As the COP24 climate summit comes to an end, it is clear that governments have failed to adequately respond to the catastrophic impacts of climate change that were highlighted in the landmark IPCC report on 1.5°C.
Based on a now widely operational Paris Agreement the next two years need to be used to build far-reaching transformational partnerships and reach the level of ambition science makes clear is necessary.
COP24 failed to deliver a clear commitment to strengthen all countries’ climate pledges by 2020. At the same time, a relatively effective though incomplete rulebook for how to implement the Paris Agreement was finalised.
Limited progress was also made with regard to how financial support for poorer countries coping with devastating climate impacts will be provided and accounted for.
The EU has made welcome efforts by building alliances with other countries and finding common ground on sticking points.
It has also set a good example when, together with several other members of the High Ambition Coalition, it committed to increase its 2030 climate target by 2020, in light of the warnings of the IPCC report.
However, it has failed to convince all other governments to make the same commitment.
Germany doubled their support for the Green Climate Fund to support developing countries, but other European countries still have to do the same.
In reaction to the COP24 outcomes,Wendel Trio, Director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europesaid:
“The weak outcome of this COP runs contrary to stark warnings of the IPCC report and growing demand for action from citizens.
Governments have again delayed adequate action to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown.
The EU needs to push ahead and lead by example, by providing more support to poor countries and increasing its climate pledge before the UN Secretary General Summit in September 2019. It must be a significant increase, even beyond the 55% reduction some Member States and the European Parliament are calling for.”
Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe is Europe’s leading NGO coalition fighting dangerous climate change.
With over 150 member organisations from 35 European countries, representing over 1.700 NGOs and more than 40 million citizens, CAN Europe promotes sustainable climate, energy and development policies throughout Europe.
CAN Europe members made the following statements wrapping up COP24:
Jennifer Tollmann, Climate Diplomacy Researcher, E3Gsaid: “In the end the EU did finally step up as a bridge-builder. But we now need to see whether they can ace the real test. Will they pull their weight in closing the global emissions gap and support their climate vulnerable allies to weather the storm?”
Mattias Söderberg, Climate Advisor, DanChurchAidsaid: “Poor and vulnerable countries are left behind with the agreement from Katowice.
People who face loss and damage due to droughts, flooding and devastating storms are not acknowledged.
This puts more burden on those living in poverty who are affected by the worst impacts of climate change, and who in most cases have very few emissions themselves.”
Christoph Bals, Policy Director of Germanwatch said: “It’s very clear that the world expects the EU to lead in climate politics.
In the end we have seen some attempts of EU countries to play a constructive role in the high ambition coalition. But only far reaching transformational partnerships between EU members and other countries can develop the necessary geopolitical dynamics for transformation.”
Neil Makaroff, European Policy Officer of Reseau Action Climat France said: “The COP24 climate negotiations should be a wakeup call for EU countries: there is no time to waste in childish divisions.
The IPCC report clearly highlighted that our home is burning and we have a limited time to save it.
Governments should be united in engaging Europe in a more ambitious climate policy, both boosting the energy transition and ensuring that it is socially just, benefiting to all. Europeans have this special responsibility to pave the way and lead climate actions by example.”
Sven Harmeling, Global Policy Lead on Climate Change, CARE International said: “At COP24, a number of powerful countries driven by short-sighted interests pushed to abolish the ambitious 1.5°C limit and throw away the alarming findings on harmful climate impacts of the IPCC Special Report.
The most vulnerable countries, civil society and people on the ground have been leading the fight for climate justice.
While governments accomplished the task of adopting a rulebook to further the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the world now requires much faster and stronger climate action at the national level, and support for poor countries to build climate resilience.”
Sebastian Scholz, Head of Climate Policy, NABU/BirdLife Germanysaid: “Again at this COP civil society made their demand clear to those decide to stay within the limit of 1.5 degrees of global warming.
None the less several issues weren’t solved by the delegations.
Even the alarming findings of the IPCC Special Report weren’t properly integrated into the outcome.
The EU had a rather weak position on closing loopholes in the accounting guidelines of the rulebook.
This won’t help to limit emissions, but also incentivise the use of non sustainable biomass for energy supply, and therefore risks a further loss of biodiversity.”
Karin Lexén, Secretary General of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservationsaid: “Two months ago, the scientific community sent an emergency message on the state of the climate crisis.
Coming to Katowice, we demanded no less than an emergency response.
