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Carl Pope: Paris Agreement 'Greatest Single Victory Since Emergence of Modern Environmental Movement'

Climate

Dear friends,

The world acted. Not perfectly, not timely, but with seriousness and gravity. The metaphor of the day was some variant on turning point/pivot/fork in the road/hinge of history. No one proclaimed "mission accomplished."

Beyond ratifying the substantial but inadequate voluntary national commitments to lower climate emissions which had already emerged as the first major Paris contribution to climate progress, the final Paris agreement opened three major avenues for climate advocates and solutions.

First, perhaps most important, the entire world, including Iran and Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, agreed that the fossil fuel era will end this century. It will thus end while most of the world's already identified fossil fuel reserves are still in the ground. The end of the carbon era in human economics may or may not come in time to avoid the worst climate chaos, but come it will and the pace of market adjustment to this shocking new reality will now accelerate. The collapse in the market value of coal companies was just the early warning signal of a sudden shift in economic power and importance. It may be too late for most institutional investors to avoid taking a bath on their fossil fuel portfolios.

Second, this reality will unlock a freshet of new investment in a huge variety of low carbon solutions. Some—like rail—mature but newly valued; some—like the emerging technologies to be incubated by Bill Gates' new Clean Tech Initiative—still unproven and others—like the solar panels which Narendra Modi's Solar Alliance will perfect and deploy—on the verge of sweeping away their fossil fuel competitors. As this new wave of investment drives the price of low carbon infrastructure down even lower, the requirement that national goals be regularly and transparently updated every five years guarantees that, nations will further cut emissions to capture the new economic opportunities. We are only half way to closing the 2 degree emissions gap, still further from the needed (and now formally aspired) to 1.5 degrees goal. But the new economics of clean energy in 2020 should take us where we need to go.

Third, the Paris Accord plucked most of the low-hanging fruit for climate diplomacy. The remaining issues—how to create a reliable environment for massive, private north to south low-carbon investment; who pays for damages and losses which result from climate change not avoided; how cities, particularly in the global south, access capital to build resilient infrastructure to withstand a less friendly climate are much harder. But they also now stand out starkly as the focus for dialogue and the benchmarks for further progress. The unwillingness of global elites to revisit outmoded institutional assumptions—for example that nation states don't need to make a seat at the climate table for their cities, that the U.S. and Europe can ration the flow of development finance to the Global South or that ad hoc, after the fact disaster relief is a reasonable global mechanisms to deal with massive and growing natural disasters—is now clear as the focus for urgent attention.

Thus far we have stumbled in the diplomatic arena towards modest indeed levels of agreement, amidst massive mistrust in an atmosphere polluted by climate denialist's (until today successful) effort to delay collective recognition. The aha moment has come. Now we are free—if we choose—to race towards first climate stability and then, once we reach that plateau and stand poised to actually lower concentrations of greenhouse gasses, climate recovery.

My own deep engagement with this effort begin in 2005, when the Sierra Club's grassroots leadership decided to pour everything we had into confronting climate. We took on preventing America from doubling down on its reliance on coal as our first challenge—a campaign whose success made a substantial contribution to the ability of the U.S. to follow the road to Paris. It has been ten years—but this weekend's announcement is, I think without doubt, the greatest single victory since the emergence of the modern environmental movement.

Thank you everyone.

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By Nicole Greenfield

Kristan Porter grew up in a fishing family in the fishing community of Cutler, Maine, where he says all roads lead to one career path: fishing. (Porter's father was the family's lone exception. He suffered from terrible seasickness, and so became a carpenter.) The 49-year-old, who has been working on boats since he was a kid and fishing on his own since 1991, says that the recent warming of Maine's cool coastal waters has yielded unprecedented lobster landings.

"The temperature of the Gulf of Maine is creating the right conditions for lobster, so it's helped our industry—and it's been a big boost for the Maine economy," Porter, the current president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, said. "But you never know what lies ahead. If it continues to warm, it may end up going the other way."

The Gulf of Maine is setting frequent temperature records and warming faster overall than 99 percent of the world's oceans, due in large part to climate change. Meanwhile, its lobster population skyrocketed by 515 percent between 1984 and 2014. In 1990, for example, lobster landings in Maine totaled 28 million pounds. Ten years later that figure was up to 57 million pounds. And in every year since 2011, the take has exceeded 100 million pounds, peaking at 132.6 million pounds in 2016 and turning lobster into a half-billion-dollar industry for the state.

