Carlos Rymer

Sustainability, Life, and More…

Archive for the category “Climate Change”

Just Lead on Climate Change and They Will Follow

It is 2012, and international negotiations on climate change are still at an impasse largely because the world’s two largest economies and emitters (the United States and China) are demanding greater commitment from each other. Domestically, the United States is deeply gridlocked in politics over other issues to the point where climate change is no longer a priority to Congress. Meanwhile, China is moving ahead in securing dominance in the clean energy market. Previously, I argued that if the 2012 U.S. elections aren’t positive in terms of getting enough elected officials who understand the gravity of the issue, we may as well just turn to handing over the clean energy market entirely to the fossil fuel industry in its current form through specific economic incentives. Now, I want to answer the question of whether that’s truly necessary. Does the fate of the climate truly rest on the United States alone?

While it is largely believed that without the U.S. the international community cannot truly address climate change, current economic conditions point to the fact that this may not be entirely true. Yes, the U.S. is still the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, and yes China is reluctant to commit to serious greenhouse gas emission reductions without a fair commitment from the U.S. Yet everything points to the fact that regardless of climate change as an issue, clean energy, energy efficiency, sustainable transportation, and everything else that can help address climate change are engines of economic growth that cannot and are not being ignored. This is why President Barack Obama so often claims that the nation “that leads on clean energy” will “win the future.” It’s no longer about whether this needs to be done; it’s becoming an issue of who is doing it the best and the fastest.

The U.S., while still uncommitted to tough greenhouse gas reductions, is leading in investments in clean energy just as other nations like Germany and China are gearing up to claim market share. Just as recently as 2010, China led the world in clean energy investments. The U.S., thanks to the Obama administration, has also seen investments rise to the point where it surpassed China in 2011. Pressure is clearly building to prevent clean energy jobs from being created elsewhere. It’s arguable that if other nations keep pushing, the U.S. would have no choice other than to follow through on making hard commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It is this fact that gives fuel to the argument that the U.S. isn’t necessarily the decision-maker on climate change.

China, along with other countries, are arguably poised to lead the clean energy market. The challenge would be to not just lead in clean energy, but to make hard commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to send a signal to their markets and the world that they are ready to claim a large share of a market that promises jobs and energy security. If China and other countries suddenly became manufacturing centers that supplied the their own markets and the rest of the world for a host of technologies ranging from solar, wind, geothermal, and even carbon capture, political pressure would lead the U.S. to do what it isn’t doing yet to ensure it doesn’t slip through the cracks in this 21st century opportunity to “win the future.”

It is up to China and other countries to leave behind the argument that they need a strong commitment from the U.S. to begin making hard commitments. If the U.S. decides to stay on technologies of the 20th century, that only helps them in winning the future and eventually making the U.S. a market for instead of a supplier of new technologies. There is in fact a way forward without U.S. gridlock, and it is up for grabs. Some countries are already aware, but they need to move faster and more aggressively if they want to truly claim the front seat of this wave of innovation and growth.

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To Save the Climate, Give ‘Em What They Want

In 1997, the international community came together to approve the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The goal was simple: to get started on the task to slow and eventually reverse climate change as the international community continued to discuss how to make further cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Four years later, in 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush announced that the United States, then the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, would not participate in the treaty, deciding instead to encourage voluntary cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. It was that action that gave rise to the climate movement in the U.S., leading to strong reactions by businesses, colleges and universities, municipalities, and states to address global warming.

Fast forward to 2012, and things have changed quite a bit. From a technological perspective, we have made significant improvements in producing more fuel efficient vehicles, cutting the cost of solar power, making households and buildings more energy efficient, and increasing the capacity of wind, among other positive accomplishments. The international community has built an incredible movement fueled by people power, and many governments have decided to move forward on climate change on their own. Yet 2011 saw not just another record year for the global average temperature, but also another record year for greenhouse gas emissions globally. With developing countries continuing to grow fast, fossil fuels are being burned as fast as we can extract them from the Earth. We have seen what 1 degrees Celsius is already doing to the planet, from record warm weather in the Arctic to dust bowl like droughts. In spite of these realities, the international community has failed, year after year, to come up with a binding treaty that will get the job done.

