What Does Our Nation's Standing Rock Moment Look Like?
By Mark Trahant
It's easy for me to dismiss 2016 as a horrible year.
There have been eight years of relative progress on issues I care about, from the climate to equality. The election reversed that. Big Oil is now in charge of the environment, a senator with a history of hate is now in charge of the Justice Department, and the new government seems to be of the billionaires, for the billionaires, and by the billionaires.
The Latin phrase for horrible year rings hollow when you think about the events of this year and the Lakota phrase mni wiconi. Water is life. Make no mistake: Year 2016 is an inspirational and historic moment. Standing Rock is no longer just a geographic location but words that call each of us to do more. Standing Rock is a reminder that people standing together can do amazing things when facing injustice.
Think about the ways we have been seduced by our own progress. In September, for example, President Barack Obama praised the Paris agreement on climate change and called it "the single best chance that we have to deal with a problem that could end up transforming this planet in a way that makes it very difficult for us to deal with all the other challenges that we may face." Lofty words. Yet the actual government actions to implement those words have been, at best, limited. Baby steps. Imagine a framework that starts with the promise of Paris and then builds decisions based on that. In that scenario there would have been no debate about the Dakota Access Pipeline because we wouldn't need it.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr: 'I'll see you at #StandingRock' https://t.co/YOs1gMR9b4 via @EcoWatch #climate #NoDAPL… https://t.co/2dZMUN2nfx— climatehawk1 (@climatehawk1)1480552261.0
But at least for the next four years, the government will be the adversary. The entire apparatus of state will look more like the Morton County Sheriff's office than our ally. We will all face water cannons rather than comforting language. But we can be clear about the challenges ahead knowing that the government is absolutely wrong about the very nature of the problem.
So what does our nation's Standing Rock moment look like?
In some ways it's already unfolding. The BP Statistical Review, an energy industry outlook, reports that carbon emissions in 2015 already showed "the lowest growth in emissions in nearly a quarter of a century, other than in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis." Similar data show we are driving fewer miles and there is steady growth in renewable energy sources. And there's this tell: The amount of capital that's being invested in clean energy development, $328 billion, is the most ever.
Federal processes will delay the Dakota Access Pipeline beyond its promised January 2017 operational target date, and litigation with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe could delay the project for many more months. And every day, every week, and every month of delay makes the Dakota Access Pipeline less compelling from a financial point of view.
Oil production in the Bakken region was down in 2016 by some 13,000 barrels a day. The oil industry hopes that the new Trump administration will change that and flip the switch that brings back consumption. In fact, oil companies, as well as the state of North Dakota, cling to the idea that oil production will magically double to around 2 million barrels a day. And that idea is bolstered by upticks in oil prices, new well production, and more drilling.
Trump's Pick for Energy Secretary Sits on Board of Dakota Access Pipeline Company https://t.co/KBfYj4c7Tu @dhlovelife @dirtyoilsands— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1481681407.0
But the opposite is possible. We can continue to shrink our oil appetites. We can set Standing Rock as the framework for consumption. This is one way to challenge the oil uber alles mentality of the Trump administration. We walk. We adjust the temperature in our houses. We measure our own carbon consumption with the goal of reducing it by 20 percent or more.
Standing Rock captured our imagination. And while it was only one battle, the tribe and its allies showed the world how to defeat powerful forces. Now the larger test is making further oil production irrelevant.
Mni wiconi. And in 2017, that means we pick up the fight in new ways.
Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a journalism professor at the University of North Dakota. He's a member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes. His most recent project is TrahantReports.com. He is a contributing editor at YES! Follow him on Twitter at @TrahantReports. Reposted with permission from your media associate Yes! Magazine.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
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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