Fishermen like Porter have been reaping the benefits of the boom, but he's right — as the Gulf of Maine's waters inevitably continue to warm, lobster populations will almost certainly decrease. The crustaceans thrive at temperatures between 61 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the water hits 70 degrees, its oxygen levels plummet, to the detriment of a host of marine plants and animals, lobsters included. According to a 2018 study, the gulf's lobster population could fall by 40 to 62 percent over the next 30 years, returning the industry — the nation's most valuable fishery — to early-2000s numbers.

"Temperature is a big part of the story here," said Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) and a coauthor of the study. "Lobster is likely to decline, and that's obviously more worrisome in the North, where it has been booming."

Maine lobsters are normally brown, but about one in every two million is blue.

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Marine scientist Susie Arnold of the Rockland, Maine–based Island Institute notes that rising temperatures have also contributed to a decline in other fisheries like shrimp, cod and scallops, leaving fishermen in Maine precariously dependent on the thriving lobster populations. "A lot of fishermen in coastal communities in Maine are relying on just one fishery, and as we're seeing the impacts of climate change, that definitely gets people worried," she said. In response, Arnold and her colleagues are encouraging fishermen to think about diversification opportunities like aquaculture. "We're trying to help coastal communities maintain their cultural heritage, and a large part of that has to do with making a living off a healthy marine ecosystem."

State lawmakers, too, are taking note of the warming trend and rising up in support of climate action. Maine Governor Janet Mills cited concerns about climate change impacting the lobster industry in her February announcement that the state would join the U.S. Climate Alliance. She has also linked the recent creation of a Maine Climate Council and ambitious statewide renewable energy goals to the health of local fisheries. (Mills recently signed several climate bills into law that will help the state transition to 80 percent renewable energy by 2030 and reduce emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.)

Such a head-on response to the impacts of climate change facing Maine offers a much-needed boost to the future of both lobsters and the coastal communities that rely on the fishery. Meanwhile, the iconic sea creatures have already benefited from generations of conservation efforts, as noted by Pershing and his fellow researchers. In addition to heeding minimum and maximum catch size limits, fishers must refrain from taking any egg-bearing female lobsters. Instead, when they catch these breeders, they clip their tails with a "V notch,"—a mark that will stay with a lobster through several molts—then release them. (The clipped tail signals to other fisherman who may encounter the same lobsters that they are off-limits.)

Porter and other fisherman liken this investment in the future of the industry to putting money in the bank. And marine scientists, including NRDC's Lisa Suatoni, call it smart climate policy. "Leaving these large, fecund females in the water is a really good idea in the context of a rapidly changing environment," Suatoni said. "It isn't just fixated on how to get maximum sustainable yield but also expanding our objective to also get increased ecological or evolutionary resilience."

The decline of the lobster industry in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, where waters are warmer and regulations less stringent than in Maine, serves as a cautionary tale for their northern neighbor. Landings in southern New England shrank by as much as 70 percent from 1997 to 2007, but the industry has resisted many conservation measures, and again rejected fishing restrictions brought to the table by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in 2017.

The proposed restrictions would have changed the legal harvesting size and reduced the number of traps allowed per fisherman, among other regulation changes. Had Maine followed the same lax approach, Pershing and his colleagues estimate that lobster populations in the Gulf of Maine would have increased by less than half as much as it did during their 30-year study period.

While Pershing praises Maine's forward-looking approach for boosting the resilience of its lobster industry in the face of the growing climate crisis, "there's a limit to how much we can adapt and how much we can manage around it," he said. "When you look beyond 2050 in a high-CO2 world, it's a scenario where fisheries are really challenged no matter where you look in the country. We have to figure out how to avoid that because everything gets so much more difficult in that world—and we can make that case in a really concrete way with some of the fishery models."

Pershing says that climate change is having impacts up and down the food chain in the Gulf of Maine. For example, a sharp decline in a species of tiny copepod — a shrimp-like creature that is a favorite food of herring, seabirds and endangered right whales — is putting further stress on these creatures.

"These aren't just faraway changes that are happening in the ocean where nobody really sees them," Pershing said. "There are real consequences for the Gulf of Maine and the communities that live on the coast."

Nicole Greenfield is a writer at NRDC whose articles on religion, the environment, popular culture and social justice have appeared in many publications.

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Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.

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"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.

As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."

"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."

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