Now, one source of hope is the technological revolution happening in the clean energy sector, especially in countries that have recently entered the clean energy race. Solar, for example, has seen its average cost drop by about 40% in the last few years as technologies have improved and supplies increased. Wind energy is becoming even more mature as output per turbine increases. Many countries are investing so heavily in clean energy that it is hard to argue that clean energy isn’t the future. Even the United States, under the leadership of President Barack Obama, understands that clean energy is a clear source of competitiveness that will determine “who will win the future.” Today, in spite of the global recession that dragged climate change outside of mainstream public debate, we are in a better position to do something about climate change. Yet we seem to be so far away from doing anything truly significant.

The reality is that the world will not take the necessary action to slow down and eventually reverse climate change unless the United States signs on with some significant weight. That clearly may not happen any time soon if Republicans continue to have it their way, even with Barack Obama in the White House. So time is running out, and we have to ask ourselves what else can we do to ensure that less fortunate people, countless other species, and future generations don’t pay the price that the fossil fuel industry is already incurring and will continue to incur as a result of human-induced climate change. Do we continue to wait until the right leadership is in place? Or do we think about what it is that the fossil fuel industry truly wants and is the reason why real action isn’t happening?

First, let me be clear about something I deeply believe in. I believe that most people want real action on climate change, and that over the years people have made themselves heard loud and clear. I also believe we have the capability to turn things around rather quickly, and that tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year, something big could happen that would sound a loud alarm across the globe and spur the international community to action on climate change. I still have strong hopes that we can come together and take on what is the biggest challenge facing humanity. But I have been this hopeful now for nearly a decade, and if trends tell the future, I’d rather not put the pain of the less fortunate, the diversity of species on Earth, and the opportunities of future generations on the line on hope alone. In the end, I think we have to do whatever it takes to prevent all of these things from happening.

So, do we wait or do we give ’em what they want? I think we can wait until the outcome of this year’s presidential elections in the United States, but if the outcome isn’t good, we need to think about alternatives. In my opinion, the only reason the fossil fuel industry has used it’s financial muscle to prevent action on climate change is because it wants to keep generating the large and rising sums of profit it generates today. As a clearly government-protected industry, it doesn’t want any competition. The few large businesses operating in the industry want to keep the energy market largely to themselves. So, if that’s it, could we consider as a last option to give them all the incentives necessary to transition them away from coal, natural gas, and oil and towards clean energy sources while keeping them as the majority shareholders of the energy market?

This sounds completely anti-competitive and unfair, and it is. It’s not the right thing to do at all. But at least it would ensure that we lessen the pain of the less fortunate, prevent massive extinction, and pass on a better planet to future generations. Personally, I don’t want to wait until 2020 and know that greenhouse gas emissions are still rising. At that point, it just may be too late. We can always make this first step strategically, and then focus on making sure that the energy market is truly competitive and fair. If we can do the latter now, I would be for doing so. But we haven’t been able to in the last couple of decades with everything we know we’ve done, and while still hopeful, I really think the 2012 elections will be a make or break moment on climate change. Let’s continue to work harder every day on doing what’s right, but let’s not forget that we still have an option when all else fails.

“Unworkable” Climate Treaty Not An Option

With all the news about President Obama’s deal to reduce this year’s federal budget by $38 billion and his proposal to reduce total deficits by $4 trillion over the next 12 years, it is easy to bypass the Administration’s promise to finally act boldly on climate change and help the U.S. unleash a wave of innovation in clean energy, smarter transportation, and energy efficiency. The budget deal alone signals that the U.S. will reduce its investments in clean energy, high-speed rail, and energy efficiency at a time when countries like China and Germany are moving ahead at full speed to capture a market that will be worth trillions of dollars in the next several years.

Today, the Obama Administration’s commitment became even clearer when Todd Stern, the Administration’s climate envoy to the United Nations climate negotiations, declared that a climate treaty was “unworkable.” In Stern’s own words, “it’s [not] necessary that there be [an] internationally binding emission caps as long as you’ve got national laws and regulations. What I am saying is it’s not doable.” In effect, Stern is stating the Obama Administration’s position is that to move forward on climate change, countries will have to simply do whatever they can on their own. This clearly shows the level of urgency the Obama administration has placed on climate change, basically declaring that solving climate change is a luxury rather than a real global emergency similar to nuclear proliferation.

