International climate negotiations have failed to curb runaway greenhouse gas emissions since the first UN treaty on emission reductions was adopted in 1992.
Consumer-focused solutions to climate change such as eating less meat or reducing food mileage, though important, simply won’t be enough to address the systemic nature of the crisis.
So what needs to be done to halt global warming?
Truthout spoke to Simon Pirani about his newest book,Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, and the prospects for transitioning to a post-fossil fuel world.
Anton Woronczuk:Burning Upsituates the last few decades of accelerating fossil fuel consumption alongside the social and economic history of energy production and policy.
How does this context help us understand what is driving, and what has driven, the growth of greenhouse gas emissions through today?
Simon Pirani:When people think about the threat of dangerous climate change, and decide they want to do something about it, it is not easy to work out what to do. It is clear we have to move away from fossil fuels, but not clear how. Governments claim they have solutions, which people instinctively (and rightly) disbelieve, and newspapers report simple, bullet-point proposals – such as “stop eating meat” – the effect of which is unclear.
Moving away from fossil fuels is difficult because they are so deeply embedded in economic activity, in the way that we live.
InBurning UpI hoped to make clearer how that has happened through recent history.
Take the example of cars and urban infrastructure based on them.
There are technological drivers.
Using an internal combustion engine for motor transport was a truly remarkable innovation. But it took place in an economic and social context: the rise of American capitalism. The USA had oil resources. It had aggressive entrepreneurs who not only pioneered the use of production lines to build cars – and to help discipline and control the workers who made them – but also dreamt up sales techniques to turn the car into a marketable commodity and an object of consumerism.
By the late 20th century, the motor manufacturers had become a fearsome political lobby.
They had undermined alternative forms of transport, remade American cities to serve cars, and frustrated fuel efficiency regulation.
The American example was followed by cities across the rich world during the post war boom, and beyond it from the 1980s onwards.
It was not inevitable that motor technology would come to be used so inefficiently, or that urban transport systems would become subservient to it.
That was conditioned by the way capitalism expanded.
We need to account for technological, social, economic and political elements, to understand how fossil fuel consumption has become unsustainable.
We also need to specify what we mean by “unsustainable.” The human price paid for fossil fuels has always been high – coal miners killed down pits, urban residents’ lives cut short by air pollution.
Global warming, the nature of which only became clear to scientists about thirty years ago, has made it unsustainable in a whole new way.
You repeatedly emphasize throughout your book that energy technologies must be understood as inseparable from the social and economic systems in which they function.
What is the significance of this idea, especially when many institutions promote technological fixes, like geo-engineering or carbon capture, to the climate crisis?
The story of fossil fuel consumption growth is a story of technologies used, misused and moulded by the corporations that control them; of capitalist expansion, particularly after the second world war; and of government complicity.
Even today, most fossil fuels are used by technologies of the late 19th-century “second industrial revolution,” and their more-or-less direct successors: cars with internal combustion engines, power stations and electricity networks, urban built infrastructure, energy-intensive manufacturing, fertilizer-heavy industrial agriculture.
The technologies of the so-called “third industrial revolution” – computers and communication networks that appeared from the 1980s – have not only not helped make the economy less fuel-intensive, they have made things worse.
The internet now uses more electricity than India uses for everything – not because it could not function more efficiently, but because it has developed as a commercial rather than a collective network, loaded with commercial content.
By contrast, networked technology’s tremendous potential to make urban energy systems more efficient – to make them integrated, using multiple decentralized renewable energy sources such as wind and solar – has hardly been tapped.
Ideologies of “economic growth” and productivism have played a huge part in frustrating efforts to deal with global warming in the most effective way – by cutting fossil fuel consumption.
Enthusiasm for geoengineering is the ultimate and most extreme manifestation of such ideologies.
Carbon capture and storage will probably never work at a large scale.
Other geoengineering techniques are outside my area of expertise, but I know that climate scientists view politicians’ enthusiasm for these techniques with huge concern.
I recently went to a seminar with researchers who worked on the IPCC report on ways of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
With reference to schemes to reflect sunlight back into space, one participant reported political pressure on scientists not to use the phrase “solar radiation management,” but rather to talk about “solar radiation modification.”
Someone wants to make it sound less like the giant, Promethean intervention in natural processes that it actually is!
Moving away from fossil fuels will mean completely changing these technological systems, and the social and economic systems in which they are embedded.
Some people point to technological fixes to avoid talking about such deep-going change.
Common solutions promoted by some environmentalists are often framed in terms of changing individual consumption or those of populations, especially of the rich world.
Some of these include eating less (or no) meat, buying more local produce, using more public transportation, etc.
What do these solutions obscure in terms of how fossil fuels are consumed in and through societies (unequally) across the world?
For a start, focusing on rich-world hamburger eaters ignores the whole supply chain that produces such fuel-intensive, unhealthy products.
Appealing to rich-world drivers to get the bus only makes sense as part of a challenge to the whole urban transport system they depend on, that favors cars.
I try to minimize my own hamburger consumption and car use, but I don’t treat consumption as a moral issue. And it is not primarily an individual phenomenon: fuels are consumed by and through technological and economic systems.
Second, working people in the rich world spend their lives fending off the effects of elites’ encroachments on their living standards.
Under the present economic and political conditions, reducing consumption would often make their lives harder.
It needn’t do, but that’s how things stand now.
The French government wrapped up its latest attempt at austerity as a climate policy, and came unstuck.
Too bad for them.
In reality, averting global warming, working out ways to live better lives, and countering social injustice are all part of the same approach to life.
We need to work out how to express that politically.
Look at the reaction in France to the proposed fuel tax increase.
It ignited a general revolt against neoliberal encroachments on working people’s living standards.
The government has retreated, and not only abandoned the planned tax increase, but also promised to increase the minimum wage.
Right-wing commentators have falsely claimed that the protest movement was against climate policies.
I saw no evidence of that.
While the movement is politically heterogeneous, an overarching theme is that working people are sick of being asked to pay for everything.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), established in 1992, was heralded by many as a major accomplishment in international efforts to address global warming; but you argue that Rio, and subsequent UN conferences, ensured that ecological imperatives were subordinate to economic interests.
Can you explain what this entailed and how it persisted through the Paris agreement?
Climate science has a history too.
The world’s ruling elites have long known that coal mines kill mineworkers, and cared little. But they did not know that fossil fuels were feeding into the global warming threat until the 1980s.
Only then did scientists clarify how warming happens, and the role played by greenhouse gases and fossil fuels. But once the ruling elites had the science in front of them, they fought desperately to limit the actions taken to those that reinforced, or at least did not threaten, their economic dominance.
The political expression of this was the refusal by the US and other governments to countenance the idea of binding emissions reduction targets.
This was consistent in the international climate negotiations from 1992 onwards. Another theme was that market mechanisms should be used to reduce fossil fuel consumption. This was the basis of the Kyoto protocol of 1997 and the disastrously unsuccessful emissions trading schemes it provided for.
A huge amount of political energy is expended to convince us that the international climate talks are dealing with the global warming problem.
They simply are not.
Since 1992 the annual level of greenhouse gases emissions from fossil fuel use has risen by more than half.
That is a failure.
If we don’t characterize the talks in that way, we cannot deal with the political consequences.
The 2015 Paris agreement marked the final collapse of attempts to adopt binding emissions targets.
I do not want to say the voluntary targets adopted are worthless, or that the policies adopted in some countries to achieve them are not helpful, or that serious efforts – most obviously, the substantial investment in renewable energy for electricity generation – are not being made to move away from some uses of fossil fuels. But we need to assess progress soberly and not confuse hopes with reality.
A widely celebrated proposal for a “Green New Deal” has been touted by many center-left politicians, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders and Yanis Varoufakis, as a solution to the multiple crises we face today.
What is your evaluation of it?
The “green new deal” appears to have several meanings.
It has been used by mainstream neoliberal politicians to describe an investment program, operated completely through markets, that would shift the economy away from fossil fuels.
