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.
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.
Today, 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…
350. Este es el número más importante del mundo. Es el número más importante porque es el nivel, en partes por millón, que debemos tener de dióxido carbono (CO2) en la atmosfera si queremos conservar el planeta en el cual la especia humana se ha desarrollado. De no mantener ese nivel, entonces estaremos produciendo un planeta completamente irreconocible. Sera un planeta con por lo menos 50% menos especies de la que existen hoy; con una gran parte de la población urbana bajo el nivel del mar por la pérdida de gran partes de Groenlandia y Antárctica; y con un nuevo clima de sequias y tormentas más intensas y jamás vistas por la humanidad. La última vez que no había hielo en los polos fue hacen algunos 50 a 60 millones de años, cuando habían cocodrilos en el polo norte. Y ahora, en tan solo un par de siglos, la humanidad, o mejor dicho los intereses privados de las corporaciones de energías fósiles, serán responsables por llevar al planeta a esa situación una vez más.
350. Después de tantas investigaciones y discusiones entre científicos académicos, gubernamentales, e corporales, se ha determinado que el nivel necesario de dióxido carbono en la atmosfera es de 350 partes por millón. Este es el número que el Dr. James Hansen, Director de la agencia de la NASA que estudia el sistema climático del mundo (Goddard Institute for Space Studies), ha determinado en un reciente estudio con otros científicos. Han concluido que, de no llegar a este número en los siguientes 40 años, estaremos dejándoles a la siguiente generación un planeta como ya ha sido descrito.
350. Este anuncio por el Dr. Hansen debe ser tomado seriamente. Mientras que el Panel Intergubernamental sobre el Cambio Climático determino en el 2007 con más de 90% de confiabilidad que los humanos están causando el cambio climático con las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero (CO2, metano, oxido nitroso, etc.), el Dr. Hansen llego a esa conclusión hacen más de 20 años atras cuando testifico ante el Congreso de los Estados Unidos. El Dr. Hansen también fue el primer científico que pudo predecir con un modelo rigoroso lo que podíamos esperar en relación a la temperatura media global, y así ha sucedido. La temperatura sigue subiendo. También es, argumentalmente, el científico más reconocido del mundo en el área del cambio climático por sus cuantiosas contribuciones a la comunidad científica. Ahora, el mismo nos está diciendo que estamos cerca de perder nuestra oportunidad de prevenir la transformación completa del planeta.
350. Hacen más de 10 años, el mundo se comprometió, mediante el Protocolo de Kioto, a combatir el cambio climático con reducciones ligeras de las emisiones de gases invernaderos. Las únicas potencias desarrolladas que no firmaron ese acuerdo fueron los Estados Unidos y Australia, pero Australia la firmo este año y se ha comprometido a reducir sus emisiones. El proximo año, 2009, en la ciudad europea de Copenhague, los líderes políticos del mundo se reunirán otra vez para llegar a un acuerdo para definitivamente combatir el cambio climático. Por los anuncios ya hechos por varios gobiernos y las diferentes corporaciones de energía fósiles que participaran en la reunión, se ve que los líderes políticos todavía están poniendo los intereses privados sobre el futuro cercano del planeta y la humanidad.
350. Es por esta razón que se ha lanzado un movimiento internacional para difundir esta informacion a todas las esquinas del mundo. El movimiento, llamado 350.org, tiene la meta de dar a conocer el numero mas importante del mundo, 350, y las razones por las cual es el numero mas importante. Las crisis que el mundo enfrenta hoy no son razones para dejar de difundir el numero mas importante del mundo, 350, ni para prevenir que todos los contribuidores al problema actúen de manera agresiva para eliminar las emisiones de gases invernaderos mientras creamos una economía basada en energía renovable, con millones de nuevos empleos para personas de clase baja y media, con una distribución de las riquezas desde las corporaciones billonarias que nos han llevado aquí a las personas que tanto las han necesitado, y con una nueva economía que valore el aire limpio, la calidad de vida urbana, la salud, y nuestro propio futuro.