As the COP24 climate summit comes to an end, it is clear that governments have failed to adequately respond to the catastrophic impacts of climate change that were highlighted in the landmark IPCC report on 1.5°C.
Based on a now widely operational Paris Agreement the next two years need to be used to build far-reaching transformational partnerships and reach the level of ambition science makes clear is necessary.
COP24 failed to deliver a clear commitment to strengthen all countries’ climate pledges by 2020. At the same time, a relatively effective though incomplete rulebook for how to implement the Paris Agreement was finalised.
Limited progress was also made with regard to how financial support for poorer countries coping with devastating climate impacts will be provided and accounted for.
The EU has made welcome efforts by building alliances with other countries and finding common ground on sticking points.
It has also set a good example when, together with several other members of the High Ambition Coalition, it committed to increase its 2030 climate target by 2020, in light of the warnings of the IPCC report.
However, it has failed to convince all other governments to make the same commitment.
Germany doubled their support for the Green Climate Fund to support developing countries, but other European countries still have to do the same.
In reaction to the COP24 outcomes,Wendel Trio, Director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europesaid:
“The weak outcome of this COP runs contrary to stark warnings of the IPCC report and growing demand for action from citizens.
Governments have again delayed adequate action to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown.
The EU needs to push ahead and lead by example, by providing more support to poor countries and increasing its climate pledge before the UN Secretary General Summit in September 2019. It must be a significant increase, even beyond the 55% reduction some Member States and the European Parliament are calling for.”
Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe is Europe’s leading NGO coalition fighting dangerous climate change.
With over 150 member organisations from 35 European countries, representing over 1.700 NGOs and more than 40 million citizens, CAN Europe promotes sustainable climate, energy and development policies throughout Europe.
CAN Europe members made the following statements wrapping up COP24:
Jennifer Tollmann, Climate Diplomacy Researcher, E3Gsaid: “In the end the EU did finally step up as a bridge-builder. But we now need to see whether they can ace the real test. Will they pull their weight in closing the global emissions gap and support their climate vulnerable allies to weather the storm?”
Mattias Söderberg, Climate Advisor, DanChurchAidsaid: “Poor and vulnerable countries are left behind with the agreement from Katowice.
People who face loss and damage due to droughts, flooding and devastating storms are not acknowledged.
This puts more burden on those living in poverty who are affected by the worst impacts of climate change, and who in most cases have very few emissions themselves.”
Christoph Bals, Policy Director of Germanwatch said: “It’s very clear that the world expects the EU to lead in climate politics.
In the end we have seen some attempts of EU countries to play a constructive role in the high ambition coalition. But only far reaching transformational partnerships between EU members and other countries can develop the necessary geopolitical dynamics for transformation.”
Neil Makaroff, European Policy Officer of Reseau Action Climat France said: “The COP24 climate negotiations should be a wakeup call for EU countries: there is no time to waste in childish divisions.
The IPCC report clearly highlighted that our home is burning and we have a limited time to save it.
Governments should be united in engaging Europe in a more ambitious climate policy, both boosting the energy transition and ensuring that it is socially just, benefiting to all. Europeans have this special responsibility to pave the way and lead climate actions by example.”
Sven Harmeling, Global Policy Lead on Climate Change, CARE International said: “At COP24, a number of powerful countries driven by short-sighted interests pushed to abolish the ambitious 1.5°C limit and throw away the alarming findings on harmful climate impacts of the IPCC Special Report.
The most vulnerable countries, civil society and people on the ground have been leading the fight for climate justice.
While governments accomplished the task of adopting a rulebook to further the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the world now requires much faster and stronger climate action at the national level, and support for poor countries to build climate resilience.”
Sebastian Scholz, Head of Climate Policy, NABU/BirdLife Germanysaid: “Again at this COP civil society made their demand clear to those decide to stay within the limit of 1.5 degrees of global warming.
None the less several issues weren’t solved by the delegations.
Even the alarming findings of the IPCC Special Report weren’t properly integrated into the outcome.
The EU had a rather weak position on closing loopholes in the accounting guidelines of the rulebook.
This won’t help to limit emissions, but also incentivise the use of non sustainable biomass for energy supply, and therefore risks a further loss of biodiversity.”
Karin Lexén, Secretary General of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservationsaid: “Two months ago, the scientific community sent an emergency message on the state of the climate crisis.
Coming to Katowice, we demanded no less than an emergency response.
This was not delivered.
Now all countries must urgently pick up the baton, do their homework and get ready to radically scale up climate action at home.
In Sweden, we demand a ban on fossil fuels by 2030.”
Otto Bruun, Climate Policy Officer, Finnish Association for Nature Conservationsaid: “Climate scientists have highlighted a safe option to avert climate chaos. Early retirement of fossil fuels should go hand in hand with the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems. While the governments at the Katowice conference did not produce the rulebook to match the ambition of the Paris treaty, governments must now mind the gap in ambition and increase their efforts at once. The April 2019 general election in Finland looks set be a climate election. Our collective ambition in civil society is to drive through an unforeseen and just policy shift to immediately protect and restore forest and peatland carbon sinks while retiring all fossil fuels altogether within two decades.”
