Epic Climate March Activates Communities to Transition to 100% Renewable Energy
Following the epic April 29 Climate March for jobs, justice and climate, organizers are focusing on building powerful and lasting change at the local and state level.
Organizers plan to harness the momentum from the Peoples Climate March back into their own communities to stop new fossil fuel infrastructure, secure commitments for transitioning to 100 percent clean energy, prioritize solutions in communities hardest hit by the climate crisis and pressure elected officials to choose a side.
Last weekend, on the 100th day of the Trump presidency, more than 200,000 people mobilized at the Peoples Climate March, surrounding the White House to resist to the administration's attacks on people and the planet, and present a bold vision for the transition away from fossil fuels toward 100 percent renewable energy. Enduring record heat, heavy rain, and driving snow, more than 370 sister marches took place across the country and around the world. Now, organizers are taking this power back to their communities.
"The best defense is a good offense. We know we'll get nothing but regression from the executive branch, so we're going to build power in every community across the country to fight for climate justice," said Jenny Marienau, 350.org U.S. campaigns director.
"The Trump administration spent its first months in office rolling back hard-won protections of our communities and our climate. We spent it developing a shared vision of the transition away from fossil fuels toward a 100 percent clean energy that works for all of us."
In the lead-up to the Peoples Climate March, 350.org launched a pledge to harness the energy of the hundreds of thousands of people already mobilized for the march and channel it back into campaigns for lasting local change.
"We learned invaluable lessons in the fights for fossil fuel divestment and against the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines," said Marienau.
"Now, with fossil fuel companies perpetuating climate chaos from the nation's highest office, we're wielding those learnings to make sure the fight to stop fossil fuel projects is a top issue for anyone currently in or considering, elected office."
This level of building local power is well-underway across the country. The Indigenous-led fights against the risky Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines brought together unprecedented coalitions of groups fighting for justice at every level. In Nevada, the Moapa Band of Paiutes—subjected to half a century of toxic coal waste—launched a solar power project while organizing to shutter a nearby coal station. Led by local group 350PDX, Portland, Oregon unanimously passed a resolution banning any new fossil fuel infrastructure from passing through the region. Just days after the Climate March, Atlanta, Georgia became the largest in the U.S. South to commit to transitioning to 100 percent clean energy, heeding the community's calls for bold solutions. In New York, the broad Divest NY coalition is building power across the state in escalating the call for the city and state comptrollers to cut ties with fossil fuels and reinvest in New Yorkers.
Days ahead of the historic Peoples Climate mobilization, Senators Jeff Merkley and Bernie Sanders introduced the "100 by '50 Act," a piece of legislation that calls for 100 percent clean energy by 2050. While recognizing the legislation likely won't move under the Trump administration, the Senators and their supporters view this as a "roadmap for America."
"If this type of visionary legislation can be introduced at the federal level under the Trump administration, there's no excuse left for officials at the city and state level," said Jason Kowalski, 350.org U.S. policy director.
"At the Peoples Climate March, we put forward this vision nationally. Now we'll hold every elected official accountable—no one is off the hook."
By working at the local and regional level, communities will organize for powerful and lasting change, forcing elected officials to choose a side: that of Trump and his fossil fuel billionaire cabinet or that of the people fighting for a stable climate and an economy that works for everyone.
"The majority of people in the U.S. support replacing fossil fuels with a clean energy economy, so we're going to make this an issue in every community across the country," said Marienau. "With intensifying storms and droughts, we'll work to make sure those most responsible pay for these impacts. Only with bold demands will we secure the just transition toward a 100 percent clean energy economy that works for all of us."
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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