This was not delivered.
Now all countries must urgently pick up the baton, do their homework and get ready to radically scale up climate action at home.
In Sweden, we demand a ban on fossil fuels by 2030.”
Otto Bruun, Climate Policy Officer, Finnish Association for Nature Conservationsaid: “Climate scientists have highlighted a safe option to avert climate chaos. Early retirement of fossil fuels should go hand in hand with the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems. While the governments at the Katowice conference did not produce the rulebook to match the ambition of the Paris treaty, governments must now mind the gap in ambition and increase their efforts at once. The April 2019 general election in Finland looks set be a climate election. Our collective ambition in civil society is to drive through an unforeseen and just policy shift to immediately protect and restore forest and peatland carbon sinks while retiring all fossil fuels altogether within two decades.”
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
For six decades, Orrin Pilkey has written, taught, and preached about the beauty of barrier islands and the extraordinary risk of building in coastal floodplains. In more than 40 books, 250 scientific papers and journal articles, and countless opinion pieces, Pilkey has fashioned a vision of coasts as dynamic, living landscapes, with their own personalities, quirks and flaws, “not unlike people,” he says.
To the extent that America has a public conscience of its coasts, it just may be the voluble marine geologist, a short, hobbit-like figure who for decades wore an unruly gray beard like the wizard Gandalf. Pilkey warned about interfering with the natural processes of shorelines and questioned developers, politicians, and engineers who helped to fill the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts with trillions of dollars of vacation houses, investment properties, and businesses, often subsidized with generous federal tax dollars.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone appreciated his message. Some beach town mayors viewed Pilkey as the Antichrist. “I hate him, hate him, hate him,” bellowed the mayor of one of the largest and richest beach towns in New Jersey — this after Pilkey observed that the shoreline there was rapidly eroding. In 1991, the town council of Folly Beach, South Carolina, even passed a resolution condemning Pilkey’s research as “insulting, uninformed, and radical.” Pilkey framed the resolution and hung it on his office wall.
Now 84, the former Duke University professor is still busy and has anew bookon sea level rise coming out next August. With growing concerns about sea level rise and another year of catastrophic hurricanes (2018’s Florence and Michael), it seemed like a good time to talk with Pilkey about how his ideas have evolved over time, and what he sees as the biggest challenges ahead in an age of climate change, warming oceans, torrential rain storms, and more violent hurricanes.
Yale Environment 360:Recent reports by theUnited Nationsand theNational Climate Assessmenthighlight the risks of crowding the nation’s shorelines with risky property, and raise the possibility that millions may be forced to retreat to higher ground as the seas rise and hurricanes do more damage. You’ve been warning about these threats for decades, dating back to 1969, when Hurricane Camille wrecked your parents’ Mississippi retirement house. Was that a turning point in your career?
Orrin Pilkey:Yes, the loss of my parents’ house was the point at which I realized for the first time the immense power of the sea and the need to inform the world that building next to the shoreline is almost suicidal. The recent UN report and National Climate Assessment confirmed some of my worst fears about the future threats of flooding and storms. Yet people continue to build in risky places. In Waveland, Mississippi, where my parents retired to a house with 13 feet of elevation, I saw an example of a beachfront house that was destroyed by Hurricane Camille, a replacement house destroyed again by Hurricane Katrina (2005), and the vacant lot for sale for $80,000. A loud activist voice was needed.
“The question that needed to be answered was…Which is more important, beaches or buildings along our ocean shores?”
e360:You grew up in Washington State and were a smoke jumper for a time. How did you go from fighting fires to studying the coasts and earning a PhD in marine geology?
Pilkey:I first saw the ocean in Puget Sound as a teenager and was fascinated by the waves, the sea smells, and the infinite vistas. That love of the ocean continues to this day. But like me, I believe that many marine scientists have grown up far from the sea. The late Bruce Heezen, the father of marine geology, for example, grew up as an Iowa farm boy.
e360:You were one of the first coastal geologists to take a public stance about building in harm’s way, arguing that armoring the coasts with seawalls, rock groins, and other defenses was not sufficient. What was your thinking at the time?