Jeff Sparrow is an Australian leftwing writer, editor and former socialist activist based in Melbourne, Victoria. He is the co-author of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within. He is also the author of Communism: A Love Story and Killing: Misadventures in Violence.Wikipedia
Demonstrators stand next to metal barriers around the tomb of The Unknown Soldier at The Arc of Triomphe during a protest of Yellow vests (Gilets jaunes) against rising oil prices and living costs on the Champs Elysees in Paris, on December 1, 2018. (IMAGE: vfutscher, Flickr)
As the globe – and the political climate aimed at saving it – heats up, we need a different politics to tackle an entrenched problem, writes Jeff Sparrow.
Sensible centrism will doom us all.
Take Emmanuel Macron, once hailed everywhere as the savior of liberalism.
“Macron,”explainedPoliticoin April this year, “has stepped audaciously into the vacuum created by Trump’s abdication of America’s historic role as keeper of the liberal democratic flame.”
Nor was this an anomalous view in the English-speaking world.
MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid expressed the perspective of many American Democrats, when she quipped that Macron should be running Washington.
AsSalon put it, “Macron appeared to have everything that centrist Democrats could ever want in a candidate; he was young, smart and charismatic, yet also mature and pragmatic (as all centrists are, in the neoliberal worldview).
Macron also appeared to be different and innovative, like a political version of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, and claimed to be “neither left nor right,” as if to have a political ideology was to have an outdated worldview, something like using a flip phone in 2018.”
In Britain, he generated the same kind of excitement among the same kind of people, with Labourite opponents of Jeremy Corbyn enthusing over the ‘new Tony Blair’, even as a new Macron-inspired centrist party called Renew came into being.
With riots, blockades and protests spreading across the country, the demand for Macron’s resignation provided a central slogan uniting an often fractious movement.
But his failure represents something more than the misfire of an overhyped media personality.
It illustrates the peculiar danger posed by the ongoing infatuation of supposed progressives with the so-called ‘radical centre’.
Macron’s international boosters had presented him as the figure to stem the rise of reactionary populism in Europe, someone who would combine market-based prosperity with liberal reforms.
When, in December 2017, Trump repudiated the Paris Climate Accords, Macron launched a slick social media campaign around the slogan ‘Make the planet great again’.
To that end, he proposed a so-called ‘eco tax’ on fuel, a levy intended, he explained, to discourage car use and to raise funds for climate change mitigation.
Symptomatically, though, he provided no alternative for working class drivers in the outer suburbs, small towns and rural areas without public transport.
The meteoric rise of the Yellow Vests reflected the widespread (and accurate) perception that the fuel tax constituted another attack by a government of the rich on some of the poorest people in the country.
In many ways, the tax represented the final straw for a population long sick of austerity.
The Macron bubble had, in fact, already burst well before the Yellow Vests took over the streets.
Nevertheless, for those of us watching from afar, it’s worth reflecting on how centrism brought the rhetoric of environmentalism directly into conflict with the aspirations of the people, in a manner that gave ammunition to the worst denialists.
Hasn’t every right-wing demagogue, from Donald Trump to Pauline Hanson, denounced climate change as a chatter class preoccupation imposed to shackle the working man?
Thus, rather than defeating the reactionary populists, Macron provided them, via his tax, with an effective talking point, a confirmation of the perspective they’ve long argued.
As he back-pedalled, the president acknowledged what he called the tension between ‘the end of the world’ and the ‘end of the month’.
The formulation was repeated by sympathetic commentators who declared that, in the future, environmental measures must be imposed gradually, so as to ease the pain of those living payday to payday. But that argument, too, accepts the underlying frame of the far right, positing workers as innately opposed to an environmentalism that, by definition, rendered them poorer and more miserable.
In reality, it’s climate change, not climate action, that necessarily threatens ordinary people, simply because the environmental crisis can no longer be disentangled from the broader crisis of a decaying capitalism.
The catastrophic weather associated with global warming will, for instance, overwhelmingly affect those already targeted by austerity – the individuals too poor to relocate or rebuild or use aircon or take other preventative measures.
The refugees from rising seas will be indistinguishable from the victims of war and poverty; the political ruptures provoked by drought, land degradation and other environmental disasters will blend into the general instability of the 21st century.
The tension between climate activism and the working class emerges not from the nature of the problem but from the logic of centrist solutions, which always centre on neoliberal mechanisms such as carbon taxes.
But there’s no environmental reason to rely on the market to combat fossil fuels.
A government could, after all, forcibly acquire polluting industries at the stroke of the pen, much as almost every regime nationalised parts of the economy during the Second World War.
To put it another way, the decarbonisation of the developed nations could be presented in a program designed to extend democratic control over industry, improve working conditions and materially improve the lives of the populace.
If it’s not – if climate action instead becomes a fig-leaf for austerity – that’s because of political choice rather than necessity.
Centrists pride themselves on their political acumen.
Carbon taxes and other market mechanisms might not be ideal, they say, but they reflect the horizon of the possible.
We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and it’s better to do something than nothing at all.
Macron’s example demonstrates the bankruptcy of that argument.
To their credit, the Yellow Vests seem to be moving to the left rather than to the right.
Nevertheless, the French situation will inspire right-wing populists everywhere to bring climate denial to the front of their agenda, adding to the difficulty of achieving genuine environmental change across Europe and elsewhere.
The fight for climate change depends on ordinary working people.
We have more to learn from the Yellow Vests and their militancy than we do from ‘sensible centrists’, no matter how much they drape themselves in green.
Now, more than ever, climate action must become radical.
In 2007, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote a story calling for a “Green New Deal.”
