A Zero Emissions Manifesto for the Climate Justice Movement
Tom Weis of Climate Crisis Solutions and Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. of the Hip Hop Caucus are people after my own heart, calling for a response to global warming that lives up to the challenge. Cascadia Planet is crosspostring their zero emissions manifesto from Common Dreams, which first ran this Sept. 6.
experts and government institutions like the U.S. Department of
Defense and National Intelligence Council warn that climate destabilization
threatens our national
security, yet global emissions just keep going up. Leading
biologists like E.O. Wilson warn
that the sixth great extinction is now upon us, yet emissions keep going up.
We are not suggesting ending the use of fossil
fuels tomorrow. Decarbonizing our industries, homes, transportation, power
generation and food production will take years of concerted effort and require
every ounce of courage, ingenuity, patience and humility we possess. But
intergenerational justice demands that we commit ourselves now as a nation to
leading this green industrial
Some will no doubt call this goal unrealistic, saying it cannot
be achieved, but they would underestimate the creative genius of the American
people. What is unrealistic is thinking we can continue with business as usual
and leave a habitable planet for our children. Americans are a supremely
resourceful people with a long history of meeting, and exceeding, monumental
challenges. While we have never faced anything as daunting as the global
climate crisis, there are precedents for the U.S. overcoming seemingly
When destiny came knocking during World War II, we initially
resisted, then answered by leading the allied forces to victory in three and a
half short years.
It took a Civil War to end the scourge of slavery, and a
monumental civil rights struggle to outlaw segregation, Jim Crow laws and
discrimination, but we not only overcame, we elected a person of color as
President of the United States.
When President John Kennedy boldly
challenged America to land a man on the moon in less than a
decade, our best and brightest responded by accomplishing this seemingly
impossible task ahead of schedule.
It is now time for our generation to do something great.
Again, even the conservative, consensus-based IPCC supports near
zero emissions or below, albeit on a year 2100 timeline that belies the urgency
of their August draft report,
which warns of “irreversible impacts” from continued emissions.
on track to generate 100 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020.
The Philippines aims
to shift the country’s fuel system to 100 percent renewables in ten years. The
German state of Schleswig-Holstein is
set to go 100 percent renewable this year. Munich’s goal
is 100 percent renewables by 2025. The British Labour
Party wants to decarbonize the UK’s electricity
grid by 2030. And the island nation of Tokelau is
already 100 percent renewable.
In stark contrast, neither the U.S. President, nor a single
member of the U.S. Congress, has yet publicly called for a zero emissions goal
2ºC Wrong Target
Just because the governments of the world accept 2° Celsius of
heating above the preindustrial average as the agreed-upon target does not make
it the right target. To the contrary, last December,
preeminent climate scientist James Hansen and seventeen co-authors released a
study in the scientific journal PLOS ONE revealing the UN-approved 2°C ceiling
is based on politics, not science, and would unleash “disastrous consequences”
beyond our control.
Dr. Hansen, economist Jeffrey Sachs, and others argue that
“morality” demands a rapid and dramatic cut in global carbon emissions to stay
as close as possible to a 1°C ceiling (we are already at 0.85°C). Here’s what
they said about
the urgency of dropping from the current level of 400 parts per million (a
level not reached in at least 800,000 years) of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the
atmosphere to 350 parts per million (ppm), the level many consider the
uppermost safe limit for civilization:
“It is instructive to see how fast atmospheric CO2 declines
if fossil fuel emissions are instantly terminated. Halting emissions in 2015
causes CO2 to decline to 350 ppm at century’s end. A 20 year delay in
halting emissions has CO2 returning to 350 ppm at about 2300. With a 40
year delay, CO2 does not return to 350 ppm until after 3000. These results
show how difficult it is to get back to 350 ppm if emissions continue to grow
for even a few decades.”
We’re obviously not going to achieve zero emissions by 2015. The
point is we need to do it as soon as necessary to avoid catastrophe impacts
from global climate change. Every day we delay buries us deeper in the climate
Failure of Moral Leadership
The United Nations, Congress and the White House are all failing
in their moral obligation to stem the tide of this gathering storm.
The United Nations is not leading on this issue, as it must.
Since 1990, when the IPCC issued its first report, CO2 emissions have increased
by approximately sixty percent.
Last year in Warsaw, after 19 successive sessions of the UN Conference of the
Parties (COP) failed to achieve meaningful emissions reductions, labor and
environmental groups walked out after
deciding governments were performing so poorly they could no longer legitimize
the climate cop-out with their presence.