The left-wing politicians you mention see the “green new deal” as a program of state infrastructure investment, a mobilization of resources on the scale of a war effort.
Whether such a war-type mobilization would ever be implemented in any significant capitalist country remains to be seen.
The political scientists Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright suggest in their bookClimate Leviathanthat there could be an international agreement between the US, China and others that would undertake such spending, but very much in the strongest countries’ neo-imperial interests, and with a big dose of geoengineering.
Obviously the left politicians’ perspectives are quite different.
InBurning UpI argued that not just a social-democratic spending program, but a much deeper-going shift to post-capitalist social relations, could provide the context for the fundamental changes in social, economic and technological systems that will be necessary to break the economy’s many-sided dependence on fossil fuels.
That’s how I see the future.
By saying that, I don’t deny the need for immediate responses. But the most noticeable immediate responses will come from governments.
If anyone tells me they are up to the job of dealing with climate change, I would point to the fact that annual global fossil fuel consumption has risen by more than 60 percent since the Rio convention was signed.
That’s the result of governments’ response.
Australian school pupils understand that simple arithmetic better than they understand politicians’ promises, which is whythey went on strikein protest at inaction on climate change.
They will not be the last ones of their generation to do so.
Polish students part of an international climate strike hold up signs at COP24, the United Nations conference for climate change negotiations in Katowice, Poland.Monika Skolimowska/Getty Images
By Umair Ifran
Umair covers climate change, energy, and the environment.
Before joining Vox, Umair was a reporter for ClimateWire at E&E News in Washington, DC, where he covered health and climate change, climate policy, business, and energy trends.
In 2016, he received a Sasakawa Peace Foundation fellowship to report on Japan’s energy sector, economy, and culture. In 2014, he was awarded the Arthur F. Burns fellowship to cover Germany’s energy transition.
Negotiators at COP24 in Katowice have finally reached an agreement, but key points on carbon markets are still being debated.
UPDATE, December 15:International climate change negotiators announced late Saturday that they have reached anagreementat COP24 in Poland.
The text charts a path forward for countries to set tougher targets for cutting greenhouse gases under the Paris climate agreement, as well as stronger transparency rules for countries in disclosing their emissions.
However, nations still couldn’t reach an accord on how to use markets to limit carbon dioxide.
Those discussions will continue next year.
Read on for the context around these negotiations and why environmental groups, governments, and private companies were so concerned about the outcome of this conference.
An agreement between 200 nations at a major international climate change conference in Katowice, Poland, is taking longer than expected.
Stop Adani protest at Australian Labor Party Conference Today
The goal of the 24th Conference of Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is to hammer out critical the details of theParis climate agreement.
Under the 2015 accord, countries set out to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2100 at most, with a preferred target of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
However, the original pledged cuts ingreenhouse gas emissionswould not put the world anywhere near meeting these targets.
So the agreement included provisions for countries to meet regularly and ramp up their ambitions, all of which are voluntary. COP24 is the first time since Paris that countries are actually talking with each other about going beyond their initial commitments. That’s why this meeting is so important. That’s also why scientists and activists are pushing for even more ambitious commitments to reduce emissions in the final days of the negotiations.
“If the Paris agreement is actually going to live up to that model of voluntary bottom-up commitments, … ongoing ratcheting down of those commitments, then it has to happen at this first moment,” said Lou Leonard, senior vice president for climate and energy at the World Wildlife Fund, by phone from Katowice. “And if it doesn’t happen at this first moment, then it will call into question whether this ratcheting will actually work.”
Time to stop opening new coal mines
The outcome of the negotiations became increasingly uncertain afterPresident Trumpin 2017 announced he would withdraw the United States from the accord.
For an agreement that hinges so much on cooperation and good faith, the worry was that without the US, the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter, the deal would fall apart, that other countries would weaken their ambitions or sign an agreement so full of loopholes as to be useless.
For delegates, the goal is to nail down critical details, like how to verify that countries are actually progressing in cutting greenhouse gases, creating market mechanisms to control emissions, and coming up with ways to help developing countries finance a transition to cleaner energy sources.
It turns out countries are making some progress in tracking their emissions, but are still struggling with many of the financial issues associated with mitigating climate change. It’s yet another example of the tension between the threat of rising average temperatures and the fears of economic strain that hinder ambition in cutting greenhouse gases.
Fighting climate change is only getting harder
The literal and metaphorical backdrops of the COP24 negotiations highlight the enormousness of the challenge. Katowice is in the heart of Poland’scoal countryand the conference is sponsored in part by Polish coal companies. The conference venue is literally festooned with coal.
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
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.
COP24 must unleash the full potential of the Paris Agreement
COP24—held in Katowice, Poland from 2-14 December– must unleash the full potential of the Paris Agreement by finalizing the Paris Agreement Work Programme.
This will put into place the practical implementation guidelines needed to implement the historic agreement that aims to limit global warming to well under 2°C this century.
The Work Programme must provide a way to track progress and ensure that climate action is transparent.
This in turn will build trust and send a signal that governments are serious about addressing climate change.
COP24 also needs to establish a clear way forward on climate finance to ensure greater support for climate action in developing countries.
5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT COP24
1 What, When and Where is COP24?
Since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted in 1992, parties have met at least once a year to further the implementation of the Convention. This year, the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change– COP 24–will take place in Katowice, Poland from 2-14 December. Parties to the Kyoto Protocol will also meet. The Katowice Conference will mark the third anniversary of the adoption of the Paris Agreement, which was agreed to in 2015.
2. Why is COP 24 so important?
COP24 must unleash the full potential of the Paris Agreement by finalizing the Paris Agreement Work Programme. This will put into place the practical implementation guidelines needed to track progress and ensure that climate action is transparent. This in turn will build trust and send a signal that governments are serious about addressing climate change. COP24 also needs to establish a clear way forward on climate finance to ensure greater support for climate action in developing countries.
3. What should COP 24 accomplish?
What countries say in Poland will determine climate efforts and action for years to come. With high-level events, panel discussions and roundtables, COP24 should address three main issues: the rules and procedures for how countries will meet their commitments, how climate action will be financed, and “ambition”—what countries may be willing to do to exceed their Paris emissions-cutting commitments when they’re updated in 2020. The Paris Agreement Work Programme will make the Paris Agreement fully operational by unlocking ambitious action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and to empower developing countries.
4. Why is it so urgent to limit global warming to 1.5°C?
In early October, the special report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that the world is already witnessing the consequences of 1°C of global warming. There is already more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes. Every bit of additional warming brings greater risks. There are clear benefits to limiting warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C: 420 million fewer people being exposed to severe heat waves, survival of some tropical coral reefs, loss of fewer plants and animal species, and the protection of forests and wetland habitats.
5. Why will there be a 2019 Climate Summit?
In September 2019, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres will convene a climate summit to mobilize political and economic efforts at the highest level possible to strengthen climate action and ambition worldwide. Even if all the commitments made by countries for the Paris Agreement are achieved, the world will still be on a course to warm by more than 3°C this century. In advance of the 2020 deadline for countries to raise their commitments in their national climate plans, the Summit will focus on practical initiatives to limit emissions and build climate resilience. The Summit will focus on driving action in six areas; namely, energy transition, climate finance and carbon pricing, industry transition, nature-based solutions, cities and local action, and resilience.
To facetiously paraphrase a line that I often hear from global warming deniers: Don’t be offended, I’m just asking questions.
It’s conventional wisdom that the right to free speech does not permit you to shout “fire!” in a crowded theater – but does that mean you have the right to claim there is no fire when a theater is ablaze?
This is the question posed by the existential crisis of man-made global warming, and it is one that doesn’t lend itself to an easy answer.
Certainly it can be acknowledged that man-made global warming has forced us to re-examine other verities that once underpinned the modern liberal political order. Laissez-faire economic theory, which holds that state regulation of the economy is an unequivocal social ill, doesn’t stand up when you consider that insufficient environmental regulations got us into this mess and stronger ones will be necessary to mitigate the damage.