Friedman explained that he no longer believed that there was one silver-bullet program that would solve climate change.
Rather, just as a variety of programs were part of former US president Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” for economic revitalization in the 1930s, so it would take a variety of investments in environmentally-friendly technologies to help stabilize the climate.
Friedman almost certainly could not have imagined that some day politicians would propose a Green New Deal that might include a universal basic income.
Newly elected US congress member and rising Democratic star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaigned for office on an ambitiousclimate-change platform which she also calls a Green New Deal.
The plan has gained attention and supportersover the last month, and is becoming a main talking point among Democrats who are looking for a meaningful agenda for the party over the next decade.
Ocasio-Cortez envisions the federal government leading efforts to eliminate greenhouse-gas emissions by investing in renewable energy infrastructure, improving the efficiency of residential and industrial buildings, and constructing an energy-efficient electricity grid.
To achieve the Green New Deal’s goals, the government would need to hire millions of people. Ocasio-Cortez sees this as an opportunity to transform the economy.
The Green New Deal would include training and education for workers, as well as a federal job-guarantee program.
Further, all investments would be focused on low-income communities.
Presenting climate-change mitigation as a jobs program, rather than an economy killer, may be politically savvy.
As if all that wasn’t ambitious enough, the Green New Deal would also include “basic income programs, universal healthcare programs and any others as the select committee may deem appropriate to promote economic security, labor-market flexibility, and entrepreneurism.”
It is basically everything liberals desire and more.
Supporters defend the need for these welfare programs as ways to alleviate the disruption that would be caused by the elimination of fossil fuel-supported jobs.
With a universal basic income and government-guaranteed health care, losing your oil-industry gig wouldn’t be as bad.
The program would of course be very expensive.
It’s hard to estimate how much it would cost, as the details are still murky. Green Party leader Jill Stein estimated that her version of the Green New Deal, which isless ambitiousthan the one presented by Ocasio-Cortez, would cost $700 billion to $1 trillion annually.
Ocasio-Cortez says hers would be funded by debt spending and tax increases.
In Friedman’s original conception, the government played a much smaller role in the Green New Deal.
He believed the government’s place was not in funding projects, but in seeding research and creating tax incentives andefficiency standards (paywall), and that harnessing the power of the private sector was the key to taking on climate change.
While Ocasio-Cortez believes the private sector has a role to play, she argues that the scale of the project is too big to leave to government-guided market forces.
The Green New Deal has come a long and very expensive way.
It still far cheaper than catastrophic climate change.
Ruth Kaser is a retired Roseburg teacher. A past board member of the Douglas County Global Warming Coalition.
When the Roseburg Library opens its doors, get your hands on “The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan. It is page-turner nonfiction that follows some tough, hard-luck people through the Dust Bowl.
It is a story with surprising resonance today.
Australia in the grip of record drought.
My parents grew up during those years of the Depression and the Dust Bowl. My dad farmed in Colorado, a part of the country deeply impacted by that natural, economic and human disaster.
Maybe I wasn’t listening, or dad didn’t want to burden his kids with those stories, but I had no idea the scale of misery visited largely on the poorest, least-powerful people in this country in those years.
A compelling story that resonates today, it tells of hard working people trying to realize the American dream by plowing up the prairie and planting it in wheat — acre after acre of wheat.
These people, boxed out of opportunity in the East and Far West, are encouraged to come to the southern plains.
They are enticed to farm a dry buffalo grass prairie by a government that is at a minimum ignorant of how all that plowing will impact the cattlemen who already were there, the native people who had been promised this land seen as useless, the wildlife that had flourished in its harsh environment, and ultimately the farmers themselves, who would be ruined by their own success.
It is also the story of a government which belatedly took drastic but successful action to reclaim that now ruined land by creating soil protection districts, teaching new methods of farming and planting thousands of trees as wind breaks.
That government action was opposed by hate filled politicians who blamed Jews or immigrants or nature for the disaster.
It was opposed by honorable men who feared a federal government’s power. But those who recognized the scale and potential of this horror show were tenacious and dogged and won.
Had they not been, the misery would have been even worse, and this country may have had an economy that never recovered.
We now face a worldwide disaster in climate change of even greater size and potential to cause misery to hardworking people everywhere.
Once again it is largely the result of humans and of governments either ignorant of the price of complacency or willing to sacrifice the bulk of humanity for re-election, power or wealth.
We need leaders the equal of those who then took on all the forces that said “Do nothing,” or “Do less,” and through their courage and tenacity led this country out of the dark misery of the Dust Bowl.
We need to support all those young people calling for a Green New Deal to match the New Deal of the 1930s.
We need to have the grit of the Americans who lived through watching their children die of dust pneumonia.
Americans who lost everything, surviving on wild game and pickled tumble weeds, and kept going.
If they could suffer all that and not throw up their hands in despair so that we could enjoy all the opportunity and ease we have today, surely we can use less, drive less and vote more for leaders who recognize the catastrophe on the horizon.
Somewhere all three Roosevelt’s, FDR, Teddy and Eleanor, are rooting for us to do just that.
Thegilets jaunesmovement in France is a leaderless political uprising.
It isn’t the first and it won’t be the last.
Occupy, the Arab spring and #MeToo are other recent examples of this new politics.
Some of it is good.
Some of it is not: a leaderless movement, self-organised on Reddit, helped elect Donald Trump.
