“The best science tells us we have ten years to fundamentally transform our economy and lead the world in the same direction or else, in the words of NASA’s Jim Hansen, we will face a ‘totally different planet.’ We’re calling for 80 percent carbon cuts by 2050, which would be a good first step to warding off that future. But the exact numbers are less important than the underlying message to Washington: get serious. The recent elections have given us an opening, and polling shows most Americans know there’s a problem. But the forces of inertia and business-as-usual are still in control, and only our voices, united and loud, joyful and determined, can change that reality.” Bill McKibben*
I remember thinking 35 or so years ago, in what turned out to be the beginning of a decades-long involvement in organized efforts for positive social change, that we had no more than 10 years to turn the USA around, to “make a revolution” here in the heart of empire. I was wrong, or at least I hope I was. I hope that our Mother Earth will provide us the time we need to finally get it right and alter behavior patterns and institutions of destruction that are severely threatening the prospects for a future worth living in for our children and their descendants.
We probably have less than 10 years now, since Hansen and prominent others who have studied what is happening to our heating-up earth have been using the “10 years” language for over a year. A top scientific advisor to Tony Blair, Stephen Byers, said it publicly two years ago.
Who is being and who will be particularly affected by an over-heating climate?
This is an issue of particular importance to low-income people, predominantly people of color, those already being hit by the worldwide impacts of global heating. According to the United Nations, 150,000 people die each year from those impacts. And Hurricane Katrina underlined who is most affected by the kind of major storms and climate disasters global heating has begun to manifest throughout the world.
Global heating is an issue of importance to hunters and fishermen, to those who take their religious beliefs seriously, to young people whose future is threatened, to peace activists trying to stop the war for oil in the Middle East, to workers who stand to benefit from a jobs-creating clean energy revolution, to farmers whose growing seasons and rainfall are being disrupted.
Ultimately, of course, everyone will be affected by a drastically destabilized climate, including the children of those who currently misrule the world.
The climate crisis should be of particular importance to the peace movement, to those who are trying to stop what is certain-what is absolutely certain-to be years and years of wars for oil and natural gas throughout the world absent a clean energy revolution. The current dependence of the U.S. economy on these liquid fossil fuels, and the fact that oil reserves in particular are under other people’s lands, leaves those who want to rule the US and its empire little choice.
We shouldn’t have any illusions that, by themselves, Barack Obama or John Edwards or even Dennis Kucinich, if they are elected President next year, are going to turn this situation around, even if they want to. In Kucinich’s case, if he miraculously took office on January 20th, 2009 and proceeded to follow through on his consistently progressive agenda, his life would be in danger if there were no powerful people’s alliance organized all throughout the country to actively support that agenda.
Only such a people’s movement, one which gets it on the interconnections between peace, justice and clean energy, can finally end the war in Iraq, prevent one in Iran, undercut the appeal of Al Qaeda, get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan and take action to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands leading to a just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. Only such a people’s movement can prevent U.S. intervention in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nigeria or other areas rich in oil or natural gas.
There is a particular timeliness to the clean energy issue given the recent “fourth assessment” report that was put out last week to great media fanfare by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). On February 2 the IPCC released its latest report on the state of global heating in the world and their projections of what is likely to happen in coming years, decades and centuries as a result.
The IPCC is a consortium of over 2,000 scientists from over 110 countries. They have been studying this issue since 1989. This is the fourth of their overall assessments, and it is the most ominous. In the words of a Feb. 2 New York Times article by Elisabeth Rosenthal and Andrew C. Revkin, “The world is already committed to centuries of warming, shifting weather patterns and rising seas from the atmospheric buildup of gases that trap heat, but the warming can be substantially blunted by prompt action, an international network of climate experts said today. . . For the first time the group asserted with near certainty – more than 90 percent confidence – that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases from human activities were the main drivers of warming since 1950. . .
There has been a political sea change on this issue in the last several years, internationally and in the United States. For us in the USA, there have been three main events that have led to this awakening, this growing and deepening appreciation of the need for action to reduce our carbon emissions: Hurricane Katrina in late summer 2005, the prominently-covered U.N. Climate Change conference in Montreal, Canada in early December, 2005 and, probably most importantly, the Al Gore movie which came out last spring, An Inconvenient Truth.
As result of these political changes, and because the Democrats now control Congress, there is a realistic possibility that sometime this year the House of Representatives will pass legislation that specifically addresses the climate crisis. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has said that she wants legislation put together and passed by July 4th. It is uncertain if the Senate will move with the same sense of immediacy.
We are at a very critical juncture in this historic battle for a change in the way we produce and use energy, this battle for a clean energy revolution. The next couple of years will be decisive in determining whether we take substantive steps to set in motion the necessary “great turning,” in David Korten’s phrase, away from corporate-dominated fossil fuels, nuclear power and corn-based ethanol production and towards the only real solutions to this crisis: serious energy conservation and energy efficiency, shifting taxes away from payroll and sales and onto the use of carbon (a progressive tax reform, for sure, given who most uses carbon-based energy) and a dramatic increase in support for energy from the sun, the wind, the earth (geothermal), the tides and currents, and, for a while at least, some bio-fuels.
We need to be clear: so-called “clean coal” is no solution to this crisis. The technology to “clean” dirty emissions from the burning of coal is so expensive that there is no way that all, or even a good number, of coal-burning power plants can be modified or built to use the technology.
Nuclear power is also no solution. It’s very expensive. It takes 10 years or so to build a nuclear power plant, way too long. We don’t need even more radioactive wastes that will be around with us for tens of thousands of years.
And corn-based ethanol takes so much fossil fuel energy to produce it, between growing the corn, harvesting it, transporting it and creating ethanol from it, that there is relatively little impact as far as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
What coal, nuclear and corn-based ethanol all have in common, however, is that powerful corporations control them and would benefit greatly if federal legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions prioritized them as energy sources that should be provided taxpayer money.
We who are clear on the pernicious impact of corporate domination of our country’s political and economic system must speak up loudly and take action to support strong climate legislation while we oppose any significant federal support for these corporate-friendly, non-solutions to the climate crisis. We must stay active to end the war in Iraq and for fundamental changes in the U.S.’s relationship with the rest of the world. And we must be about reversing the obscene inequality and unjust economic policies, supported by government, that are causing tremendous suffering and insecurity among tens of millions in the USA and among billions worldwide.
Peace, justice and clean energy are the interconnected way to a new world.
Ted Glick is active with the Climate Crisis Coalition and the Independent Progressive Politics Network. His over seven years of Future Hope columns are archived at www.ippn.org. He can be reached at [email protected]
*Bill McKibben is the leader of Step It Up 07, a mushrooming campaign of local actions throughout the country on April 14th demanding 80% reductions of carbon emissions by mid-century. More information can be found at www.stepitup07.org.