A similar observation could be made about the consumerist ethos that drives free market economic models: A status quo of constant expansion may be economically healthy within the paradigm of capitalist markets, but it is devastatingly unsustainable when it comes to the fitness of our planet.
These are more obvious conclusions, and more comfortable ones too, since anyone who doesn’t view free market economic theory as a dogma akin to a secular religion (that is, anyone who hasn’t drunk the right-wing Kool-aid) admits that we can increase state regulations over the economy without fundamentally eroding human freedom. Yet the same cannot be said of those who think that civil or even criminal penalties should be imposed on the men and women who abuse free speech to insist that the Earth is not heading toward catastrophe when the scientific evidence conclusively proves otherwise.
Sir David Attenborough’s warning to COP24 last week
“Tempting though the idea is, I would not favor modifying Western legal systems to permit the imposition of financial liability on any individual or organization that is found to have ‘spread incorrect information about man-made climate change,’”Laurence Tribe, anauthorand constitutional law professor at Harvard, told Salon by email. “The key to my reason for resisting such a modification is in the word ‘found.’ If I ask myself: Whom would I trust to make an authoritative ‘finding’ about which information about a topic as complex as man-made climate change is ‘incorrect,’ I must answer: Nobody. Certainly not any public official or governmental agency or any government-designated private group. I trust the process of open uncensored dialogue among experts and lay persons to generate truthful understandings over time, especially if we enact and enforce requirements of transparency and disclosure about who is funding which assertions. But I would be deeply concerned about anything resembling the identification and empowerment of a Commissar of Truth.”
He added, “That said, I am not opposed to litigation against particular corporations – take Exxon, just for illustration – based on clear and convincing proof (to the satisfaction of a judicially supervised jury) that those corporations (or the individuals who direct their activities) deliberately falsified research results or other data in order to cover up their own knowledge about how and to what degree their own products or services and those who purchase them contribute to anthropogenic climate change.”
“Such litigation,” Tribe continued, “would be predicated on classic principles of economically motivated fraud and would avoid the pitfalls and perils of establishing an official scheme for determining what is true and what is false in the world of scientific claims. Such official schemes amount to government censorship, and I think we are better off if we assume that all such censorship can and in the long run will be turned to evil ends.”
Michael E. Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, shared his own views on whether individuals who mislead the public about climate change should face penalties for doing so.
“In my book ‘The Hockey Stick and the Climate War,’ I state that those who knowinglymisled the public and policymakers about the reality and threat of climate change must be held responsible for their actions, and that includes legal repercussions,” Mann told Salon. “Note that there is a distinction between those at the top (e.g., fossil fuel executives and lobbyists and the politicians in their pocket) who are guilty of misleading the public, and those at the bottom (the typical climate denying trolls we encounter on the internet) who in many cases are actuallyvictims of the disinformation campaign.”
Kevin Trenberth, a distinguished senior scientist in the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, broke down the situation in a similar way.
“Yes but. The ‘but’ is the difficulty in doing so and how one assigns blame,” Trenberth told Salon. “I do think that the other countries in the world ought to put something like a 25% tariff on all American goods on the grounds that they were produced using artificially low energy prices. This comes back directly to the government policies (of getting out of the Paris agreement), for instance.”
“I doubt it will happen because of the might of the [money],” Trenberth continued. “I do think that politicians like Trump and the Republicans will go down in history as major bad guys (and gals).”
Tribe also acknowledged that, while it is questionable whether climate change deniers should be held financially accountable for spreading misinformation, harsher consequences should be imposed on government officials who shirk their responsibility to the public.
“I certainly favor holding government officials accountable for deliberately withholding information of public importance, let alone information about existential threats, when the release of that information would not genuinely threaten national security (e.g., by ‘outing’ the identity of CIA operatives in the field),” Tribe pointed out. “Imposing such accountability on government officials furthers the values of free and open expression that the First Amendment protects and does not in any way entail the worries about censorship and its dangers that I mentioned in my first answer. On the contrary, it is settled that ‘government speech’ is not shielded by the First Amendment at all. See, e.g., Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans (2015).”
Expanding on Tribe’s point, there is no reason that Republican Party politicians who have access to reliable information about the threat posed by man-made climate change and choose not to act on it — or even actively suppress it — should not be held legally accountable for doing so. While it is tempting to focus on President Donald Trump in this respect, it is important to remember that most of his fellow Republicans share his climate change denialism and likely would have acted similarly when it comes tostifling scientific researchand ignoring the threat of global warming. While Trump should be held accountable for what he has done, it would be folly to forget that on this issue, his actions are entirely consistent with the will of his party.
And should that entire party be held legally accountable? Like Tribe, I would argue no, but the answer doesn’t entirely sit well with me. Whether they ignore man-made climate change because they hate liberals and wish to defy them, or because admitting to its reality would force them to modify their economic philosophy, or for any other reason, the bottom line is that they are convincing people that the theater isn’t on fire even as it continues to burn to the ground. The fact that the prevailing concepts regarding political freedom protect their right to abet the conflagration, but not the rights of those whose lives will be destroyed in the process, demonstrates that — if nothing else — our ideas about preserving freedom and justice in a civilized society need to be updated.
As four of the world’s largest oil and gas producers blocked UN climate talks from “welcoming” a key scientific report on global warming, Australia’s silence during a key debate is being viewed as tacit support for the four oil allies: the US,Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait.
Climate Strike protestors in Brisbane on Saturday
The end of the first week of the UN climate talks – known as COP24 – in Katowice,Poland, has been mired by protracted debate over whether the conference should “welcome” or “note” a key report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The IPCC’s 1.5 degrees report, released in October, warned the world would have to cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 45% by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5C and potentially avoid some of the worst effects of climate change, including a dramatically increased risk of drought, flood, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
The UN climate conference commissioned the IPCC report, but when that body went to “welcome” the report’s findings and commit to continuing its work, four nations – the US, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait andRussia, all major oil and gas producers – refused to accept the wording, insisting instead that the convention simply “note” the findings.
Negotiators spent two and a half hours trying to hammer out a compromise without success.
The apparently minor semantic debate has significant consequences, and the deadlock ensures the debate will spill into the second critical week of negotiations, with key government ministers set to arrive in Katowice.
Sir David Attenborough’s Warning to COP24
Most of the world’s countries spoke out in fierce opposition to the oil allies’ position.
The push to adopt the wording “welcome” was led by the Maldives, leader of the alliance of small island states, of which Australia’s Pacific island neighbours are members.
They were backed by a broad swathe of support, including from the EU, the bloc of 47 least developed countries, the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean, African, American and European nations, and Pacific countries such as the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu.
Climate Strike protestors give Australian’s new PM a Fail on climate science
Australia did not speak during the at-times heated debate, a silence noted by many countries on the floor of the conference, Dr Bill Hare, the managing director of Climate Analytics and a lead author on previous IPCC reports, told Guardian Australia.
“Australia’s silence in the face of this attack yesterday shocked many countries and is widely seen as de facto support for the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait’s refusal to welcome the IPCC report,” Hare said.
Richie Merzian, climate and energy program director at the Australia Institute, said widespread goodwill across the Katowice talks was being undermined by “a handful of countries” trying to disconnect the science and urgency from the implementation of the Paris agreement.
Australia government is stealing our children’s future
“It is disappointing but not surprising that Australia kept its head down during the debate … by remaining silent and not putting a position forward, Australia has tacitly supported the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia’s rejection of the latest science on climate change.”
Merzian said Australia’s regional neighbours, including New Zealand and Pacific islands, had voiced strong support for the IPCC’s report, which was a key outcome of the Paris agreement.
“A number of delegates privately shared their frustration that countries like Australia stood on the sidelines while Trump’s, Putin’s and King Salman’s representatives laid waste to the fundamental climate science.”
Australia is failing to protect the Great Barrier Reef from climate change
Hare said the interests of the fossil fuel industry were seeking to thwart the conference’s drive towards larger emissions cuts.
“The fossil fuel interest – coal, oil and gas – campaign against the IPCC 1.5 report and science continues to play out in the climate talks, but even those countries [opposing welcoming the report] are being hit by the impacts of only one degree of warming.
