By Rex Weyler
The world's youth have finally seen and heard enough from the deplorable political process, from compromised delegates, corrupted political appointees, and criminal corporations who sabotage these critical international discussions.
The truth of our ecological crisis is not difficult to see. Fragile ecosystems are unraveling all around us. We have been warned by scientists for two centuries: by the 1972 "Limits to Growth" study, William Catton's 1980 book Overshoot, by reliable scientists, and by millions of ecology activists. We were warned by the 2009 Nature article, "Planetary Boundaries" showing that humanity has breached seven critical tipping points; and by the 2012, Nature article, "Approaching a State Shift in Earth's Biosphere," by 22 international scientists warning of an "irreversible" planetary-scale transition, "unknown in human experience."
And yet, politicians and delegates travel around the world, stay in luxury hotels and dither about our children's future, as carbon emissions rise, species blink from existence, rivers run dry and ancient forests burn. It is no wonder, and a welcome sight, that the world's youth have seen enough and are not impressed.
Thirty Years of Pep Talks
On Dec. 12 2018, at the COP 24 UN climate conference in Katowice, Poland, Swedish student Greta Thunberg finally said what the politicized delegates have failed to say. Thunberg is a direct descendant of Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius, who predicted global heating from carbon emissions in 1896.
During this year's heat wave and wildfires in Sweden, Thunberg gained world attention by staging a school strike outside the Swedish Riksdag, holding a sign that read, "Skolstrejk för klimatet" (school strike for climate). She demanded that the Swedish government reduce carbon emissions. Her actions inspired student strikes in over 270 cities around the world.
Greta Thunberg full speech at UN Climate Change COP24 Conference youtu.be
Speaking on behalf of Climate Justice Now, Thunberg chastised the delegates and member nations for failing to take action appropriate to the climate crisis: "Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We can't solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground."
Thunberg pointed out that "if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself," and she spoke directly to the errors and injustice of our economic system. "Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few."
She exposed the errors of convenient but false solutions that have displaced the genuine solutions to climate change and ecological collapse. "You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular," she said. "You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake."
"We've had thirty years of pep-talking and selling positive ideas," she said in Stockholm prior to departing for Poland, "And I'm sorry, but it doesn't work. Because if it would have, the emissions would have gone down by now—they haven't."
Meanwhile, outside the conference, 330 organizations from 129 countries presented six "People's Demands for Climate Justice," beginning with "Keep fossil fuels in the ground and end subsidies to fossil fuel industry."
The youth leaders urged nations to "reject false solutions"—techno-fixes and offsetting schemes—in favor of "real solutions that are just, feasible, and essential." They particularly called out corporations and rich nations, who use the excuse of carbon sinks to seize indigenous land.
They called on the rich nations, whose historical carbon emissions have caused the climate crisis, to accept their fair share of climate reparation costs by honoring their Green Climate Fund obligations.
Finally, the coalition demanded that UN conferences end "corporate interference" and sabotage of the climate talks. Extraction corporations "have been getting massively wealthy," said Sriram Madhusoodanan from Corporate Accountability. "They're in these talks, blocking real solutions and advancing false solutions that will continue to propagate their business model."
Why Thunberg Is Correct
Thunberg is correct about years, decades, of pep-talks and positive ideas that have failed to reduce carbon emissions. Scientists have known about the threat of global heating since Thunberg's ancestor, Arrhenius calculated the impact in the nineteenth century. The modern world has been meeting about the crisis for almost forty years, since the first World Climate Conference in Geneva in 1979. Since then, human carbon emissions have doubled from about 5 gigatonnes of carbon per year (GtC/yr) to 2018's record-breaking 10.88 GtC/yr. Meanwhile, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has grown by 22 percent, from 337 parts per million (ppm) in 1979 to over 412 ppm today. These results represent an enormous failure on the part of world governments.
Laser Projection on the COP24 Venue in Poland
She is also correct about the unfulfilled promise of "green growth," a notion made popular in 2012, at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, by the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, both dedicated to industrial growth.