Pilkey:I was primarily concerned that these devices were being sold as the way to save the beautiful beach cottage communities. When they didn’t work, which was the usual case, the excuse used by the engineers was that the storm that destroyed the devices was unusually severe and unexpected. It was clear that beaches were being destroyed in order to save oceanfront houses, with seawalls and other structures interfering with the natural flow of sand and accelerating erosion, and that a voice expressing that was severely needed. The question that needed to be answered from the standpoint of Americans everywhere was: Which is more important, beaches or buildings along our ocean shores?
e360:In some ways we appear to be going back to the future at the coasts. Charleston and Miami are building seawalls and giant pumps. New York City is planning for a huge surge gate. And Texans are trying to get the federal government to pay for a Dutch-style gate across the mouth of the Houston Ship Channel, in Galveston. In your view, will these steps work and, if so, for how long?
Pilkey:Protection of major cities is different from the protection of much smaller resort communities on barrier islands. Stabilizing the shoreline, that is, holding it still, may be a reasonable priority for portions of big cities, but not so for smaller tourist developments, which depend on a good beach. Hard structures, such as seawalls and groins, almost always eventually destroy the beach. Surge gates depend on the blind luck that no superstorms will occur and overtop or destroy them, and also depend on a low rate of sea level rise. Their lifetime is likely to be only a decade or two. It is also likely that many other coastal cities will clamor for a surge gate once one city has one. Can we afford construction and maintenance of these large structures in view of their questionable success? The Dutch have a small country, much of it below sea level, and there is no place to escape the coming sea level rise. Therefore, they must use extreme engineering. But Americans have plenty of room to retreat.
“Government support of beach development encourages more and more development, leading to more storm damage.”
e360:Hurricanes by far account for the costliest natural disasters in the U.S., with over $500 billion in damage in recent years, and the likelihood of even more catastrophic storms in the future. Yet Americans keep building in harm’s way, often with the aid of generous federal subsidies, including flood insurance, disaster aid, and Army Corps of Engineers’ beach repairs. Don’t these subsidies distort the risks, shifting them from private homeowners to public taxpayers, and make it harder to encourage people to retreat to higher ground?
Pilkey:Unquestionably, government support of beach development encourages more and more development, leading to more and more storm damage. The mentality is why retreat when the government is right there to help you put things back the way they were before the storm.
e360:I am thinking about Dauphin Island, off the coast of Alabama, which has been repeatedly battered by hurricanes and has received tens of millions in federal aid. After Katrina, in 2005, a few dozen homeowners wanted the government to buy their homes, so they could move inland, but there was no money. Why don’t buyouts work at the coast?
Pilkey:The western half of Dauphin Island is the least suitable location for development along the entire U.S. Gulf of Mexico. North Topsail Beach in North Carolina, is similarly vulnerable. Buyouts on Dauphin Island would make sense because serious damage has occurred there five times since 1973, mostly on the west end where all of the vacation homes are. The government would have saved money in the long run if they had purchased the damaged properties, but the extreme high price of beachfront buildings prevents the buyout approach. It’s a shame. Buying these vulnerable properties could be the first step in managed retreat.
e360:Increasingly, coastal communities are seeing regular flooding, largely as a result of rising seas. Miami has its King Tides. Areas of Norfolk, the Outer Banks and New Jersey now routinely flood in ordinary thunderstorms. What does your recent research tell us about what’s happening and what residents can expect?
Pilkey:The flooding that is occurring along the fringes of many American communities is called sunny-day flooding or nuisance flooding. These high tides correspond to spring tides but have been raised higher by sea level rise, and are the first concrete evidence of a rising sea. The highest of these nuisance floods are called King Tides, which occur three or four times a year. As sea level rises, nuisance flooding will penetrate further and further inland, threatening more property and resulting in more flood claims.
e360:The general scientific consensus is that we can expect about 3.5 feet of additional water by the end of the century. But if the ice sheets melt or sea level rise accelerates, we could see 6 to 8.5 feet, which would be catastrophic. By some estimates, up to a trillion dollars worth of coastal property could literally be under water. Will we likely see a mass migration from the coast at some point?
Pilkey:Millions of people will be fleeing drowned cities this century. Low-lying cities, such as Miami, Charleston, and New Orleans, and many barrier island communities, especially in Florida – Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Daytona Beach – are likely to produce huge numbers of evacuees. Miami alone will produce 4 million climate refugees, probably well before 2100. Currently, there are no plans to accommodate these refugees in inland cities. Even places with higher elevations will be at risk. Surrounding access roads at lower elevations may flood in storms or high tides and prevent residents from reaching businesses, schools, stores, and churches.