“The big challenge now is for the Polish presidency to set aside its obsession with coal, get out of the way and allow full acknowledgement of the IPCC 1.5C report, and its implications for increasing the ambition of all countries, in the conclusion of COP24 later this week.”
Australia’s environment minister, Melissa Price, arrived in Katowice on Sunday, with negotiations set to resume Monday morning.
“The government is committed to the Paris agreement and our emissions reduction targets,” she said before leaving Australia. “Australia’s participation in the Paris agreement and in COP24 is in our national interest, in the interests of the Indo-Pacific region, and the international community as a whole.”
Price said a priority for Australia at COP24 was to ensure a robust framework of rules to govern the reporting of Paris agreement targets. “Australia’s emissions reporting is of an exceptionally high standard and we are advocating for rules that bring other countries up to the standard to which we adhere.”
Australia’s emissions, seasonally adjusted, increased 1.3% over the past quarter. Excluding emissions from land use, land use change and forestry (for which the calculations are controversial), they are at a record high.
In our complex, interdependent global ecosystem, life is dying, with species extinction accelerating.
The climate crisis is worsening much faster than previously predicted. Every single day 200 species are becoming extinct.
This desperate situation can’t continue.
Political leaders worldwide are failing to address the environmental crisis.
If global corporate capitalism continues to drive the international economy, global catastrophe is inevitable.
Complacency and inaction in Britain, the US, Australia, Brazil, across Africa and Asia – all illustrate diverse manifestations of political paralysis, abdicating humankind’s grave responsibility for planetary stewardship.
International political organisations and national governments must foreground the climate-emergency issue immediately, urgently drawing up comprehensive policies to address it.
Conventionally privileged nations must voluntarily fund comprehensive environment-protection policies in impoverished nations, to compensate the latter for foregoing unsustainable economic growth, and paying recompense for the planet-plundering imperialism of materially privileged nations.
With extreme weather already hitting food production, we demand that governments act now to avoid any risk of hunger, with emergency investment in agro-ecological extreme-weather-resistant food production. We also call for an urgent summit on saving the Arctic icecap, to slow weather disruption of our harvests.
We further call on concerned global citizens to rise up and organise against current complacency in their particular contexts, including indigenous people’s rights advocacy, decolonisation and reparatory justice – so joining the global movement that’s now rebelling against extinction (eg Extinction Rebellion in the UK).
We must collectively do whatever’s necessary non-violently, to persuade politicians and business leaders to relinquish their complacency and denial. Their “business as usual” is no longer an option.
Global citizens will no longer put up with this failure of our planetary duty.
Every one of us, especially in the materially privileged world, must commit to accepting the need to live more lightly, consume far less, and to not only uphold human rights but also our stewardship responsibilities to the planet.
Dr Vandana ShivaDelhi, India Naomi KleinAuthor Noam ChomskyLaureate professor, University of Arizona, Institute Professor (emeritus) MIT, USA ProfACGraylingMaster of the New College of the Humanities, London, UK Philip PullmanUK Dr Rowan WilliamsUK Bill McKibbenFounder, 350.org, Brooklyn, New York, US Tiokasin Ghosthorse(Lakota Nation), New York, NY, US Esther Stanford-XoseiConvenor-General, Stop the Maangamizi: We Charge Genocide/Ecocide Campaign (SMWeCGEC), London, UK Sir Jonathon PorrittSigning in a personal capacity, UK Dr Alison GreenPro Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Arden University, National Director (UK) http://www.scientistswarning.org/ , UK Lily ColeModel, entrepreneur and patron for the Environmental justice foundation Chris PackhamEnglish naturalist and TV presenter, UK Dr Susie OrbachConsultant psychoanalyst, The Balint Consultancy, UK ProfJoy Carter CBEVice Chancellor, University of Winchester, UK ProfJayati Ghosh JawaharlalNehru University, New Delhi, India
Others by nation –
United Kingdom Ms Da Abla Co-deputy general secretary, All-Afrikan Networking Community Link for International Development (AANCLID), London, UK Ms Demoui Akouba Doue Joint general secretary, All-Afrikan Students Union Link in Europe (AASULE), Plymouth, UK Jem Bendell Professor of sustainability leadership, University of Cumbria, UK Dr Adotey Bing-Pappoe Joint convenor, African Cooperative Forum (ACF), London, UK Liz Bondi Professor of social geography, University of Edinburgh, UK Dr Simon Boxley Centre for Climate Change Education & Communication, University of Winchester. UK Dr Onel Brooks Senior lecturer in psychotherapy, counselling and counselling psychology, UK Dr Philip Byrne chartered clinical psychologist, Cheshire, UK Professor Molly Scott Cato MEP UK Paul Chatterton Professor of urban futures, University of Leeds, UK Kooj Chuhan Director, Virtual Migrants, Manchester, UK Danny Dorling Halford Mackinder professor of geography, University of Oxford, UK Dr David Drew MP (Labour) Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, UK Jonathan Gosling Emeritus professor of leadership studies, University of Exeter, UK Ms Athea Gordon-Davidson Co-chair, Brixtonics@Brixton, London, UK David Graeber Professor of anthropology, London School of Economics, UK Fe Haslam Secretariat facilitator, CAFA Archival Resources Action Team (CARAT), London, UK Richard House Ph.D. (Env.Sci.), Chartered psychologist, Stroud, UK David Humphreys Professor of environmental policy, Open University, UK Professor Gus John Partner, All Africa Advisors LLP & Coventry University, Coventry, UK Boucka Koffi Co-deputy coordinator, Global Justice Forum (GJF), Sheffield, UK Karin Lesnik-Oberstein Professor of critical theory, University of Reading, UK Del Loewenthal Emeritus professor in psychotherapy, University of Roehampton, UK Caroline Lucas MP (Green), UK Kofi Mawuli Klu Co-vice-chair, Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe (PARCOE), London,UK Tony McSherry Ph.D. (Psychology), Psychotherapist, UK Simon Murray Poet and graphic artist, Leeds, UK Professor Dany Nobus Brunel University, London, UK Michel Odent MD Primal Health Research Centre, London, UK Jenny Pickerill Professor of environmental geography, University of Sheffield, UK Dr Gillian Proctor CPsychol., Programme leader, MA in counselling and psychotherapy, University of Leeds, UK Kate Raworth author of Doughnut Economics; Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University, UK Dr Rupert Read Reader in philosophy, University of East Anglia, UK Professor Paul Routledge Leadership chair in Contentious Politics and Social Change, University of Leeds, UK Kwame Adofo Sampong Principal organising secretary, Pan-Afrikan Fora Internationalist Support Coordinating Council (PAFISCC), London, UK Professor Andrew Samuels University of Essex, Former Chair UK Council for Psychotherapy, UK Dr Leon Sealey-Huggins Global Sustainable Development lecturer, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK Ms Jendayi Serwah Co-chair, Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March Committee (AEDRMC), Bristol, UK Helen Spandler Professor of mental health, University of Central Lancashire, UK Simeon Stanford Co-founder and Leadership Facilitation Team member, Global Afrikan People’s Parliament (GAAP), London, UK Dr Julia K. Steinberger Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds, UK
United States of America Professor Julian Agyeman Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, USA David Elkind Emeritus professor of psychology, Tufts University, USA Nik Heynen Professor of geography, University of Georgia at Athens, USA Eric Holthaus journalist and fellow, University of Minnesota, USA Maureen O’Hara Ph.D. Professor of psychology, National University, USA William J. Ripple Distinguished Professor of Ecology, Oregon State University, USA Guy McPherson Professor emeritus of conservation biology, University of Arizona, USA Professor Kris Manjapra Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, USA William J. Ripple Distinguished professor of ecology, Oregon State University, USA Kirk Schneider Saybrook University and the Existential-Humanistic Institute, USA Rabbi Arthur Waskow director, the Shalom Center, Philadelphia, USA
Steve Biddulph AM, psychologist and author, Australia
Professor Timothy Doyle University of Adelaide, Australia
David Schlosberg Professor of environmental politics, University of Sydney, Australia
John Seed founder, Rainforest Information Centre, St Lismore, NSW, Australia
Salim Dara Chief community / king of Djougou, Bénin
Zeguen Moussa Toure President, Mouvement Social Panafricain pour le Development Integral (MSPDI), Cotonou, Bénin
Ms Aissata Diakhite Kaba Joint Principal Secretary, International Network of Scholars and Activists for Afrikan Reparations, Youth and Students Auxiliary Fellowship – RepAfrika (INOSAAR-RepAfrika), Paris, France
Engin Isin Professor of International Politics, Queen Mary University of London & University of London Institute, Paris, France
Lennard Gillman Professor of biogeography, head of science, Auckland University of Technology, Aotearoa, New Zealand