But leaderless movements are spreading, and we need to understand where they come from, what is legitimate action and, if you want to start one, what works and what doesn’t.
The Arab spring began with the self-immolation ofone despairing young manin Tunisia; the revolt rapidly spread across the region, just as protests have proliferated in France.
In highly connected complex systems, such as the world today, the action of a single agent can suddenly trigger what complexity theorists call a “phase shift” across the entire system.
We cannot predict which agent or what event might be that trigger. But we already know that the multiplying connections of our worldoffer an unprecedented opportunity for the rise and spread of leaderless movements.
Leaderless movements spring from frustration with conventional top-down politics, a frustration shared by many, not only those on the streets.
Polls suggest the gilets jaunes are supported by a large majority of the French public.
Who believes that writing to your MP, or signing a petition to No 10 makes any difference to problems such as inequality, the chronic housing shortage or the emerging climate disaster?
Even voting feels like a feeble response to these deep-seated problems that are functions not only of government policies but more of the economic system itself.
What such movements oppose is usually clear, but what they propose is inevitably less so: that is their nature.
The serial popular uprisings of the Arab spring all rejected authoritarian rule, whether in Tunisia, Egypt or Syria. But in most places there was no agreement about what kind of government should replace the dictators.
In Eygpt, theTahrir Square protestsfailed to create an organised democratic political party that could win an election.
Instead, the Muslim Brotherhood, long highly organised and thus prepared for such a moment, stepped into the political vacuum.
In turn, this provoked further mass protest, which eventually brought to power another dictatorship as repressive as Hosni Mubarak’s.
When the demand is for change in social relations– norms more than laws – such as the end of sexual harassment, the results can be as rapid but also more enduring and positive.
The #MeToo movement has provoked questioning of gender relations across the world.
The British deputy prime minister,Damian Green, was forced to resign;in India, a cabinet minister. The effects are uneven, and far from universal, but sexual harassers have been outed and ousted from positions of power in the media, NGOs and governments.
Some mass action has required leadership. The race discrimination that confronted the US civil rights movement was deeply entrenched in both American society and its laws. Martin Luther King and other leaders paid exquisite attention to strategy, switching tactics according to what worked and what didn’t.
King correctly judged, however, that real and lasting equality required the reform of capitalism – a change in the system itself.
In a sense, his objective went from the singular to the plural. And that is where his campaign hit the rocks.
Momentum dissipated when King started to talk about economic equality: there was no agreement on the diagnosis, or the solution.
It succeeded in inserting inequality and economic injustice into the mainstream political conversation – politicians had avoided the topic before. But Occupy couldn’t articulate a specific political programme to reform the system.
I was in Zuccotti Park in New York City, where the protest movement began, when the “general assembly” invited the participants to pin notes listing their demands on to trees. Ideas were soon plastered up, from petitioning Washington DC to replacing the dollar – many of which, of course, were irreconcilable with each other.
This is why a leaderless response to the climate change disaster is tricky.
It’s striking that in Emmanuel Macron’s fuel tax rises the gilets jaunes opposed the very thing demanded byExtinction Rebellion, Britain’s newly minted leaderless movement: aggressive policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero.
Macron’s proposals would have hit the poorest hardest, illustrating that resolving the crises of the environment and inequality requires a more comprehensive, carefully wrought solution to both. But leaderless movements have largely proved incapable of such complicated decision-making, as anyone at Zuccotti Park will attest.
Conventional party politicians, reasserting their own claim to legitimacy, insist that such problems can only be arbitrated by imposing more top-down policy. But when most feel powerless about the things that matter, this may only provoke further protests.
Ultimately, to address profound systemic challenges, we shall need new participatory and inclusive decision-making structures to negotiate the difficult choices.
Inevitably, leaderless movements face questions about their legitimacy.
One answer lies in their methods.
The Macron government has exploited the violence seen in Paris and elsewhere to claim that the gilets jaunes movement is illegitimate and anti-democratic.
Mahatma Gandhi, and later King, realised that nonviolent action – such as the satyagrahasalt marchor theMontgomery bus boycott– denies the authorities this line of attack.
On the contrary, the violence used by those authorities – the British colonial government or the police of the southern US states – against nonviolent protestors helped build their own legitimacy and attracted global attention.
Complexity science tells us something else important.
System-wide shifts happen when the system is primed for change, at so-called criticality.
In the Middle East there was almost universal anger at the existing political status quo, so it took only one match to light the fire of revolt.
Meeting people in colleges and towns across the UK but also in the US (where I lived until recently) you can hear the mounting frustration with a political and economic system that is totally unresponsive to the needs of the 99%, and offers no credible answer to the climate emergency.
There will be more leaderless movements to express this frustration, just as there will be more rightwing demagogues, like Trump or Boris Johnson, who seek to exploit it to their own advantage.
For the right ones to prevail, we must insist on nonviolence as well as commitment to dialogue with – and not denunciation of – those who disagree.
Messily, a new form of politics is upon us, and we must ensure that it peacefully and democratically produces deep systematic reform, not the counter-reaction of the authoritarians.
•Carne Ross is a former British diplomat and author of The Leaderless Revolution
Growing demands from some of the nation’s biggest miners for the Morrison government to set a price on carbon have been emphatically rejected, as federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan insists “taxes ain’t the answer”.
In a reversal of its historical position against emissions pricing, oil and gas producer Woodside last month emerged as the latest resources company to demand a carbon price, with its chief executive, Peter Coleman, warning the consequence of inaction was “too great”.
