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Is the Climate Movement at a Tipping Point?

Climate

Is the climate movement at a political tipping point? Could right now, 2015, be that moment in history, be something akin to the 1964-1965 period for the civil rights movement? Those were the years that two major pieces of legislation, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, ended legal segregation in the South and opened the way for a whole series of positive social, cultural and political changes in the U.S. in the years since.

2015 might be a turning point year, but it definitely won’t be if we don’t rise to the occasion. History and our grandchildren are calling on us to do so right now. Photo credit: Shutterstock

If looked at in that light, the answer is almost certainly “no.” Given the dominance of the Senate and the House by climate denier Republicans, it is extremely unrealistic to expect major national climate legislation until 2017 at the earliest.

However, there are other things at work, three in particular:

  • The roughly 50 percent drop in the price of oil on world markets, which negatively affects both oil and gas production and profits and, therefore, the willingness of banks and money people to invest in the oil and gas industry; the serious overproduction/debt/lack of needed infrastructure/decline in supply/decline in prices worldwide crises for the shale gas (fracking) drilling companies; and the deepening difficulties of the coal industry caused mainly by competition from renewables and gas, low prices, and tightening federal regulations directed primarily at them.
  • The dramatic rise in renewables, particularly wind and solar, both in the U.S. and worldwide. Deborah Rogers Lawrence, writing on Jan. 3 on the EnergyPolicyForum website, quotes from a recent report issued by Bloomberg New Energy Finance: "By 2030, the world’s power mix will have transformed: from today’s system with two-thirds fossil fuels to one with over half from zero-emission energy sources. Renewables will command over 60% of the 5,579GW of new capacity and 65% of the $7.7 trillion of power investment.’ And that is without much shift in current policy to incentivize renewable production. If countries were to get serious about climate change, these figures could presumably be accelerated.”

In addition, 2015 is the year that the Pope is going to put forward a major encyclical and convene a meeting of religious leaders with the immediate objective of bringing pressure to bear on the December United Nations Climate Conference in Paris. That conference is on track to come up with some kind of a climate agreement, the big question being whether it’s more-of-the-same that we’ve seen for years and years or a badly-needed change of direction. Without question, the already-happening focus on this conference by the broad mix of people worldwide supporting strong action on climate, including the Pope, will undoubtedly have a big political impact, maybe even with the world’s governments.

What about that climate-denier-run Congress? Will they be able to fundamentally alter these powerful economic and political developments?

Without question, they will try. Indeed, they already are with their effort to ram through the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline despite Obama’s announcement that he will veto that legislation. They intend to try to reduce the Environmental Protection Agency budget to hamstring its already-far-from-consistent efforts to do its job and, in particular, to try to slow or stop its plans to enact regulations for the electrical power generation industry. I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried very hard to come up with a package of financial gifts to our “poor and struggling” oil, gas and coal companies in their time of need.

Without question, the climate movement will need to rise to the challenge of these regressive efforts, as it is already doing on the Keystone XL front.

But we need to be doing much more than this. We have some wind at our back, and we need to escalate our tactics.

It would be a very big mistake for the grassroots-based climate movement to get too caught up in the ins-and-outs of Capitol Hill battles. Indeed, the biggest contribution we can make to those defensive tactics is to do build up the political will of the American people for action on climate.

How can we best do this? In my view, learning from the civil rights movement and many other successful social movements down through history, we can best do so by escalating strategic, well-thought-through, nonviolent direct action and other visible, demonstrative actions in the streets, as massive and coordinated as we can make them.

2015 might be a turning point year, but it definitely won’t be if we don’t rise to the occasion. History and our grandchildren are calling on us to do so right now.

Ted Glick is the national campaign coordinator of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Follow Ted on Twitter.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."