Professor Keith Tudor Auckland University of Technology, Aotearoa New Zealand
Nyoefe Yawa Dake Co-president, NUTROZA Panafrecycle (Pan-Afrikan Recycling Cooperative Society for Environmental Justice), Accra, Ghana
Ms Xolanyo Yawa Gbafa Co-deputy general secretary, EDIKANFO Pan-Afrikan Youth and Student Internationalist Link (EDIKANFO-PAYSIL), Accra, Ghana
Numo Akwaa Mensah III Ga Nae (Chief Priest of the Seas for the Indigenous Ga Community of Accra), honorary chair, Accra Community Regeneration for Sustainable Development Action Forum (ACORSDAF), Accra, Ghana
Nana Kobina Nketsia V Omanhen (paramount chief) of Essikado, Pan-Afrikan Chieftaincy Co-Director of Education for the Global Afrikan Family Reunion International Council (GAFRIC), Sekondi, Ghana
Professor Kwaku Senah Managing director, AFRICARIBE Centre, Accra, Ghana
Togbe Adza Tekpor VII Osie (Paramount chief) of Avatime, Pan-Afrikan Chieftaincy Co-Director of Environmental Justice for the Global Afrikan Family Reunion International Council (GAFRIC), Vane-Avatime, Ghana
Dr Paul Beckwith Professor of climatology, University of Ottawa, Canada
Dr Dina Glouberman Founder of Skyros Holidays, Skyros, Greece
David Lehrer Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, Kibbutz Ketura, Israel
Dr Jim Salinger University of Tasmania; visiting professor, University of Florence, Italy
Mussauwa Wandale Leader, People’s Land Organisation, Likoma, Malawi
Dr Barryl A. Biekman Co-Vice-Chair, Europewide NGO Consultative Council on Afrikan Reparations (ENGOCCAR), Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Dr Sunita Narain Director General, Centre for Science and Environment, Delhi, India
Neeshad Shafi Executive director of Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM), Qatar
Conley Shivambo Rose General Secretary, United Front for Progress (UFP),Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines
Giorgos Kallis ICREA professor, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain
It’s the springof 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. Utilities won’t be an issue, either. Broadband and clean water are both free and publicly provisioned, and the solar array that is spread atop the roofs of her housing complex generates all the power it needs and more.
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. In any case, she won’t have to spend long looking for a job. At any number of American Job Centers around the country, she can walk in and work with a counselor to find a well-paid position on projects that help make her city better able to deal with rising tides and more severe storms, or oral history projects, or switch careers altogether and receive training toward a union job in the booming clean energy sector.
The AJCs are a small part of the Green New Deal Act of 2021, a compromise plan that was only strengthened in the years that followed. For a brief moment, it looked as if the Supreme Court might strike down large elements of it, but as a plan to expand the size of the court gained popularity with the public, the justices backed down.
Gina might also open her own business. Without having to worry about the cost of day care or health insurance, she can invest everything into making her dream a reality. And the cost of labor for business owners, who no longer have to pick up the health care tab, is reasonable enough that she can afford to pay good wages for the staff that she needs to meet demand.
Whichever she chooses, she’ll work no more than 40 hours a week, and likely far less, leaving ample time to travel via high speed, zero-carbon rail to visit friends elsewhere and go hiking or to the beach; enjoy long, leisurely meals of locally sourced food and drink; and attend concerts in the park, featuring musicians whose careers have been supported by generous public arts grants. As she gets older, paying for health care won’t be a concern, with everything from routine doctor’s visits and screenings, to prescription drugs, to home health aides covered under the public system, as social security continues to furnish her rent, expenses, and entertainment through the end of her life.
That’s the world a “Green New Deal” could build, and what a number of representatives and activists are pushing Congress to help set into motion. Led by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., 17 representatives and counting have signed on to ameasurethat would create a select House committee tasked with crafting, over the course of a year, a comprehensive plan to move the U.S. away from fossil fuels by 2030 and accomplish seven goals related to decarbonizing the economy.
On Friday, Ocasio-Cortez and her collaborators gathered outside the Capitol to talk about the increasingly popular program. “The push for a Green New Deal is about more than just natural resources and jobs,” said Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. “It’s about our most precious commodity: people, families, children, our future. It’s about moving to 100 percent renewable energy and the elimination of greenhouse gases. It’s about ensuring that our coastal communities have the resources and tools to build sustainable infrastructure that will counteract rising sea levels, beat back untenable natural disasters, and mitigate the effects of extreme temperature.”
On Monday evening, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hosted a town hall on the issue with Ocasio-Cortez inside the Capitol.
All of this raises a question: What, exactly, would a Green New Deal entail?
Like its 1930s counterpart, the “Green New Deal” isn’t a specific set of programs so much as an umbrella under which various policies might fit, ranging from technocratic to transformative. The sheer scale of change needed to deal effectively with climate change is massive, as the scientific consensus is making increasingly clear, requiring an economy-wide mobilization of the sort that the United States hasn’t really undertaken since World War II. While the Green New Deal imaginary evokes images of strapping young men pulling up their sleeves to hoist up wind turbines (in the mold of realist Civilian Conservation Corps ads), its actual scope is far broader than the narrow set of activities typically housed under the green jobs umbrella, or even in the original New Deal.
“People talk often about the infrastructure investment that has to happen, and new technology,” Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, told me. “But there’s also an industrial plan that needs to happen to build entirely new industries. It’s sort of like the moonshot. When JFK said America was going to go to the moon, none of the things we needed to get to the moon at that point existed. But we tried and we did it.” The Green New Deal, he added, “touches everything — it’s basically a massive system upgrade for the economy.”
In a broad sense, that’s what policymakers in other countries refer to as industrial policy, whereby the government plays a decisive role in shaping the direction of the economy to accomplish specific aims. That doesn’t mean that the state controls every industry, as in the Soviet system; instead, it would be closer to the kind of economic planning that the U.S. practiced during the economic mobilization around World War II, and that is practiced internally today by many of the world’s biggest corporations. Should Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution pass muster, the select committee will convene policymakers, academics, and representatives from the private sector and civil society to hash out next steps. How widely or narrowly that groups defines a Green New Deal — and whether it’ll ever be given space to meet on Capitol Hill — remains to be seen, as supportive lawmakers huddle in Washington this week to try and gain support for writing it into the rulebook for the next Congress. Ultimately, it will be that committee that fleshes out what a Green New Deal looks like. But the proposal itself, American history, and existing research give us a sense for what all it might look like in practice.
The plan itself — or rather, the plan to make the plan — lays out seven goals, starting with generating 100 percent of power in the U.S. from renewable sources and updating the country’s power grid.
As the first two points of the resolution suggest, one of the main goals of any Green New Deal that spurs a complete switch to renewables will be dialing up the amount of total energy demand represented byelectricity, by switching combustion-based activities like heating systems, air conditioners, and automobiles over to electric power. The Energy Transitions Commission estimatesthat 60 percent of energy will need to be distributed via electricity by mid-century, up from just 20 percent today. Making that possible means developing new technology, and also overhauling today’s grid, making it easier for homes and businesses that generate their own power to feed it back into the system. A modern grid — or “smart” grid, per Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal — would also make way for microgrids, which are self-contained renewable energy generation systems that allow small neighborhoods and hospitals, for instance, to continue making their own power even if there are disruptions (say, hurricane-force winds or a wildfire) upstream. Assuming it won’t be entirely sustainable to import all of that capacity, scaling up renewables will also likely mean expanding the country’s renewables manufacturing sector to produce more solar and wind infrastructure, components for which are today sourcedlargelyfrom abroad.