However, recent studies show that "green" or "sustainable" growth are delusions. In 2018, anthropologist Jason Hickel reviewed recent data and wrote in Foreign Policy that "green growth ... is based more on wishful thinking than on evidence." A 2012 study by German resource economist Monika Dittrich and colleagues showed that even under optimum conditions, decoupling economic growth from resource use has not occurred. The United Nations Environment Programme came to similar conclusions in 2016 and 2017 studies. They predicted that by 2050, with continued growth, resource use would double to 180 billion metric tons per year (Gt/y). Ecological footprint data shows that a sustainable level of resource use is about 50 Gt/y, a limit breached in 2000.
Studies have consistently and rigidly linked economic growth to energy. In a 2012 paper, "No way out? The double-bind in seeking global prosperity alongside mitigated climate change," T. J. Garrett, at the University of Utah, performed the calculations and determined that every single dollar (U.S. dollar, 1990) of global economic growth in recent decades required approximately 9.7 milliwatts of energy. "Global CO2 emission rates," wrote Garrett, "cannot be decoupled from wealth through efficiency gains."
Wealthy nations, such as the UK and U.S., have claimed to "decouple" energy use from GDP, but only because they have exported energy-intensive industries and now import finished goods—cars, computers, trinkets—which represent massive embedded energy.
Based on recent data, Thunberg is entirely correct that "green growth" is a delusion.
Pull the Break
Finally, Thunberg is correct that the only paths out of our predicament require that we "change the system itself." Global heating, biodiversity loss, environmental toxins, nutrient cycle disruption and all other ecological challenges arise as symptoms of a single, larger biophysical reality. Humanity is in a state of ecological overshoot. There is no way to grow out of overshoot. All genuine solutions to overshoot require that the species contract, not grow. As Thunberg says, it is time to face these facts, to slow down, and to "pull the emergency brake" on economic growth.
This is the reality that the climate conference delegates are too scared to voice. Our status quo economic system—industrial capitalism—requires growth to survive. Without endless economic growth, the $250 trillion global debt to bankers and investors cannot be paid. As Thunberg says, "Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people .. can live in luxury." The biosphere is being sacrificed so bankers can receive their interest payments, to keep stock prices up and to avoid facing reality.
The current system is biased for the rich to get richer, as multitudes suffer, as the ecosystem collapses, and as other species disappear. Economist Jeremy Grantham concurs in "The Race for our Lives," when he states that "capitalism and mainstream economics simply cannot deal with these problems." Corporate sabotage of the climate talks is not new. In the 1920s and 30s, Standard Oil, General Motors and Firestone Tires acquired and sabotaged public transportation throughout North America for the purpose of replacing efficient public transport with gas-guzzling cars. Today in Nigeria, Ecuador, Canada, in the Arctic, around the world and at these UN conferences, oil companies are still sabotaging the public interest for profits.
It gives us some measure of hope that young leaders appear to be among the few who have the courage and insight to speak the truth. Greta Thunberg closed her short talk by announcing, "We have not come here to beg world leaders to care … We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not."
Her speech stands as one of the most hopeful moments for ecological realism in recent years.
'We Need to Act Now': 15-Year-Old Greta Thunberg Calls for Global Climate Strike https://t.co/Gv5guD43D3— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1544985789.0
Rex Weyler was a director of the original Greenpeace Foundation, the editor of the organization's first newsletter, and a co-founder of Greenpeace International in 1979.
By Michael Svoboda, Ph.D.
Despite a journey to this moment even more treacherous than expected, Americans now have a fresh opportunity to act, decisively, on climate change.
The authors of the many new books released in just the past few months (or scheduled to be published soon) seem to have anticipated this pivotal moment.
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By Katy Neusteter
The Biden-Harris transition team identified COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change as its top priorities. Rivers are the through-line linking all of them. The fact is, healthy rivers can no longer be separated into the "nice-to-have" column of environmental progress. Rivers and streams provide more than 60 percent of our drinking water — and a clear path toward public health, a strong economy, a more just society and greater resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis.