If it were true that we could solve climate change and avoid the trillions in costs it will bring by the end of the century by simply allowing countries to draw up their own plans (by the way, this is not very different from what the Bush administration proposed in their “voluntary scheme”), then it would also be true that we did not need the New START or any other non-proliferation treaties because countries could draw up their own plans voluntarily and address the issue the best way they could (regardless of how long it would take them or how much they could do).

This approach is well-known to be a recipe for failure, and if as a society we believe that risking failure to act boldly on climate change is an acceptable result, then we are accepting endangering future generations’ livelihoods and creating conditions that will be catastrophically damaging to the global environment and economy. I agree that circumstance is causing the Obama administration to put a lot of important issues aside, but how can anybody who understands climate change agree that a President who has so frequently called for bold action now sends his climate envoy to negotiations saying that a treaty is not and will not be possible?

If Obama was really committed, he would come out and set the record straight to let the world know that a treaty is not only still possible, but that it is in fact a requirement to ensuring that we will not give future generations a planet that is so damaged that it can no longer support productive economies. What we saw today from Todd Stern is just another sign that Obama is now less willing to stand strongly for anything, much less employ his political capital to get things done. I hope the President knows what he’s doing and won’t end up being ashamed of not acting when he could years down the road.

Are We Already Practically Cooked?

These days, it feels as if the climate debate has entirely fallen off the agenda (even Obama is not allowed to say “climate” anymore). So much has the debate shifted that it feels like we’re already practically cooked, waiting for the climate to warm up to levels that will simply reorganize Earth in a way that won’t be very comforting for anybody. We have gone from the days of Texas mega wind farm Ads on TV and the constant mention of climate and energy in the presidential campaign to a time where climate change is no longer in the agenda of U.S. politics. Obviously, this has thrown people off even as a global movement to address climate change has grown to record levels.

At the same time, we have experienced early warnings of the catastrophic effects severe climate change will bring to society. From floods of biblical proportions in Pakistan, Brazil, and Australia to massive snowstorms in the U.S. and Europe to record low winter sea ice extent in January, we are coming to grips with the reality of climate change. It is becoming all too clear that climate change is already affecting us directly in many ways, from rising food prices causing social instability to massive property losses due to increasingly frequent extreme weather events.

Given these realities, can we say that we are practically cooked? An optimist will rightly say we have to keep hoping, while a pessimist would say there’s nothing we can do. Yet the reality is very different from both of these views. While it may look hopeless, the fact is that a revolution is cooking. The world is realizing that clean energy technologies are not just good because they help fight climate change, but also because they provide real market stability, jobs, and hard currency. In spite of real economic problems, both advanced and emerging nations are joining a race that is set to intensify this decade. And if you’ve heard the trade debate lately, it has a lot to do with just that.

Nations are betting that whoever is the best at developing high-end clean energy products will win precious advantage this decade. That is why emerging nations like China are throwing a lot of money at clean energy and why the Obama administration opened an investigation into the matter, why Secretary Steven Chu wants the cost of solar energy to drop 75% by the end of the decade and Vice President Biden announced over $50 billion for new and improved high-speed rail lines, and why investments by major corporate players are now focusing a lot more on innovations that will change how we move around and use energy. From surging wind and solar manufacturing in China to the big bets automakers are making on EVs and plug-in hybrids, the race is clearly on.

My personal bet is that this race is set to intensify in dramatic ways, with investments surging over the next few years and game-changing innovations driving a shift away from fossil fuels and energy waste. While the question of whether this will be enough to slow and reverse climate change remains, it is clear that we aren’t practically cooked yet. In addition to this race, we will need to find ways to actually remove carbon from the atmosphere or adapt to a significantly warmer world, and my hope is that the fruits of this global race will create enough capacity for us to figure out how to do that in a way that is beneficial and does not change global ecological stability. In five years, we will know whether in fact we won’t be cooked by a fast warming planet in the future. Stay tuned for those news.