“We build things here in Detroit, and across Michigan, and we’ve got a lot of people here with manufacturing skills who are being left behind by the corporate greed,” incoming Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D- Mich., among the first supporters of the resolution and who campaigned on a Green New Deal, said via email. “Just this week we heard about how GM, a company that has received billions and billions from taxpayers, is planning to cut thousands of jobs here. So it’s really exciting to be talking about rapidly building up our green, renewable energy infrastructure, because these are jobs that can and should go to our workers here in Michigan.
“We were the Arsenal of Democracy and helped save the planet from real darkness decades ago, and there’s no reason why we couldn’t be one of the regions to build America’s green energy infrastructure and help save the planet again in the process.”
Bringing more clean energy online could entail expanding the types of programs that already exist at the state level, too, though they seldom come with much teeth. Renewable portfolio standards require utilities to source a certain amount of their power from wind and solar.New York state, for instance, set a renewable portfolio standard of 29 percent by 2015. The deadline came and went quietly, without much talk of how it would pick up the slack to reach its next goal of 50 percent renewables by 2030.
Those targets would have to be much stricter to get off fossil fuels by 2035. “You say, you hit the target and you reduce emissions 10 percent every year or you go to jail,” says Robert Pollin, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute. “That would get their attention.”
That may sound aggressive by today’s standards, but has been par for the course at other points in American history when the country has faced existential threats. During World War II, for instance, the government was largely responsible for administering prices, wages, and sourcing in sectors deemed vital to the Allies. Corporate productivity and profits boomed with demand for tankers and munitions, but companies that refused to go along with mandates sent down from the War Production Board and associated economic planning bodies faced a federal takeover. Among the most iconic images of these changed power relationships was a widely circulated image of Sewell Avery, the president of Montgomery Ward. During World War II, Montgomery Ward, a mail-order corporation, produced everything from uniforms to bullets for soldiers abroad. In 1944, the National War Labor Board ordered Avery, a Nazi sympathizer, to let his employees unionize to ward off a strike, and the ensuing disruption in war production. When he refused, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the National Guard tohaul him off, chair and all, and seize the company’s main plant in Chicago. The government took over operations at the company’s factories in several other cities by the year’s end. And by the end of the war, around a quarter of all domestic manufacturing had been nationalized for the sake of the war effort.
Notably, Green New Deal proponents aren’t pushing for such drastic action. Yet given the collision course between the fossil fuel industry’s business model and a livable future, simply building up more renewable power will almost certainly need to be paired with constraints on the fossil fuel industry. Waleed Shahid, communications director for Justice Democrats, which is backing the Green New Deal proposal, told me, “Given the fossil fuel industry’s role in creating an untenable situation for billions of people around the world, the government should step up and promote winners and create losers, which has happened before in the United States.” Among the provisions of the committee resolution, fittingly, is that politicians who accept donations from coal, oil, and gas companies can’t be appointed to it.
At a press conference announcing additional support for the resolution, Ocasio-Cortez spelled out the conflict of interest: “This is about the fact that if we continue to allow power to concentrate with corporations to dictate the quality of our air, to … tell us that we can keep burning fossil fuels — to dupe us — people will die,” she said, “and people are dying.”
Evan Weber, of the Sunrise Movement, put it in similar terms. “Dealing with climate change in the way that we need to is not just about passing a suite of policies that will transform our society to both end the causes of climate change and prepare society for the climate change that is already baked in,” he said. “It’s also changing our conception of what government is and who its for.”
Especially under the Trump administration, plenty of government policy has been written for the benefit of the fossil fuel industry. According to a2018 analysis by Oil Change International, the U.S. government annually spends about $20 billion on direct and indirect subsidies to the fossil fuel industry; the richest “G7” nations overall spend about$100 billion. This in itself is a kind of industrial policy already in place, and a Green New Deal might at the very least remove those subsidies and redirect them toward the clean energy sector, where wind and solar already enjoy a much smaller degree of subsidization through the production and investment tax credits, respectively.
While winding down fossil fuel production and scaling up renewables will of course be a considerable part of any Green New Deal, so too will investing in the research, development, and manufacturing capacities to get especially difficult-to-decarbonize sectors, like airlines and steel, off fossil fuels over the next several decades, as Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal notes. The latter requires a still largely experimental process called electrolysis, which targeted investments could subsidize research into. In Sanders’s town hall Monday night, Ocasio-Cortez appeared to reference economist Mariana Mazzucato’s work, which lays out the existing progress and potential of using public investment to finance early-stage research that venture capital funds are too risk-averse to support. (Ocasio-Cortez and other members of her team have met with Mazzacuto.)
“For far too long,” she said, “we gave money to Tesla — to a lot of people — and we got no return on the investment that the public made in new technologies. It’s the public that financed innovative new technologies.”
Such a policy umbrella, though, could be just as much about decarbonization as about building out sectors of the economy which simply aren’t carbon-intensive, but are essential to a healthy economy, such as teaching and nursing. A federal job guarantee, which is cited in the draft resolution and a hot topic among 2020 presidential hopefuls, might put people to work remediating wetlands and tending community gardens while providing an alternative to low-paid work bound up in hugely carbon-intensive supply chains. Walmart, for instance, is thebiggest employerin 22 states, paying an entry-level wage of $11 per hour. McDonald’s, another major employer, is estimated to have at some point employed1 in 8 American workers and has consistently resisted calls to institute a $15 minimum wage. A federal jobs guarantee that paying that much, as outlined by several proposals, would effectively create a national wage floor, compelling retail and fast food chains to either raise their wages or risk having their employees enticed into better-paid jobs that improve their communities and make them more resilient against climate impacts.
For extractive industry workers, whose wages are traditionally high thanks to decades of labor militancy, $15 an hour may not be too big of a draw, meaning other programs could be needed to finance what’s widely referred to as a just transition, making sure that workers in sectors that need to be phased out — like coal, oil, and gas — are well taken care of and that communities which have historically revolved around those industries can diversify their economies. Spain’s social democratic government recently sponsored a small-scale version of this, investing the relatively tiny sum of $282 million, with the support of trade unions, to help coal workers transition into other work while shuttering the last of the country’s coal mines.
With the right investment, new jobs won’t be hard to come by. Research from theInternational Labour Organization finds that while a concerted transition to renewable energy could cost as many as 6 million jobs around the world in carbon-intensive sectors, it could create 24 million jobs, or a net gain of 18 million, and far more than the profound job loss that would stem from unchecked climate change.
It’s not hardto imagine cries from Republicans and Democrats alike about how much such a program might cost, and of the dangers of blowing up the deficit. Worth noting is the cost that 13 federal agencies have said are likely if we do nothing, according to theNational Climate Assessmentquietly released on Black Friday. By 2100, heat-related deaths could cost the U.S. $141 billion. Sea-level rise could rack up a $118 billion bill, and infrastructure damages could cost up to $32 billion. Along the same timeline, the report’s authors found, the financial damages of climate change to the U.S. could double those caused by the Great Recession.
By comparison, the 1 to 2 percent of gross domestic product that Pollin has said a Green New Deal would cost seems pretty cheap, never mind the fact that putting millions of people to work would bolster tax revenues and consumer spending. Pollin calls it “equitable green growth,” coupled with “degrowth down to zero of the fossil fuel industry.” Incumbent fuel sources, and coal in particular, aren’t exactly saving anyone money. A recent analysis from the group Carbon Tracker has found that 42 percent of coal capacity worldwide is already unprofitable, and that figure could spiked to 72 percent by 2030.
“The question is, ‘What policy do you use to build up the public investment and incentivize private investment?’” Pollin said. “You can’t just have these private sector incentive programs. That’s just not going to get it.”