“Ghost towns are a likely element of our coasts by the end of this century. Complete loss of some communities is not impossible.”
e360:In a few coastal resorts we are beginning to see home buyers factor sea level rise and flood risks into the price of real estate. In Miami, condos at higher elevation carry a premium. How quickly do you see real estate prices at the coast sinking, and what impact do you expect that will have on future development?
Pilkey:I believe that we are due for a crash in the price of beachfront property. No one knows exactly when this will occur, but it is likely within a decade or two. There are already small price reductions occurring in some places. Probably sinking prices will cause a dramatic reduction in new beachfront development nationwide. Ghost towns are a likely element of our coasts by the end of this century. Complete loss of some communities is not impossible. Edingsville Beach in South Carolina, a town of 60 houses on a barrier island, disappeared in a major hurricane in 1893. Along the Holderness Coast in England, 26 towns are under water on the Continental Shelf.
e360:If you owned an oceanfront home, say in New Jersey, what would you do?
Pilkey:If I owned a house in view of the sea, I would remember that along our coastal plains, if you can see the sea, the sea can see you. If I opted to stay, I would first investigate the evacuation routes. I would want to know what the biggest storm on record did to the coast there. Very likely, I would move my home well back from the shoreline. Better yet, I would probably look into the feasibility of moving it to the mainland. One other temporary useful alternative would be to raise the building to allow storm surge to flow underneath it. Most likely, however, I would sell.
All of which has led the boldly naïve to ask, “What, exactly, is a Green New Deal?”
The answer will depend on whom you ask.
To the median Democrat, a Green New Deal is just a fancy name for an infrastructure bill that includes significant investments in renewable energy, and climate resiliency.
To theprogressive think tank Data for Progress,it’s a comprehensive plan for America to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, through a combination of massive public investment in renewables, smart grids, battery technology, and resiliency; turbocharged environmental regulations; and policies that promote urbanization, reforestation, wetland restoration, and soil sustainability — all designed with an eye toward achieving full employment, and advancing racial justice.
But to the American left’s most utopian reformists, the Green New Deal is shorthand for an ambition even more sweeping.
More precisely, it is a means of conveying their vision for radical change to a popular audience, by way of analogy.
Eighty years ago, the United States was faced with a malign force that threatened to eradicate the possibility of decent civilization.
We responded by entrusting our elected government to reorganize our economy, and concentrate our nation’s resources on nullifying the Axis threat.
In the process, America not only defeated fascism abroad, but consolidated a progressive transformation of its domestic political economy.
The war effort affirmed the public sector’s competence at directing economic activity, fostered unprecedented levels of social solidarity — and, in so doing, banished laissez-faire from the realm of respectable opinion.
In the course of a decade, ideas from the far-left fringe of American thought became pillars of Establishment consensus: Very serious people suddenly agreed that it was legitimate for the state to enforce collective bargaining rights, impose steeply progressive income taxes, administer redistributive social programs, subsidize home ownership, and promote full employment.
The New Deal ceased to be a single president’s ad hoc recovery program, and became a consensus economic model.
An unprecedented contraction in economic inequality ensued; the most prosperous middle-class in human history was born.
Many contemporary leftists believe this history is worth repeating: Just as the fight against fascism facilitated a democratic transition from laissez-faire to Keynesian liberalism, so the fight for climate sustainability can shepard America out of neoliberalism, and into ecofriendly, intersectional, democratic socialism.
“The last time we had a really major existential threat to this country was around World War II, and so we’ve been here before and we have a blueprint of doing this before” Ocasio-Corteztold supportersin October. “What we did was that we chose to mobilize our entire economy and industrialized our entire economy and we put hundreds of thousands if not millions of people to work” — a mobilization that the congresswoman-electsees as“a potential path towards a more equitable economy with increased employment and widespread financial security for all.”
IT’S THE SPRING of 2043, and Gina is graduating college with the rest of her class. She had a relatively stable childhood. Her parents availed themselves of some of the year of paid family leave they were entitled to, and after that she was dropped off at a free child care program.
Pre-K and K-12 were also free, of course, but so was her time at college, which she began after a year of public service, during which she spent six months restoring wetlands and another six volunteering at a day care much like the one she had gone to.
Now that she’s graduated, it’s time to think about what to do with her life. Without student debt, the options are broad. She also won’t have to worry about health insurance costs, since everyone is now eligible for Medicare. Like most people, she isn’t extraordinarily wealthy, so she can live in public, rent-controlled housing — not in the underfunded, neglected units we’re accustomed to seeing in the United States, but in one of any number of buildings that the country’s top architects have competed for the privilege to design, featuring lush green spaces, child care centers, and even bars and restaurants.
