Friday, September 12, 2014

In the News: Climate Change, Despair... and Hope

Lainey Piland photo
Climate change is always a hot topic in the environmental/green/nature nerd community, but lately, the most pressing issue of our time has been capturing headlines right and left. Although often cast as an environmental issue, climate change has far-reaching impacts which in fact make this a humanitarian, economic, social justice, and environmental -- not issue -- but CRISIS.

Why a crisis?  We know all too well that pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (via fossil fuel burning and deforestation, mainly) traps heat in earth's atmosphere, which causes warming. Our global temperatures are warming, our oceans are warming, the Arctic is thawing (and releasing copious amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide), our oceans are acidifying, and the Arctic sea ice and Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are melting. We know all these things.  However, there is an emerging realization that all of these things are happening faster and sooner than we anticipated. And this is where things get really scary.

The Low Carbon Economy Index report released recently by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers paints perhaps the most alarming picture I've seen. During the 2009 UN Climate Summit, nations agreed to limit global warming to 3.6 degrees F above pre-industrial levels, which should allow us to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change.  According to the report, in order to stay below the 3.6 degree limit by the year 2100, we can only emit 270 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels in that same time frame.

Unfortunately, at the rate we're going, we will hit that limit in 2034-- sixty-six years ahead of schedule, and only twenty years from now.  This is well within the lifetime of most people alive on planet Earth right now. Climate change is not a consequence to be suffered by those unfortunate and oft-mentioned "future generations". Most of us alive today could witness and experience the devastation of our planet, drowning of coastal areas, suffering of millions (billions?) of people, the collapse of the ocean ecosystems and countless species extinctions. This report from PricewaterhouseCoopers underscores the need for immediate action to transition to clean energy sources such as wind and solar and eliminate fossil fuels along with their heat-trapping emissions as soon as possible.

If charts and statistics aren't your thing, then take a look at the weather report released this week by The Weather Channel, dated September 23rd, 2050.  Nope, that's not a typo... this fictional, yet all-too-possible, scenario depicts what our evening weather reports could look like by mid-century as a result of climate change (although the PricewaterhouseCoopers report above might suggest that the timeline should be moved up a bit):

Droughts that last a generation? Record heat waves? Alaska becoming the ideal venue for the Summer Olympics? Do we really want to see this fictional future come to fruition?

No, we don't. From what I've seen in the media and in the climate change movement lately, there is a sense of building hope and momentum.  It feels as though we're nearly at the crest of the hill, at critical mass, at the tipping point where our global society has finally awakened to the enormity of the problem and is ready to say "no more". It is not being dramatic or alarmist to say that our very survival is at stake.

For instance, colleges and universities, businesses, individuals, cities, and churches have begun pulling their money from the fossil fuel industry, recognizing that investing in fossil fuels is investing in a bleak and difficult future. The Fossil Free campaign has been instrumental in achieving fossil fuel divestment around the globe, with each new day seeming to bring divestment announcements from this university or that church.

In addition to the successful divestment campaign, other stories have further indicated that the fossil fuel industry is becoming socially, morally, and economically unacceptable to the general public. This is the shift in perception that is needed to push our world toward renewable energy. One particular example in the news this week is the story of the district attorney in Bristol County, Massachusetts who dropped all charges against two climate activists charged with intentionally blockading a coal freighter ship.  The charges were dismissed on the conclusion that, due to the grave danger of climate change, the activist's actions were justified.  The attorney also commented to the listening crowd that he will be in New York City on September 21st.  What is that all about...?

Well, it's just a little thing called the People's Climate March, which is expected to be the largest climate demonstration ever. It might even end up being the largest demonstration ever. Period.  Scheduled to coincide with the UN Climate Summit in NYC on September 21st, this march intends to send a message to world leaders that the people overwhelmingly demand action on climate change now. We cannot wait a moment longer.

The NYC march will be by far the largest event in the People's Climate Movement, but there are an additional 1500 satellite events occurring around the globe in solidarity that same weekend. If you're in the Seattle area like I am, you should know that the local chapter of will be holding a march on September 21st as well. Click here for details.

There is much to be hopeful about, and the stakes have never been higher.

September 21st. I will see you there.

Related posts:

In the News: National Climate Assessment 2014

Earth Day Musings: Now is the Time to Act on Climate Change

400: A Sobering Milestone

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