Public Health<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyNDY3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDkxMTkwNn0.pyP14Bg1WvcUvF_xUGgYVu8PS7Lu49Huzc3PXGvATi4/img.jpg?width=980" id="8e577" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1efb3445f5c445e47d5937a72343c012" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="3000" data-height="2302" />
Wild and Scenic Merced River, California. Bob Wick / BLM<p>Let's begin with COVID-19. More than <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">16 million Americans</a> have contracted the coronavirus and, tragically,<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank"> more than</a> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">300,000 have died</a> due to the pandemic. While health officials encourage hand-washing to contain the pandemic, at least <a href="https://closethewatergap.org/" target="_blank">2 million Americans</a> are currently living without running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater treatment. Meanwhile, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank">aging water infrastructure is growing increasingly costly for utilities to maintain</a>. That cost is passed along to consumers. The upshot? <a href="https://research.msu.edu/affordable-water-in-us-reaching-a-crisis/" target="_blank">More than 13 million</a> U.S. households regularly face unaffordable water bills — and, thus, the threat of water shutoffs. Without basic access to clean water, families and entire communities are at a higher risk of <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2020/08/05/488705/bridging-water-access-gap-covid-19-relief/" target="_blank">contracting</a> and spreading COVID-19.</p><p>We have a moral duty to ensure that everyone has access to clean water to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Last spring, <a href="https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/coronavirus-stimulus-bill-explained-bailouts-unemployment-benefits.html" target="_blank">Congress appropriated more than $4 trillion</a> to jumpstart the economy and bring millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Additional federal assistance — desperately needed — will present a historic opportunity to improve our crumbling infrastructure, which has been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grossly underfunded for decades</a>.</p><p>A report by my organization, American Rivers, suggests that <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Congress must invest at least $50 billion</a> "to address the urgent water infrastructure needs associated with COVID-19," including the rising cost of water. This initial boost would allow for the replacement and maintenance of sewers, stormwater infrastructure and water supply facilities.</p>
Economic Recovery<p>Investing in water infrastructure and healthy rivers also creates jobs. Consider, for example, that <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y9p6sgnk" target="_blank">every $1 million spent on water infrastructure in the United States generates more than 15 jobs</a> throughout the economy, according to a report by the Value of Water Campaign. Similarly, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yyvd2ksp" target="_blank">every "$1 million invested in forest and watershed restoration contracting will generate between 15.7 and 23.8 jobs,</a> depending on the work type," states a working paper released by the Ecosystem Workforce Program, University of Oregon. Healthy rivers also spur tourism and recreation, which many communities rely on for their livelihoods. According to the findings by the Outdoor Industry Association, which have been shared in our report, "Americans participating in watersports and fishing spend over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">$174 billion</a> on gear and trip related expenses. And, the outdoor watersports and fishing economy supports over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">1.5 million jobs nationwide</a>."</p><p>After the 2008 financial crisis, Congress invested in infrastructure to put Americans back to work. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/25941-clean-water-green-infrastructure-get-major-boost" target="_blank">of 2009 (ARRA) allocated $6 billion</a> for clean water and drinking water infrastructure to decrease unemployment and boost the economy. More specifically, <a href="https://www.conservationnw.org/news-updates/us-reps-push-for-millions-of-restoration-and-resilience-jobs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an analysis of ARRA</a> "showed conservation investments generated 15 to 33 jobs per million dollars," and more than doubled the rate of return, according to a letter written in May 2020 by 79 members of Congress, seeking greater funding for restoration and resilience jobs.</p><p>Today, when considering how to create work for the <a href="https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10.7 million</a> people who are currently unemployed, Congress should review previous stimulus investments and build on their successes by embracing major investments in water infrastructure and watershed restoration.</p>