Speaking on the sidelines of a Melbourne Mining Club event, Mr Canavan said he acknowledged that some major resources companies had signalled support for carbon pricing, but said, “I don’t see any evidence that such a policy approach would deliver”.
“I get along very well with Peter Coleman, and [BHP’s head of mining operations] Mike Henry was sitting next to me today … we can respectfully disagree about policy approaches,” he said. “I don’t see any evidence that such a policy approach would deliver.”
Carbon pricing calls from the business community have been compounding ever since the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report set out a series of radical changes needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees and avoid some of the worst effects of climate change.
BHP, the world’s largest miner, said the report demonstrated the need for stronger climate action was more critical than ever, and should be a “rallying cry” to governments to cut global emissions.
“We believe there should be a price on carbon, implemented in a way that addresses competitiveness concerns and achieves lowest-cost emissions reductions,” BHP’s head of sustainability and climate change, Fiona Wild, said in October.
Mr Canavan on Wednesday said the Morrison government was “acting in accordance with the evidence and the science” on climate change, and was on course to beat Kyoto targets by a significant margin, showing its existing “direct” approach to climate change was succeeding.
“My view is that any proposed policy to tackle climate change must deliver lower energy costs over time, not higher,” he said. “If we deliver higher energy costs we will get a political reaction, just like you see in Paris, just like we’ve seen with the carbon tax. Taxes ain’t the answer – because taxes are ultimately going to find a constituency that’s opposed to them and they won’t last long.”
The evidence is clear Matt Canavan the Price on carbon worked
In his address to the mining club on Wednesday, Mr Canavan laid out an ambitious goal to stimulate a “new mining investment boom” that could support economic growth and tens of thousands of jobs.
Taxes ain’t the answer – because taxes are ultimately going to find a constituency that’s opposed to them and they won’t last long.
Mr Canavan said the mining boom had “come of the boil” over the past five years but, fortunately for Australia, the property sector had returned to prosperity and helped plug the gap in the economy. But as conditions in the property marketed softened, Mr Canavan said, “we should again focus” on attracting greater mining investment.
According to figures from the Office of the Chief Economist, there were 250 major resources projects across the country in some stage of planning, representing $275 billion worth of investment.
Most of these projects were in the “feasible” stage, Mr Canavan said, but just 10 per cent, representing $30 billion, were in the “committed” stage.
“The challenge for Australia and for our policy is to support as many of these projects as possible to turn them into the committed stage and ultimately completed projects,” he said.
For six decades, Orrin Pilkey has written, taught, and preached about the beauty of barrier islands and the extraordinary risk of building in coastal floodplains. In more than 40 books, 250 scientific papers and journal articles, and countless opinion pieces, Pilkey has fashioned a vision of coasts as dynamic, living landscapes, with their own personalities, quirks and flaws, “not unlike people,” he says.
To the extent that America has a public conscience of its coasts, it just may be the voluble marine geologist, a short, hobbit-like figure who for decades wore an unruly gray beard like the wizard Gandalf. Pilkey warned about interfering with the natural processes of shorelines and questioned developers, politicians, and engineers who helped to fill the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts with trillions of dollars of vacation houses, investment properties, and businesses, often subsidized with generous federal tax dollars.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone appreciated his message. Some beach town mayors viewed Pilkey as the Antichrist. “I hate him, hate him, hate him,” bellowed the mayor of one of the largest and richest beach towns in New Jersey — this after Pilkey observed that the shoreline there was rapidly eroding. In 1991, the town council of Folly Beach, South Carolina, even passed a resolution condemning Pilkey’s research as “insulting, uninformed, and radical.” Pilkey framed the resolution and hung it on his office wall.
Now 84, the former Duke University professor is still busy and has anew bookon sea level rise coming out next August. With growing concerns about sea level rise and another year of catastrophic hurricanes (2018’s Florence and Michael), it seemed like a good time to talk with Pilkey about how his ideas have evolved over time, and what he sees as the biggest challenges ahead in an age of climate change, warming oceans, torrential rain storms, and more violent hurricanes.
Yale Environment 360:Recent reports by theUnited Nationsand theNational Climate Assessmenthighlight the risks of crowding the nation’s shorelines with risky property, and raise the possibility that millions may be forced to retreat to higher ground as the seas rise and hurricanes do more damage. You’ve been warning about these threats for decades, dating back to 1969, when Hurricane Camille wrecked your parents’ Mississippi retirement house. Was that a turning point in your career?
Orrin Pilkey:Yes, the loss of my parents’ house was the point at which I realized for the first time the immense power of the sea and the need to inform the world that building next to the shoreline is almost suicidal. The recent UN report and National Climate Assessment confirmed some of my worst fears about the future threats of flooding and storms. Yet people continue to build in risky places. In Waveland, Mississippi, where my parents retired to a house with 13 feet of elevation, I saw an example of a beachfront house that was destroyed by Hurricane Camille, a replacement house destroyed again by Hurricane Katrina (2005), and the vacant lot for sale for $80,000. A loud activist voice was needed.
“The question that needed to be answered was…Which is more important, beaches or buildings along our ocean shores?”
e360:You grew up in Washington State and were a smoke jumper for a time. How did you go from fighting fires to studying the coasts and earning a PhD in marine geology?