Revista Refugios: El Green Team

Comparto una pieza en la revista Refugios en Republica Dominicana sobre la situacion critica en la cual se encuentra el medio ambiente (y por ende la sociedad) y los esfuerzos que se llevan a cabo por la sociedad civil en busqueda de un mejor futuro.

China: The New Big Hope on Climate Change

This past week, it became very clear that the United States will never get around to doing what it takes to lead on climate change. Last December, President Barack Obama went to Copenhagen promising the world the U.S. would cut its emissions 17% by 2020. That target by itself, while an important milestone, didn’t even come close to what the science says we need to do to avert catastrophic climate change. After tough health care and financial reform battles, Obama chose not to embrace a battle for climate change legislation, instead sending his own lobbyists  to work on “getting the votes” in the U.S. Senate. The bill in consideration, initially focusing on capping greenhouse gas emissions, got so watered down that it basically became an energy bill like the one passed in 2005 under the Bush administration, with no goals on cutting greenhouse gas emissions nor any renewable energy targets. All of this in a Democrat-controlled Congress that promised swift action to end our addiction to fossil fuels and spur a clean energy economy that creates hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

So, after more than 10 years of fighting and high public support for action on climate change since the days of Kyoto, the U.S. Senate has confirmed what we refused to admit. The United States will NOT lead on climate change, so we must not put our hopes on this nation. It seems that no matter what we do locally or globally, the ideology-based members of Congress will simply not agree to ensuring the U.S. economy doesn’t miss the great jobs and growth opportunity that clean-tech would bring. They will only agree to enriching the pockets of their fossil fuel friends, and ONLY with fossil fuels, as to them it seems that fossil fuel money is very different than clean energy money. As a result, it’s time to think not about nation-building through problem-solving, but about human survival through problem-solving. In other words, we have to think about how we can avert climate catastrophe at whatever cost instead of how we can do so at benefits to us (“us” being U.S. citizens). In the end, we’ll be better off averting climate catastrophe even if it’s not us who take the biggest piece of the clean-tech pie.

As it stands, the best hope we have right now to avert climate catastrophe is China. With all the press that people read about coal burning and ever-increasing consumption in China, it is the only country showing the incredible capacity we’ll need to muster to make the transition to clean energy. In only four years, China has become the world’s leader in wind and solar, beginning exactly from nothing. It took the developed world decades to get to where China has gotten in just a few years. On top of that, it takes China very little to make a decision that will strengthen their capacity to lead on clean energy, such as creating feed-in tariffs, investing twice as much on clean energy than the United States, and even creating a cap-and-trade system to price carbon directly. It can do this even while having one of the biggest supplies of coal. If what China has done in a few years is any indication of what’s to come, we MUST begin to put our hope on China as a major innovator in clean energy and, as such, the only leader that can and should be responsible for leading the world away from climate catastrophe.

To make this clear, let’s put out some numbers about how impressive China’s clean energy sector has been over the last few years. Five years ago, China wasn’t even up on the charts in the wind energy sector. In 2005, it approved major policy to drive growth of wind turbine manufacturing and wind energy installations. In 2009, it led the world in total installations of wind energy, installing a stellar 13.8GW of wind energy (compared to 9.9GW in the U.S.; China is expected to pass the U.S. in installed capacity in 2010). At the same time, it became the world’s top manufacturer of wind turbines, with 3 firms already in the global top 10. In photovoltaic (solar power or PV), it supplied nearly 40% of the world’s panels last year, making it the leader in PV manufacturing. In addition to these key technologies, it has broken it’s own goals in solar hot water, biomass, and hydro consistently. It is also building the world’s largest and most advanced high speed rail systems, and has one of the world’s most ambitious programs to manufacture electric vehicles, having its own target of becoming the world’s leader in just three years. A very long walk for such little talk.