Racial Justice<p>American Rivers also recommends that Congress dedicate <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$500 billion for rivers and clean water over the next 10 years</a> — not just for the benefit of our environment and economy, but also to begin to address the United States' history of deeply entrenched racial injustice.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.epa.gov/npdes/sanitary-sewer-overflows-ssos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">23,000-75,000 sewer overflows</a> that occur each year release up to <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/2020/05/fighting-for-rivers-means-fighting-for-justice/#:~:text=There%20are%20also%2023%2C000%20to%2075%2C000%20sanitary%20sewer,to%20do%20with%20the%20mission%20of%20American%20Rivers." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10 billion gallons of toxic sewage</a> <em>every day</em> into rivers and streams. This disproportionately impacts communities of color, because, for generations, Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color have been <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flooding-disproportionately-harms-black-neighborhoods/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">relegated</a> to live in flood-prone areas and in neighborhoods that have been intentionally burdened with a lack of development that degrades people's health and quality of life. In some communities of color, incessant flooding due to stormwater surges or <a href="https://www.ajc.com/opinion/opinion-partnering-to-better-manage-our-water/7WQ6SEAQP5E4LGQCEYY5DO334Y/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">combined sewer overflows</a> has gone unmitigated for decades.</p><p>We have historically treated people as separate from rivers and water. We can't do that anymore. Every voice — particularly those of people most directly impacted — must have a loudspeaker and be included in decision-making at the highest levels.</p><p>Accordingly, the new administration must diligently invest in projects at the community level that will improve lives in our country's most marginalized communities. We also must go further to ensure that local leaders have a seat at the decision-making table. To this end, the Biden-Harris administration should restore <a href="https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401#:~:text=Section%20401%20Certification%20The%20Clean%20Water%20Act%20%28CWA%29,the%20United%20States.%20Learn%20more%20about%20401%20certification." target="_blank">Section 401 of the Clean Water Act</a>, which was undermined by the <a href="https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/tribes-and-environmental-groups-sue-trump-administration-to-preserve-clean-water-protections#:~:text=Under%20Section%20401%20of%20the%20Clean%20Water%20Act%2C,seeks%20to%20undermine%20that%20authority%20in%20several%20ways%3A" target="_blank">Trump administration's 2020 regulatory changes</a>. This provision gives states and tribes the authority to decide whether major development projects, such as hydropower and oil and gas projects, move forward.</p>
Climate Resilience<p>Of course, the menacing shadow looming over it all? Climate change. <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">More than 100 climate-related catastrophes</a> have pummeled the Earth since the pandemic was declared last spring, including the blitzkrieg of megafires, superstorms and heat waves witnessed during the summer of 2020, directly impacting the lives of more than <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">50 million people globally</a>.</p><p>Water and climate scientist Brad Udall often says, "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQhpj5G0dME" target="_blank">Climate change is water change</a>." In other words, the most obvious and dire impacts of climate change are evidenced in profound changes to our rivers and water resources. You've likely seen it where you live: Floods are more damaging and frequent. Droughts are deeper and longer. Uncertainty is destabilizing industry and lives.</p><p>By galvanizing action for healthy rivers and managing our water resources more effectively, we can insure future generations against the consequences of climate change. First, we must safeguard rivers that are still healthy and free-flowing. Second, we must protect land and property against the ravages of flooding. And finally, we must promote policies and practical solutions that take the science of climate disruption into account when planning for increased flooding, water shortage and habitat disruption.</p><p>Imagine all that rivers do for us. Most of our towns and cities have a river running through them or flowing nearby. Rivers provide clean drinking water, irrigate crops that provide our food, power our homes and businesses, provide wildlife habitat, and are the lifeblood of the places where we enjoy and explore nature, and where we play and nourish our spirits. Healthy watersheds help <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059952" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mitigate</a> climate change, absorbing and reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Healthy rivers and floodplains help communities adapt and build resilience in the face of climate change by improving flood protection and providing water supply and quality benefits. Rivers are the cornerstones of healthy, strong communities.</p><p>The more than <a href="https://archive.epa.gov/water/archive/web/html/index-17.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">3 million miles</a> of rivers and streams running across our country are a source of great strength and opportunity. When we invest in healthy rivers and clean water, we can improve our lives. When we invest in rivers, we create jobs and strengthen our economy. When we invest in rivers, we invest in our shared future.</p>
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