On Sept. 21 at the United Nations in New York City, there will be a massive People’s Climate March to coincide with a summit of world leaders called by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Moon called this summit because thus far the negotiations set up by the UN to finalize a climate change agreement have floundered.
Called by 350.org, the online environmental activist website founded by Bill McKibben, the demonstration promises to be massive. As more and more people become convinced that climate change is real, is caused by human activity, and must be addressed by public policy, they are looking for actions to impact the public debate.
As Al Gore says in his recent Rolling Stone essay, “I believe there is a realistic hope that momentum toward a global agreement will continue to build in September and carry through to the Paris negotiations in late 2015.” Since action is necessary on local, national, and global stages, a large turnout for this demonstration can impact the struggle everywhere.
There is an unholy coalition between climate change deniers and corporate interests who benefit from maintaining business as usual.
On the environmental front, there is a confusing and contradictory mix of bad news along with progress to celebrate.
First, some of the bad news. May 2014 was the hottest May ever recorded. Greenhouse gas emissions are still increasing. A new study predicts that large swaths of the U.S. will, by the end of this century, be so hot and humid that many people will suffer from heat stroke from as little as one hour in the sun. One hundred percent of California is in the middle of a drought emergency. And Republicans are taking aim at EPA funding and another government shutdown over new EPA rules on existing coal-fired plants. A documentary filmmaker reports that 95 percent of Alaska’s glaciers are melting at “an unnatural and unprecedented pace.” In Antarctica, the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is now “irreversible.”
Internationally, along with progress in renewables in many countries such as Germany, other countries are taking steps in the wrong direction, particularly Canada and Australia, where right-wing governments are backing away from previous commitments, even as temperatures in Canada are increasing faster than the global average and Australia continues to face devastating and long-term drought. Globally, greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, accumulating in the atmosphere so that humanity will be forced to deal with global warming for decades if not hundreds of years to come, even if we make a significant turn right now to curb emissions.
On a related environmental issue, EPA scientists are calling for more stringent rules on smog which has been shown to be more risky to human health than previously thought.
The exception to the increasing awareness of the reality of climate change seems to be the House Republican caucus, ironically especially in their leadership of the Science Committee in the House.
Second, some good news. In addition to the EPA regulations on existing and projected power plants, the Obama administration is taking other steps on climate change. Obama is using his bully pulpit to shame the deniers. His administration is working to address ocean acidification. Mayors are taking action to prepare cities for the impacts of climate change. As Gore notes, the market price and efficiency of solar energy is improving rapidly, such that the gloomy predictions from a few years ago about how long it would take until solar and wind were actually price competitive with coal-generated electricity are now way out of date. If we eliminate the subsidies, both overt and covert, of traditional energy production, the transition to renewables will happen more quickly. The Supreme Court recently decided, in a 7-2 decision, to uphold most of the authority of the EPA to regulate carbon pollution.
Cities are contemplating and taking independent action. Many prominent business people are waking up to the financial difficulties already caused by climate change. As Al Gore notes in the previously cited Rolling Stone article, the costs for solar and wind power are coming down as the efficiency is going up, making renewable energy more competitive with coal-based power.
Scientists are getting more aggressive about challenging climate change denialists. They understand that it is not just a lack of knowledge causing U.S. Congressional inaction but even more the purposeful and intentional misunderstanding being promoted as a legitimate part of the public debate.
The best news is that the struggles to address climate change and other environmental hazards are gaining strength.
– The movement to divest from fossil fuel companies is gaining speed, with Union Theological Seminary and the University of Dayton recently deciding to divest, and high-visibility struggles have taken place though not victorious yet, such as one at Harvard. This is a worldwide campaign, and victories in other countries are also being won.
– The fight against the Keystone XL pipeline continues to grow. The Cowboy and Indian Alliance, which sponsored inspiring demonstrations in Washington DC in May. This alliance between farmers, ranchers, Native American tribes, and environmentalists is beginning to transform politics in unexpected places like Nebraska and Wyoming, as well as on the national stage.
– The Blue Green Alliance, started by the Steelworkers and the Sierra Club, now totals ten unions and four major environmental organizations.
– There is a proposed public works program to employ low-income youth doing home weatherization. This would put people to work, would weatherize buildings so that less carbon dioxide would be emitted from the energy used to heat and cool them, they would require less energy in the first place, and would save consumers money.
– The Idle No More movement, initiated by Canadian First Nations activists, is part of a worldwide surge of indigenous peoples working to address many issues including environmental ones.
And most encouraging of all, the Sept. 21st NYC demonstration. Previous demonstrations sponsored by 350.org in Washington DC, mainly opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, have drawn up to 40,000. This September demonstration promises to be the largest climate change event in the U.S. There will be companion demonstrations around the U.S. in many cities, and as well companion demonstrations around the world.
Photo: May 2014 was the hottest May ever recorded in history. It is merely one example of how climate change is altering the world. AP