per-post rate these loyalists receive.

Spoof and humor seems to be the predominant form of online criticism that is somewhat tolerated. In the wake of the recent Mandarin Oriental hotel fire next to the Chinese Central TV headquarters building—which has been dubbed the "underpants" building by Beijingers due to its unique two-legged architecture—various visual puns and mashups appeared online mocking CCTV. It turns out CCTV caused the blaze with illegal fireworks while celebrating Chinese New Year. Sadly one firefighter died and several were injured in the incident, but humor nonetheless belongs in politics, as the Tina Fey phenomenon made clear during the U.S. election.

A parallel trend of resistance is what Harvard's Ethan Zuckerman describes as the cute cat theory of digital activism: where free speech, organizing, and other forms of anti-authoritarian protest piggyback on social media that are primarily intended for benign and mundane activities like sharing photos of adorable pets. Authorities can't take down the whole site to delete the protest group pages without killing the cat appreciation society pages, too.

So is the Chinese government worried about online activism and dissent moving into the streets? Very much so. This is where the rubber meets the road, said MacKinnon, although no opposition party has yet to emerge from the Internet. The true test may come later this year as economic downturn meets a slew of dramatic anniversaries: March 31, 1959, Dalai Lama flees Tibet; June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square; October 1, 1949, People's Republic of China founded.

MacKinnon emphasized that Internet norms in the West will influence what happens in China. We're at a stage where large communications companies exist in a mediating layer between people and their governments. If this layer remains opaque, then the system will tend to reinforce incumbent power, she said. To help keep things transparent, Rebecca has worked to develop the Global Network Initiative, a voluntary code of conduct for the ICT industry. Through a multi-stakeholder process, GNI has crafted a "collaborative approach to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector." She says we may see companies conducting "human rights feasibility assessments" in the near future.

Operating in an environment of censorship presents ICT companies with significant ethical choices. Should they fudge on their philosophy to gain early market access? Will fostering some openness be better than none at all? How sensitive should they be to the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation?

Chinese private enterprises don't have the luxury of ruminating on these matters. In fact, they are legally responsible for the content their users post, and the government can rescind their business licenses if they don't manage to keep controversial material off the web. For the individual user who wants to maintain freedom and anonymity, there are options such as the Tor project.