We can’t fool ourselves. China is clearly today’s most capable nation of turning this crisis into an incredible opportunity. While the U.S. still has incredible capacity, its gridlocked politicians will never let it pick up momentum, especially now after everything indicates politics will just get worse after November 2010. In spite of the reality that there are key issues in relation to China’s jump into clean-tech (such as quality), these are gradually going away as China’s clean-tech sector matures. It is time for the world’s attention to shift away from the U.S. and onto China when it comes to climate change. Chinese authorities know they will lead, and it is why their game has been very simple: obstruct international negotiations that could lead to the U.S. being more aggressive on clean-tech. This buys China time to create its industries, fix any issues they might have, and drive them to incredible growth that can not only meet domestic clean energy targets, but also easily take the rest of the world on a transition to clean energy, EVs, high-speed rails, etc.

The sooner we admit this, the sooner the rest of the world can shift its attention to China, putting pressure on its authorities to drive the clean-tech bandwagon fast enough to cut greenhouse gas emissions on a scale that would prevent Greenland’s melting, the Amazon’s burning, and the Arctic’s disappearance. For us, it’s no longer about whether we will lead. It’s about whether we will survive.

Can Obama Succeed On Clean Energy?

Today, Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, joined by a strong coalition of business groups and NGOs, unveiled “comprehensive” climate change and clean energy legislation and emphasized their confidence in getting it passed during the current Congress. Immediately afterwards, President Obama applauded the Senators for introducing legislation that would spur clean energy innovation and ensure the U.S. meets its climate change pledge to the international community under the Copenhagen Accord. Regardless of how anybody may feel about this (i.e. too late, too weak), it is a major milestone. We’ve marked off the checklist for everything that needs to be done to pass a climate bill, except getting the Senate to pass one. Now, it is up to President Obama to fight hard to get climate change and clean energy legislation passed. Can he do it?

Ever since he signed health care legislation over a month ago, President Obama has been wavering among a host of issues ranging from climate change legislation to wall street reform to nuclear proliferation. Unfortunately, he hasn’t decided to choose or two of these priorities and go with them as aggressively as he did with health care reform. What’s worse, he’s failing to live up to one of his core principles he repeatedly mentioned throughout his campaign for health care reform, and that is that his choice to act wouldn’t be influenced by “politics or the polls,” but instead by what “is the right thing to do.” With the upcoming Congressional elections, it seems that President Obama is being influenced more by the polls than “the right thing to do” as he has chosen not to fight aggressively for anything. A great example is his rather short period of campaigning for wall street reform, which lasted a couple of weeks to be left to Congress again.

If President Obama wants to succeed on climate change and clean energy legislation, he will have to push it as hard as he pushed health care reform. So far, President Obama hasn’t dedicated any town hall meetings or domestic visits to climate change and clean energy legislation. He’s only spoken about it during a few times during his weekly addresses and when he announced lifting the ban on offshore drilling in many areas. A quick search through the White House website for health care yields 616 entries as of today, while for energy and the environment there are 64 (that’s roughly 10%). Clearly, if President Obama wants to succeed on climate change and clean energy legislation, he’ll have to campaign more aggressively for it to tip the political balance towards getting the necessary votes in the Senate to pass the strongest bill possible.

Furthermore, he will have to come up with the kind of language that will resonate with people across the country. When he campaigned for health care reform, he spoke of insurance industry abuses, unreasonable premium hikes, and a ballooning federal deficit, all of which were key messages that resonated with people across the country. However, when President Obama speaks of climate change and clean energy, he talks about innovation, leadership, and job creation, failing to emphasize the loss of jobs to other countries, the impacts of floods, droughts, and rising temperatures that are not uncommon across the country, and the damage that fossil fuels incur on the environment, health, and the pockets of U.S. citizens. It is  important to emphasize how climate change and clean energy legislation will spur new industries and create new jobs, but it is also important to emphasize how action will benefit citizens directly, just as he did with health care.

This is perhaps the best time to get it right. The BP oil spill and the coal mine disasters have exemplified our need to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels altogether, while our continued loss of clean energy manufacturing jobs to other countries will continue to make it harder to fight the high unemployment rate. We all witnessed how President Obama mustered public support to pressure Congress to act on health care. There is no doubt it can happen again for climate change and clean energy legislation, but it will require President Obama to “do the right thing,” step up to the plate, and campaign aggressively for legislation before campaigning for the Congressional elections erases all chances to get anything done this year. This one is just as up to the Senate as it is to President Obama.

Response to Letter for McKibben

Response to a letter to Bill McKibben (here).