Pilkey:I first saw the ocean in Puget Sound as a teenager and was fascinated by the waves, the sea smells, and the infinite vistas. That love of the ocean continues to this day. But like me, I believe that many marine scientists have grown up far from the sea. The late Bruce Heezen, the father of marine geology, for example, grew up as an Iowa farm boy.
e360:You were one of the first coastal geologists to take a public stance about building in harm’s way, arguing that armoring the coasts with seawalls, rock groins, and other defenses was not sufficient. What was your thinking at the time?
Pilkey:I was primarily concerned that these devices were being sold as the way to save the beautiful beach cottage communities. When they didn’t work, which was the usual case, the excuse used by the engineers was that the storm that destroyed the devices was unusually severe and unexpected. It was clear that beaches were being destroyed in order to save oceanfront houses, with seawalls and other structures interfering with the natural flow of sand and accelerating erosion, and that a voice expressing that was severely needed. The question that needed to be answered from the standpoint of Americans everywhere was: Which is more important, beaches or buildings along our ocean shores?
e360:In some ways we appear to be going back to the future at the coasts. Charleston and Miami are building seawalls and giant pumps. New York City is planning for a huge surge gate. And Texans are trying to get the federal government to pay for a Dutch-style gate across the mouth of the Houston Ship Channel, in Galveston. In your view, will these steps work and, if so, for how long?
Pilkey:Protection of major cities is different from the protection of much smaller resort communities on barrier islands. Stabilizing the shoreline, that is, holding it still, may be a reasonable priority for portions of big cities, but not so for smaller tourist developments, which depend on a good beach. Hard structures, such as seawalls and groins, almost always eventually destroy the beach. Surge gates depend on the blind luck that no superstorms will occur and overtop or destroy them, and also depend on a low rate of sea level rise. Their lifetime is likely to be only a decade or two. It is also likely that many other coastal cities will clamor for a surge gate once one city has one. Can we afford construction and maintenance of these large structures in view of their questionable success? The Dutch have a small country, much of it below sea level, and there is no place to escape the coming sea level rise. Therefore, they must use extreme engineering. But Americans have plenty of room to retreat.
“Government support of beach development encourages more and more development, leading to more storm damage.”
e360:Hurricanes by far account for the costliest natural disasters in the U.S., with over $500 billion in damage in recent years, and the likelihood of even more catastrophic storms in the future. Yet Americans keep building in harm’s way, often with the aid of generous federal subsidies, including flood insurance, disaster aid, and Army Corps of Engineers’ beach repairs. Don’t these subsidies distort the risks, shifting them from private homeowners to public taxpayers, and make it harder to encourage people to retreat to higher ground?
Pilkey:Unquestionably, government support of beach development encourages more and more development, leading to more and more storm damage. The mentality is why retreat when the government is right there to help you put things back the way they were before the storm.
e360:I am thinking about Dauphin Island, off the coast of Alabama, which has been repeatedly battered by hurricanes and has received tens of millions in federal aid. After Katrina, in 2005, a few dozen homeowners wanted the government to buy their homes, so they could move inland, but there was no money. Why don’t buyouts work at the coast?
Pilkey:The western half of Dauphin Island is the least suitable location for development along the entire U.S. Gulf of Mexico. North Topsail Beach in North Carolina, is similarly vulnerable. Buyouts on Dauphin Island would make sense because serious damage has occurred there five times since 1973, mostly on the west end where all of the vacation homes are. The government would have saved money in the long run if they had purchased the damaged properties, but the extreme high price of beachfront buildings prevents the buyout approach. It’s a shame. Buying these vulnerable properties could be the first step in managed retreat.
e360:Increasingly, coastal communities are seeing regular flooding, largely as a result of rising seas. Miami has its King Tides. Areas of Norfolk, the Outer Banks and New Jersey now routinely flood in ordinary thunderstorms. What does your recent research tell us about what’s happening and what residents can expect?
Pilkey:The flooding that is occurring along the fringes of many American communities is called sunny-day flooding or nuisance flooding. These high tides correspond to spring tides but have been raised higher by sea level rise, and are the first concrete evidence of a rising sea. The highest of these nuisance floods are called King Tides, which occur three or four times a year. As sea level rises, nuisance flooding will penetrate further and further inland, threatening more property and resulting in more flood claims.
e360:The general scientific consensus is that we can expect about 3.5 feet of additional water by the end of the century. But if the ice sheets melt or sea level rise accelerates, we could see 6 to 8.5 feet, which would be catastrophic. By some estimates, up to a trillion dollars worth of coastal property could literally be under water. Will we likely see a mass migration from the coast at some point?
Pilkey:Millions of people will be fleeing drowned cities this century. Low-lying cities, such as Miami, Charleston, and New Orleans, and many barrier island communities, especially in Florida – Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Daytona Beach – are likely to produce huge numbers of evacuees. Miami alone will produce 4 million climate refugees, probably well before 2100. Currently, there are no plans to accommodate these refugees in inland cities. Even places with higher elevations will be at risk. Surrounding access roads at lower elevations may flood in storms or high tides and prevent residents from reaching businesses, schools, stores, and churches.
“Ghost towns are a likely element of our coasts by the end of this century. Complete loss of some communities is not impossible.”
e360:In a few coastal resorts we are beginning to see home buyers factor sea level rise and flood risks into the price of real estate. In Miami, condos at higher elevation carry a premium. How quickly do you see real estate prices at the coast sinking, and what impact do you expect that will have on future development?
