CLEVELAND – Warning that the climate crisis is “the single most important issue confronting civilization,” environmental activist David Beach detailed the scope of the problem, the immediate actions that must be taken and said that building a mass movement with the scope of the one that ended slavery was needed to address the danger.
Speaking at a forum sponsored by the West Shore Faith Communities Together for Frack Awareness Oct. 9, Beach, director of Green City Blue Lake, based in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History said that greenhouse gases have now reached levels not seen on earth since 3 million years ago when polar ice caps did not exist and sea levels were 60-80 feet higher. Fortunately, so far, most of the added heat has been absorbed by the oceans, but if the situation persists and sea levels rise, coastal areas, where most of the world’s population lives, and including Florida, Manhattan and most of South east Asia, will be under water.
There are already clear signs that the Antarctic ice sheets have been destabilized and Arctic ice is melting, he said.
Beach stated that the regular reports of the world’s climate scientists published by the United Nations say the evidence for rising temperatures is “unequivocal” and call for limiting the increase to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, but, according to the World Bank, the world is already on course to an increase of twice that much. Many scientists are now urging that a far lower limit must be set to avert disasters including intolerable heat waves, intense storms, disruption of agriculture, extreme algae blooms, severe air pollution, widespread respiratory disease and extinction of sea life.
Scientists also worry that a “tipping point” could be reached if the permafrost in Siberia and other areas melts and massive amounts of methane are released into the air causing an additional surge in global warming.
U.S. Dense Secretary Chuck Hagel has warned that droughts and food shortages caused by the crisis could lead to worldwide unrest and threaten national security.
The United States and the developed capitalist countries are responsible for most of the accumulated load of greenhouse gases – in fact five major oil companies account for one eighth of all the carbon pollution – but China, with a rapidly growing but much less efficient economy, has now surpassed the U.S. in total annual carbon emissions. On the other hand, China has taken the lead in the world in producing solar panels and other clean energy systems, but continues to build coal-fired power plants in its drive to build a modern economy and raise national living standards.
Beach said the immediate steps needed to address the crisis include enforcing a “carbon tax” on all polluters and a worldwide effort to keep the remaining unmined 3 trillion tons of fossil fuels in the ground. He also called for ending the massive tax subsidies given to oil companies and the “military subsidies” allotted for defending Middle East oilfields.
The fossil fuel industry, which is anxious to exploit the fossil fuel reserves, has mounted “a huge disinformation campaign,” Beach said, aimed at creating confusion about the crisis and spreading the idea that the issue is a matter of scientific “debate” beyond the ability of ordinary citizens to understand. “This is the same tactic used by the tobacco industry, which for years hid the information they had that smoking caused lung cancer,” he said.
Some fossil fuel companies including Exxon, which has begun promoting sustainable alternative energy ideas, have shown signs of admitting there is a problem, he said.
But, he said what is needed more than anything else is a massive moral movement, comparable to that which led to ending slavery, to overcome the partisanship around the issue in the United States, the temptation of affluent nations to push the costs onto poorer, weaker developing nations and the temptation of the present generation to pass the problem onto future generations.
“There is no time to waste, he said. “We must act now.”
Photo: David Beach. Environmental Justice Section of the Ecological Society of America.