Good arguments. I agree that Obama is not the only person to blame for all of this (no climate deal at Copenhagen). One thing to keep in mind is that Obama and his negotiators were all tied with a rope that was being pulled back every time they tried to move forward. We all know that in the U.S. it’s going to come down to Congress, particularly the Senate, and not to President Obama. Kyoto died because the Senate killed it, and I have no doubt they would do the same if Obama decided to go ahead and commit hundreds of billions per year to pay climate debt and stick to European-like emission targets (40% by 2020). Somewhere around the web is an interview with Stern where he explains that the Obama administration wanted to make sure they didn’t commit the same mistake as the Clinton administration, just to have legislation killed by the Senate. And we know how hard it’s been to even get climate legislation considered in the Senate.

On the other hand, I think Obama clearly disrespected the rest of the world when he decided to come up with an “accord” with only a few nations (those that in the first place were holding back any agreement). It doesn’t matter whether you’re a major polluter or not; as a sovereign nation working under a framework that includes everybody’s opinion, you have to respect what others think and not just sideline them. If you heard the discussions that went on from heads of state, you noticed that people were very angry for very good reasons… their people were becoming victims of a problem they did not create. And so for Obama to ignore that, I think it’s extremely disrespectful, no matter if you’re one of the two big polluters, and especially when you promote the idea of improving lives globally. After all, I think it was the U.S. that got the rest of the world working under the “framework” that mentioned in the letter.

So, if we want all of this to change, I think we’ve taken away two things. The first is that the rest of the world is really ready to do what it takes. The second is that the U.S. really isn’t… because of the Senate. So we have to really try to change how the Senate thinks if we want to get on the right path. I don’t see hundreds of billions coming out of the Senate for clean energy and energy efficiency the way you see $125 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan. That in itself is also a disrespect to the rest of the world and to all Americans. It means that unnecessary, special interest based wars are bigger priorities than survival, and that’s just wrong. We can’t blame Obama for everything, but Obama needs to step up his efforts on climate like he did on health care. He has done very little to rally people to make, for example, the 1 million phone calls to Congress he’s getting from Americans in support of health reform. He needs to do the same for climate change, and we haven’t seen the beginning of that yet. I hope 2010 is all about that.

October 24th: A Model for the Buildup of People Power

350 (2)Last Saturday (October 24, 2009) was the International Day of Climate Action. Over a year in the making, it was without any doubt “the largest political action in human history,” in the words of 350.org’s founder, Bill McKibben. Over 5,200 actions in 181 countries showed world leaders that people everywhere have made a bold commitment to accept serious action that will mobilize society to eliminate its greenhouse gas emissions and help the planet’s biophysical systems absorb the most carbon dioxide possible. This massive demonstration of the number 350 reached every corner of the planet, placing that same number all over the press, the Internet, and especially in the movement’s own website: 350.org.

This day will definitely have a huge impact on the climate change negotiations that will take place next December in Copenhagen. It will either accelerate the seemingly slow pace of the negotiating process, make the commitments by controversial countries stronger, or both. But more than anything, this day of action represents something bigger for society. It represents the power of people to take an idea, spread it across society in a short period of time, and make of it something that can’t be ignored by world leaders. It shows that visionary, forward-looking movements can be sort of contagious in the sense that they can spread like fire and inspire millions of people very quickly. And that’s exactly what 350.org did.

A year ago, in the face of total hopelessness because of the global economic recession, who would have thought that a year later the world would come together as one people to call for bold action on climate change in line with the latest science? With the world economy still hurting for billions of people, 350 was able to spread quickly enough to reach a tipping point where it had enough of a trendy feeling to just kick into fast gear and literally get into the minds of millions of people.

I think there were a few things that made this international effort very successful. First of all, it had an amazing team of young people dedicated to fighting climate change and taking risks to spread this number to every region of the world. This is the team that got the target of “80% by 2050” into the current climate change bills passing through Congress. Back in 2007 and then in 2008, this impressive team of young people (largely students/alumni from Middlebury College led by renowned author Bill McKibben) organized Step It Up and Step It Up 2, which mobilized thousands of events across the U.S. to change public opinion and make “80% by 2050” mainstream. So the first ingredient really was the amazing people behind the idea of putting 350 everywhere on the world’s map.