Pilkey:I believe that we are due for a crash in the price of beachfront property. No one knows exactly when this will occur, but it is likely within a decade or two. There are already small price reductions occurring in some places. Probably sinking prices will cause a dramatic reduction in new beachfront development nationwide. Ghost towns are a likely element of our coasts by the end of this century. Complete loss of some communities is not impossible. Edingsville Beach in South Carolina, a town of 60 houses on a barrier island, disappeared in a major hurricane in 1893. Along the Holderness Coast in England, 26 towns are under water on the Continental Shelf.
e360:If you owned an oceanfront home, say in New Jersey, what would you do?
Pilkey:If I owned a house in view of the sea, I would remember that along our coastal plains, if you can see the sea, the sea can see you. If I opted to stay, I would first investigate the evacuation routes. I would want to know what the biggest storm on record did to the coast there. Very likely, I would move my home well back from the shoreline. Better yet, I would probably look into the feasibility of moving it to the mainland. One other temporary useful alternative would be to raise the building to allow storm surge to flow underneath it. Most likely, however, I would sell.
All of which has led the boldly naïve to ask, “What, exactly, is a Green New Deal?”
The answer will depend on whom you ask.
To the median Democrat, a Green New Deal is just a fancy name for an infrastructure bill that includes significant investments in renewable energy, and climate resiliency.
To theprogressive think tank Data for Progress,it’s a comprehensive plan for America to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, through a combination of massive public investment in renewables, smart grids, battery technology, and resiliency; turbocharged environmental regulations; and policies that promote urbanization, reforestation, wetland restoration, and soil sustainability — all designed with an eye toward achieving full employment, and advancing racial justice.
But to the American left’s most utopian reformists, the Green New Deal is shorthand for an ambition even more sweeping.
More precisely, it is a means of conveying their vision for radical change to a popular audience, by way of analogy.
Eighty years ago, the United States was faced with a malign force that threatened to eradicate the possibility of decent civilization.
We responded by entrusting our elected government to reorganize our economy, and concentrate our nation’s resources on nullifying the Axis threat.
In the process, America not only defeated fascism abroad, but consolidated a progressive transformation of its domestic political economy.
The war effort affirmed the public sector’s competence at directing economic activity, fostered unprecedented levels of social solidarity — and, in so doing, banished laissez-faire from the realm of respectable opinion.
In the course of a decade, ideas from the far-left fringe of American thought became pillars of Establishment consensus: Very serious people suddenly agreed that it was legitimate for the state to enforce collective bargaining rights, impose steeply progressive income taxes, administer redistributive social programs, subsidize home ownership, and promote full employment.
The New Deal ceased to be a single president’s ad hoc recovery program, and became a consensus economic model.
An unprecedented contraction in economic inequality ensued; the most prosperous middle-class in human history was born.
Many contemporary leftists believe this history is worth repeating: Just as the fight against fascism facilitated a democratic transition from laissez-faire to Keynesian liberalism, so the fight for climate sustainability can shepard America out of neoliberalism, and into ecofriendly, intersectional, democratic socialism.
“The last time we had a really major existential threat to this country was around World War II, and so we’ve been here before and we have a blueprint of doing this before” Ocasio-Corteztold supportersin October. “What we did was that we chose to mobilize our entire economy and industrialized our entire economy and we put hundreds of thousands if not millions of people to work” — a mobilization that the congresswoman-electsees as“a potential path towards a more equitable economy with increased employment and widespread financial security for all.”
IT’S THE SPRING of 2043, and Gina is graduating college with the rest of her class. She had a relatively stable childhood. Her parents availed themselves of some of the year of paid family leave they were entitled to, and after that she was dropped off at a free child care program.
Pre-K and K-12 were also free, of course, but so was her time at college, which she began after a year of public service, during which she spent six months restoring wetlands and another six volunteering at a day care much like the one she had gone to.
Now that she’s graduated, it’s time to think about what to do with her life. Without student debt, the options are broad. She also won’t have to worry about health insurance costs, since everyone is now eligible for Medicare. Like most people, she isn’t extraordinarily wealthy, so she can live in public, rent-controlled housing — not in the underfunded, neglected units we’re accustomed to seeing in the United States, but in one of any number of buildings that the country’s top architects have competed for the privilege to design, featuring lush green spaces, child care centers, and even bars and restaurants.
….For work, she trained to become a high-level engineer at a solar panel manufacturer, though some of her friends are going into nursing and teaching. All are well-paid, unionized positions, and are considered an essential part of the transition away from fossil fuels, updates about which are broadcast over the nightly news.
This vision is compelling — and, on a substantive level, so is Ocasio-Cortez’s historical analogy. In the long run, climate change surely poses as great a threat to the United States (and to liberal democratic governance) as the Nazis ever did. And a rational response to the climate threatquite clearlyrequiresa drastic expansion of state-economic planning, and thus, an overhaul of the American political economy — so, while we’re renovating things, why not install that Nordic welfare state we’ve been eyeing, take down some of the hideous structures white supremacy built, and pare back that overgrown financial industry?
But when viewed through a strictly political lens, the analogy breaks down.
