The Climate Movement is finally back because many forces are converging.
Super Storm Sandy crashed home what Climate Change can mean in the most public way, but the mid-west drought and the Colorado and New Mexico fires meant that people all over the country experienced the reality of Climate Change last year.
Also, the more general climate facts were not lost on people, given that 2012 was the hottest year on record by a lot and that the 13 hottest years on record have happened since 1998.
The Climate Argument
At the same time, the Climate Movement finally has thoroughly won the climate argument.
First. last summer, former climate change skeptic, Richard Muller, Founder and Scientific Director of Berkeley Earth (http://berkeleyearth.org/), released a set of studies funded by the Charles Koch Foundation that asserted:
“The average temperature of the Earth’s land has risen by 1.5°C over the past 250 years. The good match between the new temperature record and historical carbon dioxide records (measured from polar ice samples) suggests that the most straight forward explanation for this warming is human greenhouse gas emissions.”
Then, most clearly in his widely circulated Rolling Stone piece, Bill McKibbon and 350.org ‘did the math:’
“2 degrees — Almost every government in the world has agreed that any warming above a 2°C (3.6°F) rise would be unsafe. We have already raised the temperature .8°C, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected…
565 gigatons — Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. Computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 levels now, the temperature would still rise another 0.8 degrees above the 0.8 we’ve already warmed, which means that we’re already 4/5 of the way to the 2 degree target.
2,795 gigatons — The Carbon Tracker Initiative, a team of London financial analysts, estimates that proven coal, oil, and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries… that act like fossil-fuel companies, equals about 2,795 gigatons of CO2, or five times the amount we can release to maintain 2 degrees of warming.”
The Climate Demands
This math leads to a very simple set of climate demands. Fossil fuel companies must:
- Immediately stop exploring for new hydrocarbons.
- Stop lobbying to preserve their special tax breaks and subsidies.
- Pledge to keep 80% of their current reserves underground forever.
This means that fossil fuel companies will have stranded assets, but, so be it. The truth is that, at this point in history, fossil fuel companies are anti-capitalist. They are making huge profits for their shareholders by destroying the economic, social, and environmental capital of the whole world economy on an unprecedented scale. The self interest, the self preservation, of every other industry requires that they back the climate demands the fossil fuel industry must meet.
In this situation, a wide variety of intersecting Climate Campaigns are mobilizing activists to:
- Work for Fossil Free divestment, taking the stocks of fossil fuel companies out of university endowments and public pension funds on campuses and in city halls across the country.
- Fight against the Canadian Tar Sands and the Keystone Pipeline and against the highly polluting Fracking technology in states across the U.S.
- Join together Forward on Climate February 17th for the largest climate demonstration yet in Washington D.C. against the Keystone Pipeline and in favor of intelligent energy policy.
This moment opens up new policy options. On January 1, 2013, California began enforcing its Cap and Trade legislation, putting a progressively shrinking limit on carbon emissions in the 8th largest economy in the world. This legislation has helped make California the Clean Tech capital of the U.S., receiving 46% of all Clean Tech venture investments in the U.S.
Nationally, some leaders are talking about a carbon tax/carbon dividend, in which the increased cost of fossil fuels would be returned to consumers in the form of a carbon dividend. If they converted to more carbon efficient technology, they would make money on the transition.
It’s clear that we are moving from a carbon intensive to a carbon constrained economy. Just as with the transition that happened when the automobile replaced the horse drawn carriage, the businesses and the regions that survive and thrive will be the ones that recognize the nature of the emerging economic revolution and innovate to create the products and services needed by the transforming marketplace. Those that lag behind will suffer and many will fail.
National Political Leadership
Recognizing all these factors, President Obama, in his Second Inaugural Address, devoted more time to Climate Change than any other issue. It will be very significant to see how he translates that focus into specific proposals in his State of the Union speech.
However, the Republican House of Representatives is unlikely to pass any serious climate legislation. Therefore, we will need a combination of executive action by the President and increasingly intense public action by the Climate Movement to realize the promise of this moment.