As several proponents have pointed out, though, so-called pay-for questions are rarely asked of public spending programs designed to further national interests, be that getting out of a recession or fighting a war. “If we were threatened by an invader, we would mobilize all the resources we have at our disposal to deal with that security threat,” says U.K.-based economist Ann Pettifor. “As in those circumstances, you cannot rely entirely on the private sector.”
Pettifor was among the first people to start thinking seriously about a Green New Deal just after the financial crisis. Then working at the New Economics Foundation, a progressive think tank, she helped convene a series of meetings in her living room that would eventually coalesce into the Green New Deal group. The group produced several reports on the subject. But with European sovereign debt crisis about to plunge the continent’s lawmakers into full-blown austerity hysteria, any public discussion of a big, expansionary spending package faded. Jeremy Corbyn’s election to Labour Party leadership helped change that. And this past March, Chakrabarti, working on Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign at the time, showed up on her doorstep wanting to hear more.
For Pettifor, as for many Green New Deal advocates on this side of the pond, the funding question is less about how to reconcile line items than about reconfiguring what goals the economy is working toward — that is, to make it do something other than simply grow GDP by some fixed percentage each year.
Economists’ and policymakers’ fixation on unlimited economic growth as the metric for measuring economic prosperity is a really recent invention, developed in large part by the exponential returns that were being brought in by a ballooning financial sector–and not to that point factored into economic accounts. “If I work hard every day and night I have a weekly wage. If i gamble and win a load of money, I get rich quick,” she explains. “And the finance sector has moved its focus into making money in that way and not in investing in productive activity.” That shift toward measuring growth above all else started to displace an earlier focus on full employment in the 1960s, making multiplying profits and consumption the goal rather than ensuring people’s basic needs were met. As a result, carbon emissions spiked.
It’s why Pettifor largely rejects the premise of debates among environmentalists about growth and degrowth. For the green movement to talk about growth at all, she says, “is to adapt that OECD framing of what the economy should be about” and “to adopt the framing of a neoliberal idea of the economy. I would prefer to us to talk about full employment.”
That’s not to suggest there aren’t nuts and bolts funding issues that can be easily worked out. In contrast to state governments, which rely in large part on tax revenues, the federal government has plenty of tools at its disposal for financing a Green New Deal — tools it deployed to great effect during the financial crisis. It could also set up a National Investment Bank to furnish lines of credit for green investment. A polluter fee or carbon tax could provide some revenue, as well, but perhaps more importantly would punish bad behavior in the energy sector. Loan guarantees of the sort used in the stimulus package could help to build out clean energy as they did then, before getting scrapped when Republicans took control of the House in 2010. (While Solyndra, the most infamous of those loan recipients, failed, the program overall made a return on investment greater than those enjoyed by most venture capital funds.)
In a piece co-authored by Greg Carlock, author of a Green New Deal prospectus for the upstart think tank Data for Progress; and Andres Bernal, an adviser to Ocasio-Cortez; and Stephanie Kelton, former chief economist on the Senate Budget Committee, the writers explain, “When Congress authorizes spending, it sets off a sequence of actions. Federal agencies … enter into contracts and begin spending. As the checks go out, the government’s bank — the Federal Reserve — clears the payments by crediting the seller’s bank account with digital dollars. In other words, Congress can pass any budget it chooses, and our government already pays for everything by creating new money.”
A Green New Deal, moreover, “will actually help the economy by stimulating productivity, job growth and consumer spending, as government spending has often done,” Kelton, Bernal, and Carlock add. “In fact, a Green New Deal can create good-paying jobs while redressing economic and environmental inequities.”
Green New Dealadvocates also have no illusions about just how flawed the original New Deal was in terms of inequities, given that it largely left Jim Crow in place. “It threw black and brown people under the bus,” Chakrabarti said, noting that Roosevelt gave up on enshrining civil rights into its programs in order to win the support of white supremacist southern Democrats. Among the most infamous examples of this dynamic was theFederal Housing Administration, which guaranteed mortgages and subsidized large housing developments for whites on the condition that African-Americans couldn’t live there. African-Americans who applied for assistance to buy homes in predominantly white neighborhoods were refused. It’s from these same policies that the term redlining first emerged, a reference to New Deal-era planning maps which used literal red lines to designate areas where the federally backed Home Owners’ Loan Corporation would and would not insure mortgages.
“Right off the bat,” Chakrabarti says of the Green New Deal plan, “we’ve put trying to fix the injustices that have been perpetrated on black and brown communities front and center. Unless you have targeted investments in communities that have had their wealth stripped from them for generations, it’s going to be very difficult for communities that have faced redlining to enjoy economic prosperity.”
The detritus of FHA-style discrimination serves to make a transition harder, and will need to be overcome to make any new New Deal a success. Dense, transit-connected cities are on the whole more sustainable than the car-centric suburban sprawl encouraged by a mix of mid-century development schemes, segregationist policies and white flight. Yet the home solar market is oriented largely around rooftop installations, which creates obvious barriers to entry for renters in multi-unit buildings, where landlords have little incentive to upgrade. The New York City Housing Authority, accounting for about a fifth of the country’s public housing, could be a model for retrofitting public and affordable housing in cities around the country, but is currently sitting in about $17 billion of debt and remains in dire need of basic updates and repairs.
As sociologist Daniel Aldana Cohen points out, density alone doesn’t make a city low-carbon. While they pride themselves as green for buying organic and taking the train, luxury high-rise inhabitants — with their taste for carbon-intensive imports, summer homes, and first-class business trips — have the largest footprints in their cities, which account for around three-quarters of carbon emissions worldwide. “When it comes to the carbon emissions of New York’s individual residents, as calculated in terms of consumption, Manhattan is the worst borough. Because it’s the richest,” hewrites. “Crowded but well-to-do West Villagers’ carbon footprints are comparable to sprawling suburbanites’ all over the country.” Beyond Manhattan,Oxfam Internationalhas found that the world’s richest 10 percent produce about half of its carbon emissions. “It is only residents of Manhattan’s less-gentrified neighborhoods,” Aldana Cohen continues, “who have really low carbon footprints. They reside by the island’s northwest and southeast tips, in zip codes anchored by public housing. … Public housing, well-stocked libraries, accessible transit, gorgeous parks: these are democratic low-carbon amenities. And they’re the political achievements of working-class New York.”
Dense, affordable housing is the key to making a low-carbon city. And with the right investments, NYCHA could cut its emissions by three-quarters or more, “while using the renovation process to clean out mold, seal the cracks and crevices where pests now thrive, and increase leaf canopy. With these and other measures, NYCHA could become the world’s largest—albeit decentralized—green city,” Aldana Cohen adds. A Green New Deal could sponsor similar improvements in towns and cities around the country, rendering cities greener, more equitable, and infinitely more livable.
Beyond redressing some of the ills of the original New Deal, those pushing for its redux are also keenly focused on the people who could be on the losing end of both climate policy and the climate crisis itself. “We know that if we are really going to make it out of the years and decades ahead, we need a government that cares for people and is of, by and for the people and acts to protect the most marginalized amongst us,” Weber, of Sunrise, says. “When we have things like extreme weather events and increased migration because of climate change, we take a more humanitarian approach to responding to those than what we’re seeing from our federal government, which is saying we need to build walls and lock people in cages.”
In the coming decades, climate change is likely to bring about the largest mass migration in human history, both within and between countries. Already, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimates that as many as 21.5 million people have been displaced thanks to climate-related impacts, and the civil war in Syria that has led many refugees to flee that country is owed at least partially to climate-induced drought and agricultural crisis. Largely, governments in the global north have treated these flows as a problem. But the Green New Deal could adopt a different approach.
“We’re going to need tens or hundreds of millions of jobs,” Chakrabarti said, projecting that there could even be a labor shortage. “What that’s going to result in is that, yes, we’re going to have to retrain and invest in the current American workforce. But we’re probably going to be begging for more immigration.” He referenced the influx of labor needed to build up the interstate highway system in the 1950s. “It’s not just that we had an open immigration policy. We were actively recruiting.” Chakrabarti’s father, he said, immigrated after visiting an American recruitment center in West Bengal. “They were pitching them on the American dream to try to get them to come to America and build the country together.”