….For work, she trained to become a high-level engineer at a solar panel manufacturer, though some of her friends are going into nursing and teaching. All are well-paid, unionized positions, and are considered an essential part of the transition away from fossil fuels, updates about which are broadcast over the nightly news.
This vision is compelling — and, on a substantive level, so is Ocasio-Cortez’s historical analogy. In the long run, climate change surely poses as great a threat to the United States (and to liberal democratic governance) as the Nazis ever did. And a rational response to the climate threatquite clearlyrequiresa drastic expansion of state-economic planning, and thus, an overhaul of the American political economy — so, while we’re renovating things, why not install that Nordic welfare state we’ve been eyeing, take down some of the hideous structures white supremacy built, and pare back that overgrown financial industry?
But when viewed through a strictly political lens, the analogy breaks down.
The Axis powers posed an immediate threat to many American capitalists, and their overseas investments — while U.S. victory in the war promised corporate America a bonanza. This self-interest dampened corporate resistance to FDR’s mobilization of the war economy, which itself massively increased the leverage of American labor. Securing global hegemony for American capital required victory, and victory required maintaining labor peace in a context of full employment. Unions could deliver the latter, and thus, were in a position to demand concessions. With that leverage, they secured“maintenance of membership” rules that allowed them to count all new employees at unionized plants as members, and immediately charge them dues; as a result, a record-high 35.5 percent of the nonagricultural labor force was unionized by 1945.
By contrast, climate change poses less of an immediate threat to America’s contemporary economic elites than the Green New Deal does.
The Koch Network fears the euthanasia of the fossil fuel industry — and confiscatory top tax rates — a lot more than rising sea levels.
Thus, corporate resistance to World War II–esque state-led mobilization to combat climate change (let alone, an avowedly socialist one) is certain to be immense. And given the conservative movement’s tightening grip over the federal judiciary, and red America’s increasingly disproportionate influence over state governments and the Senate, Green New Dealers would need to defeat near-unanimous corporate opposition on a playing field sharply tilted to their rivals’ advantage.
Further, replicating FDR’s model will take more than just winning power. Consolidating the New Deal order required the Democratic Party to maintain continuous control of the White House for two decades.
Considering the contemporary partisan alignment — and existence of presidential term limits — it seems unlikely that a pro-Green New Deal governing coalition would retain power long enough to turn core aspects of its radical agenda into pillars of a new bipartisan consensus.
None of this is to suggest that the Green New Deal isn’t a worthwhile ideal.
In an era replete with dystopias, and starved forfutures to believe in, Aronoff’s (modest) utopia is a welcome intervention. Rather, my intention is merely to spark discussion of the following question: If persuading a couple dozen Democrats to support a select committee to draft a Green New Deal (which many of them understand as a little more than a climate-centric infrastructure stimulus) took repeatedly occupying Nancy Pelosi’s office, what will it take to institutionalize 100 percent renewable social democracy atop the ruins of the fossil fuel industry?
In lieu of an answer to that daunting query, let me offer a take on (what I believe to be) a related one.
Earlier this week, Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress asked (in so many words) why certain progressives were cheering theyellow vests protests in France.
And on one level, Tanden’s bafflement was justified. There’s little doubt that significant portions of the French protest movement are deeply reactionary, on questions of both climate policy and immigration. And regardless of the Marcon regime’sbroader failings and provocations,the fact that an ambitious effort at carbon pricing was met with an insurrection is sure to weaken the hand of anyone pushing for similar policies in other countries.
And yet, the yellow vest protests didn’t just demonstrate that carbon taxes can provoke popular backlash (at least, when paired with austerity and tax breaks for the rich) — they also served as a reminder that it is still possible for ordinary people to change political realities within their governing institutions, by practicing politics outside of them. Grassroots,social-media-powered political organizingcan fuel reactionary movements and genocides; but it can alsotrigger teachers’ strikes.
We’re going to need carbon taxes to get where Green New Dealers wish to take us. But we’ll also need a dash of mass civil disobedience (or at least, amillion millennialmarch or two).
The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) today demanded that Adani admit in Court it polluted the Great Barrier Reef with coal-contaminated water.