The Axis powers posed an immediate threat to many American capitalists, and their overseas investments — while U.S. victory in the war promised corporate America a bonanza. This self-interest dampened corporate resistance to FDR’s mobilization of the war economy, which itself massively increased the leverage of American labor. Securing global hegemony for American capital required victory, and victory required maintaining labor peace in a context of full employment. Unions could deliver the latter, and thus, were in a position to demand concessions. With that leverage, they secured“maintenance of membership” rules that allowed them to count all new employees at unionized plants as members, and immediately charge them dues; as a result, a record-high 35.5 percent of the nonagricultural labor force was unionized by 1945.
By contrast, climate change poses less of an immediate threat to America’s contemporary economic elites than the Green New Deal does.
The Koch Network fears the euthanasia of the fossil fuel industry — and confiscatory top tax rates — a lot more than rising sea levels.
Thus, corporate resistance to World War II–esque state-led mobilization to combat climate change (let alone, an avowedly socialist one) is certain to be immense. And given the conservative movement’s tightening grip over the federal judiciary, and red America’s increasingly disproportionate influence over state governments and the Senate, Green New Dealers would need to defeat near-unanimous corporate opposition on a playing field sharply tilted to their rivals’ advantage.
Further, replicating FDR’s model will take more than just winning power. Consolidating the New Deal order required the Democratic Party to maintain continuous control of the White House for two decades.
Considering the contemporary partisan alignment — and existence of presidential term limits — it seems unlikely that a pro-Green New Deal governing coalition would retain power long enough to turn core aspects of its radical agenda into pillars of a new bipartisan consensus.
None of this is to suggest that the Green New Deal isn’t a worthwhile ideal.
In an era replete with dystopias, and starved forfutures to believe in, Aronoff’s (modest) utopia is a welcome intervention. Rather, my intention is merely to spark discussion of the following question: If persuading a couple dozen Democrats to support a select committee to draft a Green New Deal (which many of them understand as a little more than a climate-centric infrastructure stimulus) took repeatedly occupying Nancy Pelosi’s office, what will it take to institutionalize 100 percent renewable social democracy atop the ruins of the fossil fuel industry?
In lieu of an answer to that daunting query, let me offer a take on (what I believe to be) a related one.
Earlier this week, Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress asked (in so many words) why certain progressives were cheering theyellow vests protests in France.
And on one level, Tanden’s bafflement was justified. There’s little doubt that significant portions of the French protest movement are deeply reactionary, on questions of both climate policy and immigration. And regardless of the Marcon regime’sbroader failings and provocations,the fact that an ambitious effort at carbon pricing was met with an insurrection is sure to weaken the hand of anyone pushing for similar policies in other countries.
And yet, the yellow vest protests didn’t just demonstrate that carbon taxes can provoke popular backlash (at least, when paired with austerity and tax breaks for the rich) — they also served as a reminder that it is still possible for ordinary people to change political realities within their governing institutions, by practicing politics outside of them. Grassroots,social-media-powered political organizingcan fuel reactionary movements and genocides; but it can alsotrigger teachers’ strikes.
We’re going to need carbon taxes to get where Green New Dealers wish to take us. But we’ll also need a dash of mass civil disobedience (or at least, amillion millennialmarch or two).
An alliance of groups opposed to the proposed Adani coal mine are stepping up their campaign, targeting Labor leader Bill Shorten ahead of his party’s national conference starting this weekend.
The Stop Adani Alliance – which claims two million supporters among its 38 member groups – will on Thursday unleash an advertising campaign and release polling showing four in five respondents want the government to intervene to stop the project.
The first of a three-phased strategy will involve a so-called “summer of action”, aimed at pressing federal Labor to shift its ambiguous stance on the mine, which has the potential to open up the huge new coal province in Queensland’s Galilee Basin if it proceeds.
Mobile billboards will buzz the ALP’s National Conference in Adelaide, while organisers within the event will try to raise the Adani issue during Sunday’s debate on Labor’s climate platform.
Phase two will involve a “sprint to the election”. “We will make stopping Adani the number one issue in what will be the climate election,” John Hepburn, executive director of the Sunrise Project, said.
“If there was ever a time to demonstrate Labor’s commitment to do what it takes to protect Australians from the worsening impacts of climate change, now is it.”
A third phase would focus on pressing the newly elected federal government – the elections are expected in May – to move against the mine within its first 100 days of office.
Last month,Adani’s chief executive Lucas Dow, said the company would self-fund the construction of a scaled-down version of the mine after failing to secure funds from elsewhere.
“Commencement of works are imminent,” an Adani spokeswoman said, declining to specify a date.
Last month, Mr Shorten said of Adani:“We don’t know what they’ll be up to by the time we get into government. So we’ll deal with facts and the situation [related to Adani that] we’re presented with if we win the election in 24 weeks’ time…We’ll be guided by the best science and the national interest.”
Mr Shorten also last month launched Labor’s plan to revive the National Energy Guarantee as a key plank in its election platform. TheHeraldunderstands an original plan to release the rest of Labor’s emissions plans – such as how agriculture and industry’s carbon pollution would be treated – will now not be released until after January.
The Alliance’s national ReachTel poll of 2345 conducted on December 4 found 56 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement: “Digging new coal mines in Australia is no longer in the national interest”.
Among those self-described as Labor supporters, 80.2 per cent agreed or strongly agree with the statement, compared with about 24 per cent of Liberal and 28.6 per cent of National voters.
On the question of whether the federal government should review the environmental approvals for Adani, about 92 per cent of Labor supporters agreed, as did about 52 per cent of both Liberal and National voters, the poll found.