As the immigration question highlights, climate change isn’t an issue that confines itself narrowly to borders. The US represents about 15 percent of global emissions, so acting alone won’t get us too far. Coal is on a steady decline here, but Asia accounts for around three-quarters of global coal consumption, which has actually risen overall in the last 2 years. And while China has backed what might be the world’s most ambitious green spending package, it’s also continuing to finance coal plants domestically and throughout the global south, encouraging other countries to pursue a path to economic development based on a fuel source that climate science is increasingly clear should be zeroed out. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal frames this problem delicately, setting out an intention to make green “technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely carbon neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal.”
Aside from turning the US into a major exporter of clean energy — rather than, say, oil — that might involve US capital opening up a path to development for other countries that’s based on renewable energy and not coal or gas, in ways similar to the Marshall Plan shaped the course of economic rebuilding and development in post-war development. The approach wouldn’t be all that dramatic of a departure from current U.S. energy policy in the U.S.; the Trump Administration has repeatedly stated its intent to help bring coal to the rest of the world, including at last year’s UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, and almost certainly at their event this year at COP 24. But extending the Green New Deal beyond the narrow confines of U.S. borders would also involve upending thetraditionally obstructive rolethe U.S. has played in international climate talks, stymying ambition and binding pledges. As Naomi Klein noted last week, the U.S. taking the climate crisis seriously — adopting what could be the world’s most ambitious decarbonization plan, in its most dominant economy — would have a tremendous ripple effect throughout the rest of the world, and more narrowly in the talks themselves as countries figure out how to ratchet up their commitments to the Paris agreement in the coming years.
All of the above is only the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a brief and entirely non-exhaustive list of some other issues that might fall under a Green New Deal: farm and agricultural policy; reforming the National Flood Insurance Program and developing a coherent plan for relocating coastal communities away from flood zones; formally honoring indigenous sovereignty and tribal land rights; ensuring democratic participation in clean energy planning and ending eminent domain; a universal basic income; wildfire management; trade policy; building up infrastructure to sequester carbon; fully extending broadband wireless to rural communities; rare earths and mineral procurement; overhauling FEMA; sweeping campaign finance reform; and “Medicare for All” — to name just a few.
Needless to say,the Green New Deal faces an uphill battle on the Hill. Aside from complaints about feasibility, the pushback from other Democrats so far has been largely procedural, Weber says, citing a fear voiced by some House members that should the select committee be empowered to draft legislation, it would undermine the authority of other established committees. As he points out, the resolution outlines only that the committee be allowed to draft legislation, and wouldn’t pre-empt that legislation first going through another body before moving to a floor vote. Moreover, Weber added, “We actually do need a committee that goes beyond the very narrow focus of the existing ones. What we’re talking about is something that effects every aspect of society. A select committee that can have the purview over the issues that all of these existing committees and more is exactly the type of vehicle that Congress — if it want to take climate change seriously — should be creating.”
I contacted several incoming members of Congress that were outspoken in their campaigns about climate change but have not yet signed on to the Green New Deal resolution to ask about their positions. As of yet, no one has responded, although one — Rep.-elect Mike Levin, D-Calif. — announced his support last week.
In the coming days and weeks, House Democrats are expected to release the first version of their rules package for the next Congress, in which supporters hope that a version of the select committee on the Green New Deal will appear. “Whether we get it or we don’t get it, the biggest thing we need to have is a movement backing this stuff,” Chakrabarti said. “The movement needs to keep pushing it and making a plan to go all the way. If we don’t get the committee, it’s up to us to figure out how to do it.”
Rapidglobal warmingcaused the largest extinction event in the Earth’s history, which wiped out the vast majority of marine and terrestrial animals on the planet, scientists have found.
The mass extinction, known as the “great dying”, occurred around 252m years ago and marked the end of the Permian geologic period.
The study of sediments and fossilized creatures show the event was the single greatest calamity ever to befall life on Earth, eclipsing even the extinction of the dinosaurs 65m years ago.
10,000 fruit bats (Flying Fox) die from heat stress during record heatwave in Cairns last week.
Up to 96% of all marine species perished while more than two-thirds of terrestrial species disappeared.
The cataclysm was so severe it wiped out most of the planet’s trees, insects, plants, lizards and even microbes.
Scientists havetheorized causes for the extinction, such as a giant asteroid impact. But US researchers now say they have pinpointed the demise of marine life to a spike in Earth’s temperatures, warning that present-day global warming will also have severe ramifications for life on the planet.
“It was a huge event. In the last half a billion years of life on the planet, it was the worst extinction,” said Curtis Deutsch, an oceanography expert who co-authored the research, published on Thursday, with his University of Washington colleague Justin Penn along with Stanford University scientists Jonathan Payne and Erik Sperling.
The researchers used paleoceanographic records and built a model to analyse changes in animal metabolism, ocean andclimateconditions. When they used the model to mimic conditions at the end of the Permian period, they found it matched the extinction records.
According to the study, this suggests that marine animals essentially suffocated as warming waters lacked the oxygen required for survival. “For the first time, we’ve got a whole lot of confidence that this is what happened,” said Deutsch. “It’s a very strong argument that rising temperatures and oxygen depletion were to blame.”
The great dying event, which occurred over an uncertain timeframe of possibly hundreds of years, saw Earth’s temperatures increase by around 10C (18F). Oceans lost around 80% of their oxygen, with parts of the seafloor becoming completely oxygen-free. Scientists believe this warming was caused by a huge spike in greenhouse gas emissions, potentially caused by volcanic activity.
The new research,published in Science, found that the drop in oxygen levels was particularly deadly for marine animals living closer to the poles. Experiments that varied oxygen and temperature levels for modern marine species, including shellfish, corals and sharks, helped “bridge the gap” to what the model found, Payne said.
“This really would be a terrible, terrible time to be around on the planet,” he added. “It shows us that when the climate and ocean chemistry changes quickly, you can reach a point where species don’t survive. It took millions of years to recover from the Permian event, which is essentially permanent from the perspective of human timescales.”
Over the past century, the modern world has warmed by around 1C due to the release of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, rather than from volcanic eruptions.
Thiswarmingis already causing punishing heatwaves, flooding and wildfires around the world, with scientistswarningthat the temperature rise could reach 3C or more by the end of the century unless there are immediate, radicalreductionsin emissions.
At the same time, Earth’s species are undergoing what some experts have termed the “sixth greatextinction” due to habitat loss, poaching, pollution andclimate change.
“It does terrify me to think we are on a trajectory similar to the Permian because we really don’t want to be on that trajectory,” Payne said. “It doesn’t look like we will warm by around 10C and we haven’t lost that amount of biodiversity yet. But even getting halfway there would be something to be very concerned about. The magnitude of change we are currently experiencing is fairly large.”
Deutsch said: “We are about a 10th of the way to the Permian. Once you get to 3-4C of warming, that’s a significant fraction and life in the ocean is in big trouble, to put it bluntly. There are big implications for humans’ domination of the Earth and its ecosystems.”
Deutsch added that the only way to avoid a mass aquatic die-off in the oceans was to reduce carbon emissions, given there is no viable way to ameliorate the impact of climate change in the oceans using other measures.
The research group “provide convincing evidence that warmer temperatures and associated lower oxygen levels in the ocean are sufficient to explain the observed extinctions we see in the fossil record”, said Pamela Grothe, a paleoclimate scientist at the University of Mary Washington.
“The past holds the key to the future,” she added. “Our current rates of carbon dioxide emissions is instantaneous geologically speaking and we are already seeing warming ocean temperatures and lower oxygen in many regions, currently affecting marine ecosystems.
“If we continue in the trajectory we are on with current emission rates, this study highlights the potential that we may see similar rates of extinction in marine species as in the end of the Permian.”