Today the company is back in the Bowen Magistrates Court challenging a prosecution by the Queensland government over the discharge of coal-laden water into the Great Barrier Reef during Cyclone Debbie in March 2017.
Adani’s own letter to the Queensland government last year revealed that it discharged an amount of coal-contaminated water far in excess of the temporary emissions licence it was granted by the Queensland Environment Department for the duration of the Cyclone.
“Adani is a company that has shown many times that it cannot be trusted with our precious Reef,” said AMCS Reef campaign director Imogen Zethoven.
“It has a terrible environmental record in India, including a major coal spill into the marine environment near Mumbai that it failed to clean up for more than five years. It has polluted beaches and destroyed mangroves.
“Now in Australia, it is in court fighting charges that it has polluted the Great Barrier Reef. It is also being investigated for illegal drilling at the Carmichael mine site.
“The Reef is in grave danger due to climate change, which is mainly driven by mining and burning coal. Multiple reports have been released saying that the time is up for new coal developments.
“The IPCC 1.5C report warns we stand to lose all of the world’s coral reefs if global temperature rises to 2C.
“The choice is stark and upon us now: we can either allow a monstrous new coal mine to go ahead that will push temperature rise beyond the limits for the Great Barrier Reef or we can say time’s up for new coal, and protect the Reef and the 64,000 jobs that depend on it.
“Why would any Australian government allow a mine to proceed that will spell disaster for our most precious natural asset?”
Police estimated the number of green activists at 17,000 while organisers counted 25,000
Up to 25,000 people marched through Paris on Saturday urging greater action on climate change, despite fears that their protest would be scuppered by “yellow vest” demonstrations.
Police estimated the number of green activists heading onto the streets at 17,000 while organisers counted 25,000 urging world governments to better protect the environment.
The numbers were similar to previous climate marches in Paris, despite sporadic violence in the city on Saturday among thousands of “yellow vest” demonstrators who want more help for France’s poor.
Organisers had to change the route of the climate march, marching instead from Place de la Nation to Place de la Republique, due to the yellow vest demonstrations, but refused a request by Interior Minister Christophe Castaner to postpone it.
“It was unthinkable to cancel this march.
It’s important to talk about problems related to the end of the world as well as the end of the month,” Elodie Nace, a spokeswoman for green NGO Alternatiba, told the crowds.
Thousands also marched in other French cities, including an estimated 10,000 in Marseille, 3,500 in Montpellier and 3,000 in Lille.
The “yellow vest” movement has been spurred by anger in small-town and rural France at rising car fuel taxes which were aimed at helping the country transition to a greener economy, but which protesters say hurts the poor.
But green activists at the climate marches urged people to find solutions for both environmental problems and the financial struggles of France’s poorest.
“Yellow vests, green vests — same anger,” they chanted.
Some “yellow vest” activists, clad in their emblematic high-visibility road jackets, joined the Paris march after breaking off from their own demonstration.
Marches had been organised in more than 120 towns across France to mark the COP24 climate talks in Poland.
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
With a few notable exceptions, the Australian movement for action on climate change has struggled to achieve big tangible wins in recent years.
We’ve had a few isolated victories, but even if Labor wins the next federal election and the Liberal Party’s position reverts closer to where it was under John Howard, the likely policy shifts aren’t going to come close to what’s needed unless there’s a strong push from civil society.
Here in Queensland, a Labor state government (where Labor’s left faction already controls more votes than the right faction) is still allowing the Adani coal mine to proceed, potentially opening the door to further new coal mines in the Galilee basin.
If these mines go ahead, the burning of the coal they produce will lead to the flooding of coastal cities around the world, the desertification of thousands of hectares of farmland and forest, and more intense bushfires and cyclones.
In defiance of public opinion and basic common sense, the Queensland Labor government is prioritising the financial interests of the mining industry ahead of the safety and security of literally billions of people around the globe. The various forms of pressure that environmentalists have been applying to Labor (both through internal and external channels) don’t appear to have had much impact.
So for those of us who don’t want our grandchildren growing up in some kind of dystopian combination of Water World and Mad Max: Fury Road, what effective courses of action are left available to us?
