It's a big week for me. Monday was the official publication date of Climate of Hope, my new book co-authored with former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
The book's premise is that climate solutions now constitute an enormous short term opportunity—healthier communities, greater prosperity, enhanced security—for both the U.S. and the world community. The key to seizing that opportunity is to understand that the climate crisis is a symptom of multiple market failures and political follies, not a single free-standing "problem;" that leadership in implementing solutions is already emerging not so much from national governments as from cities, businesses and citizen activists; and that this bottom up leadership is the key to continuing to accelerate the pace of progress and the prospects for avoiding catastrophic risks to the climate.
Climate of Hope is now out there being reviewed—not always favorably—so I thought I'd use this blog to give my perspective on why Mike and I believe this approach does, in fact, offer a solid pathway out of the climate crisis.
The main criticism thus far—and I expect this to continue—is that we are wrongly arguing that national governments don't matter, and that cities and businesses alone can correct our climate follies. We don't, make that argument, and they can't do it alone. A number of our key approaches clearly require national action—like redirecting agricultural subsidies away from encouraging overproduction of cotton and corn towards supporting regenerative agriculture which can suck carbon out of the atmosphere, where it is a climate threat, and into the soil, where it becomes a fertility and water storage enhancing asset.
But others, like modernizing building codes to ensure that any house built after 2020 is hyper-efficient, powered by its own renewable generation, so its owners don't have to pay a utility bill and don't pollute the atmosphere when they turn on the lights, are intrinsically the business of local (and state) governments.
And in the U.S. political context some that sound national—like encouraging the rapid replacement of internal combustion cars with electric drive—may actually emerge from a combination of city and state action. Led by Los Angeles, a coalition of 30 U.S. cities recently announced they would jointly bid out purchase orders for up to 114,000 electric drive vehicles at a cost of $10 billion, while California and 12 partner states made clear they would move forward with their zero emission vehicle mandate. So the cities are providing electric-drive vehicles with the scale needed to bring down prices and improve performance, while the states are guaranteeing that the market for these vehicles will continue to grow far beyond what city fleets alone could guarantee.
Similarly, the center piece of the Trump administration assault on President Obama's climate legacy, the suspension of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), assumes that the future of America's electric sector depends on a top-down national mandate, because utilities will otherwise cling to their existing fossil fuel dependent facilities. But while the CPP envisaged cutting utility emissions by only 30 percent by 2025, citizen action and market forces had already slashed power plant carbon pollution by 25 percent at the end of 2016, and we are on track to cut these emissions by almost 50 percent, not 30 percent, by 2025, through market forces and public pressure.
On the other hand, cleaning up methane emissions from oil and gas drilling on public lands, another Obama rule Trump would like to quash, can't be replaced by state and local initiatives—the federal government ultimately must become part of the solution. But just as during the Progressive era at the start of the 20th century it was cities and states and forged the new policy instruments that eventually became the New Deal, rather than waiting for Washington, just so Mike Bloomberg and I believe that political leadership on climate in the United States, and elsewhere, will come from below, not from national elites which remain in thrall to the fossil lobby and other entrenched interests. (Remember those crop subsidies? Shifting them to protect the climate would be good for farmers, but bad for pesticide and fertilizer interests.)
The essential message of Climate of Hope, however, is that every one of the separate market and political failures that threaten the climate has its own unique source and solution—each requiring a different approach and reform, all making us better off. CFC's, for example, cooling and refrigeration chemicals were deployed to replaced ozone depleting predecessors with inadequate testing. Because of their extraordinary ability to prevent solar radiation from bouncing back into space, they loomed as a huge future climate risk. But just as an international treaty—the Montreal Protocol—got rid of the risk of ozone depleting chemicals—the ozone layer is now healing—an amendment to that same treaty is now going to replace HFCs with climate safe alternatives.
Carbon emissions from deforestation mostly stem from illegal logging—so ending corruption and cracking down on the trade in contraband timber are key climate solutions. Methane emissions from rice paddies require better irrigation and cropping practices in rural areas, while methane from urban trash can be prevented by cities deciding to compost garbage instead of dumping it in landfills. Nitrous oxide emissions are soaring because nations subsidize over-fertilization instead of helping farmers figure out how much fertilizer their crops can really utilize. Black carbon from diesels will end as soon as we require all the world's fuels to be refined to eliminate sulfur contamination, something cities and ports are initiating. But black carbon from biomass cooking in developing countries demands giving poor families access to clean cooking fuels—either ethanol from crop wastes or LPG gas currently being wasted and flared.
That diversity of solutions requires a diversity of leaders—yes, presidents, prime ministers and diplomats, but also mayors, CEO's, school board members, architects, procurement officers, rural co-op directors, governors, municipal utility executives, hedge fund managers, college trustees and rear admirals. And properly chosen climate solutions will make each of those jobs easier, and enable those who hold them to deliver better results.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
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