Second, it was literally the name of the campaign. Think about it? 350. It’s simple, very easy to get no matter where in the world you are, and therefore has a big potential to spread like wildfire. Scientifically, it’s also a very clear target that separates future catastrophe from future hope. People quickly understand that above 350ppm, sea level could rise uncontrollably, hurricanes could devastate the tropics, and infectious diseases could spread rapidly. Below it, we’re pretty much safe from all the above and more. In 2007, the IPCC couldn’t do what 350.org did, even though they had the most authoritative piece of scientific proof at the time. It just wasn’t as catchy and virulent as the number 350 itself is.

Lastly, the world was already reaching a tipping point on this issue. Years and years of debate and constant news without any action to match what was being learned forced people to say “enough.” Support for bold climate change action was so widespread that people really were ready to tell their leaders they needed to act boldly. And 350.org was exactly that opportunity at the right time. People’s conscious joined 350.org’s team and virulent message to tell world leaders that Copenhagen better be the place where they got serious about climate change. I have no doubt that’s exactly what’s going to happen after this inspiring day. Looking at the amazing pictures floating across the web, especially on 350.org, it’s hard to not feel very hopeful about where the world will go on this issue. This won’t be done so much more because of the science as because of the power of people to influence change.

The Obama Administration Needs To Hear and Then Say 350!

CCC_CoverLToday, I visited the White House’s blog to check up on what the administration is doing. Perhaps the most interesting entry for the day was one by John P. Holdren, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy for the Obama Administration, better known as the “science czar.”

Mr. Holdren’s entry was on the “latest” science and what it tells us we should do to avert climate catastrophe – i.e. 1-meter-plus sea-level rise, off-the-records tropical storms and weather events, extreme drought, loss of biodiversity, and all the impacts these will have on human society (leading to violence, instability, and economic depression) – and ensure a prosperous future for our generation and those to come.

According to Mr. Holdren, the latest science says that we need to keep the global average temperature from increasing 2 degrees Celsius in order to prevent carbon sinks from becoming carbon sources, which would eventually heat up the planet up to 10 degrees Celsius. Now, in order to keep temperature below that threshold, Mr. Holdren uses the IPCC‘s 2007 assessment to indicate that the world’s greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2020 and then shrink 50% of current levels by 2050.

Now, it must be acknowledged that this position is a breakthrough. A few years ago, the United States would not even consider something like this, and today we are affirming that we must go down that path. In addition, in the first several months of the Obama administration, the United States is engaging with China, the European Union, Latin America, and other players to build technological partnerships that will lead to breakthroughs and technology transfers. This is all in addition to the biggest investment in U.S. history in clean energy and energy efficiency, as Mr. Holdren rightly points out.

However, the position that global emissions must shrink 50% below current levels by 2050 is not made with the latest science. Instead, it is made using outdated science, as the IPCC uses data up to 2005 only. Since then, science has made many breakthroughs, and much of the new findings about climate change has been released in a report by the United Nations Environment Programme. The 2009 Climate Change Science Compendium says that under the path outlined by Mr. Holdren, the global average temperature will rise by more than 3 degrees Celsius this century, which would effectively do nothing to stave off climate catastrophe.

Fortunately, there are those out there who get where we need to go. We can no longer afford to follow the IPPC’s Fourth Assessment Report. We must follow the most recent, cutting-edge science that tells us that atmospheric carbon dioxide must remain below 350 parts per million to avoid rapid climate change. An international movement is brewing up and calling exactly for that goal, but it needs to reach the Obama administration very soon.

I envision people, especially young people, going to events organized by the Obama administration (whether it be for Obama, Bide, Clinton, or anybody else) and asking why the administration refuses to look at the most recent science rather than the science up to 2005. I envision 350 making it to Obama events in one way or another and forcing him to no longer ignore the fact that the most recent science calls for even more aggressive action, and that we have to go to Copenhagen knowing this and ready to negotiate how we will put in place a treaty that will get us to 350ppm of carbon dioxide this century. Fortunately, that’s what the International Day on Climate Action will hope to do…

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