Here in Queensland, anti-coal campaigners have used a variety of tactics to apply pressure on the political establishment, from peaceful public rallies to locking on to mining equipment. But even a rally of several thousand people isn’t enough to counteract the undemocratic influence that mining lobbyists are exerting over senior Labor ministers. While non-disruptive rallies and marches can help energise and inspire campaigners and draw attention to an issue, they do not directly challenge the underlying logic of capitalism, and are too easy for politicians to ignore. Even the protests against the Iraq War, which saw around six hundred thousand Australians take to the streets, didn’t change John Howard’s mind (if the following Monday, all those people had refused to show up for work, it might have been another matter).
Lock-ons and other arrestable actions do directly hurt the profits of the target companies, but when only a very small proportion of the community are willing to risk arrest, such tactics can’t easily be scaled up to have a big enough impact on political decision-makers, and the costs of fines and legal fees start to take their toll on a movement over time.
The Leard State Forest Blockade against the Maules Creek mine down in NSW was one of the largest civil disobedience actions in Australian history, involving thousands of protesters and hundreds of arrests. The campaign had a range of positive outcomes and flow-on effects, but sadly, the mine eventually went ahead.
So we need to recognise that while both protest marches and lock-ons have their uses, it’s well past time we started exploring other methods of expressing dissent and pressuring the government. We need tactics that large numbers of people can realistically participate in at minimal personal cost, which also directly challenge the power of the state and the profits of the corporate sector.
Organised labour strikes have become more difficult in recent decades. Legislative changes first initiated by Prime Minister Bob Hawke in the 1980s have largely neutered traditional trade unions and made most kinds of strike action illegal. Automation and overseas outsourcing threaten many industries, while more and more of us are casual workers with little to no job security.
But that doesn’t mean striking is no longer a viable tactic. We may not all work together in large factories or worksites anymore, but that doesn’t mean we can’t coordinate our actions across different industries and workplaces. And the fact that large strikes are somewhat rarer than they used to be actually means that if enough of us did get our act together to organise one, the impact upon our political leaders would be more significant.
So what might a general strike against the Adani coal mine look like in practice? I don’t pretend to have detailed answers to this, but basically it would mean as many people as possible taking a day off work. Some workers would simply call in sick. Others would take a day of paid holiday leave, or perhaps just unpaid leave. Some of us might not be able to skip work for one reason or another, but could perhaps still donate a portion of our day’s wages to support the strike. Those of us who are stuck in work for the dole programs shoulddefinitelycall in sick.
If you do have a job, think about your workplace, and how it can throw a spanner in the works when just one or two people call in sick unexpectedly. Now imagine if as many as 1 in 5 or even 1 in 4 staff members all stayed home at the same time… from every workplace in the city. The ripples throughout society would be significant. Some businesses would simply have to shut their doors and give everyone a day off.
I’m confident that if even half the people who care about climate change all stayed home from work on the same day, our politicians would have no choice but to sit up and take notice. The recent school student strikes got a lot of attention, so why shouldn’t the adults join in?
What I’m now starting to wonder is whether we might have an even bigger impact if we all agreed that on the day of the climate strike, we also refused to engage in any kind of for-profit commercial transaction? Don’t go to the shops. Don’t buy anything online. Don’t even fill up your petrol tank. If your rent’s due that date, pause the automatic transfer and pay it a day later (fun fact: late rent payment doesn’t even technically count as a breach of your lease conditions).
Instead, take a day off and spend it with family and friends.
Go to the park.
Go for a swim.
Read a book.
Cook a proper meal.
Major party politicians have spent a long time arguing (wrongly) that supporting the coal industry is good for the economy. Maybe it’s time to force them to recognise that the opposite is true. A general strike might seem a drastic step to some, but it’s an entirely proportionate response to the danger and devastation of runaway climate change.
I know other activists around Australia are also starting to talk about climate change-related strikes in the lead-up to the next federal election. I think the sooner we pick dates and organise such actions, the better. Waiting until March or April to start putting this kind of pressure on Labor and the Liberals will probably be too late for them to change their policy positions prior to election day. But if we start a little sooner, we could help make this into the key election issue that it ought to be.
And if they don’t change their policies, we can keep striking on a monthly basis until they have no choice, or they’re voted out of office. Heck, maybe this would be a good way to finally achieve a four-day work week.
I don’t pretend to have this all worked out, or that such a tactic would definitely succeed. But it’s clear that climate activists need to start trialling and experimenting with a more diverse range of actions. Although they’re fun and energising, climate change rallies and marches are little more than empty rituals if they don’t lead to other kinds of action. And convincing people to take a day off work might actually be a lot easier than convincing people to give up their Saturday morning marching in the hot sun.
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.”