Congress is not leading on this issue, as it must. Since
refusing to ratify the 1997 Kyoto protocol, the U.S. Congress has failed to
enact any significant climate legislation. The closest they came was a Wall
Street-friendly “cap and trade” bill passed by the Democratic-controlled House
of Representatives in 2009. Described as an “unacceptable compromise” by Greenpeace and
“a step backwards” by Friends of the
Earth, it called for a modest 17 percent reduction of carbon
emissions by 2020. Five years later, too few members of the
Republican-controlled House of Representatives are even willing to admit humans
are changing the climate.
The White House is not leading on this issue, as it must. The
EPA’s proposed rules to limit carbon pollution from existing coal-fired power
plants are a step in the right direction, but President Obama’s widely heralded
“climate action plan” will be more PR than
plan, with no chance of stabilizing the climate, unless the White
House takes bold action. In fact, the administration’s attempt to please all
during this climate crisis with its all-of-the-above energy strategy
promises more climate chaos by promoting natural gas fracking; mountaintop
removal mining; deepwater and Arctic oil drilling; tar sands mining;
and deafening seismic
oil and gas exploration off the Atlantic coast. That the President
has not yet denounced a scheme as “absurdly
reckless” as Keystone XL’s
northern leg speaks volumes.
Even the renewable energy industry is not leading on this issue,
as it must. Four years after it was first pointed
out, America’s largest wind, solar and geothermal trade associations
continue to embrace incrementalism, when the times call for revolutionary
Because the climate crisis threatens all life on Earth, it is
first and foremost a moral issue. We have already seen how the poor and communities of
color bear the brutal brunt of fossil fuel extraction and suffer the most from
extreme weather disasters. Three out of four African Americans live within 30
miles of a coal-fired
power plant. African-American children have an 80 percent higher rate of
asthma, and are nearly three times more likely to die from asthma, than their
white peers. The moral urgency of this crisis requires a rainbow coalition of
people – reflecting the diversity of our great nation – coming together to
Alarmingly, latest projections by the U.S. Energy Information
Administration have fossil fuels supplying almost 80 percent of
the world’s energy use through 2040, with carbon dioxide emissions rising 46
percent from 2010 levels. If this perilous trend is not reversed, runaway climate change could cause
most of life on Earth to go extinct, testing the
survival of humanity itself.
As the nation that historically contributed the most to global
climate pollution, and is in the strongest position to respond, the U.S. has a
moral imperative to lead this global charge.
Making the Great Transition
It is time for America to unleash its entrepreneurial can-do
spirit through a wartime-like
mobilization to help save America, and the world. Innovating to
zero emissions will not only help ensure our collective survival, it is the key
to revitalizing our ailing economy and putting America back to work. But we
don’t have until 2100, or even 2050, to transition off of fossil fuels.
Scientists are calling for deep cuts in
emissions now. Leaders showing us how to get there include:
•The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which in 2012
commissioned a Renewable
Electricity Futures Study showing that 80% of all U.S.
electricity demand can be met with currently commercially available renewable
energy technologies at the hourly level every day of the year.
We have solutions. They even have names: conservation; energy
efficiency; solar power; wind power; geothermal power; standing forests;
organic farms; industrial hemp; electric vehicles; bicycles; mass transit; wave
energy; tidal power; zero waste …
Here and there aggressive initiatives are underway. China is
developing a single 38,000 MW wind project large enough to electrify a country
the size of Poland. Four states in Germany already get more than 50 percent of
their electricity from wind power, while in the U.S., Iowa and South Dakota are
generating more than 25 percent of their electricity from wind farms. But
progress is not being made at anything close to a speed and scale commensurate
with the scope of the planetary emergency we face
On, Sept. 23, a UN Climate Summit is
being held in New York City. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has challenged
world leaders to bring their pledges to set the world on a low-carbon path. We
entreat Mr. Ban, who calls zero emissions an “achievable goal,” to challenge
attendees of the UN Climate Summit to bring their zero emissions plans to COP20
in Peru this December and to COP21 in France in 2015. Anything less will show
our governments are not serious about solving this existential threat.
Our colleague Bill McKibben, who earlier this year called out
the Obama administration for sabotaging the
2009 Copenhagen climate negotiations through NSA spying, has issued a “call to arms”
inviting all who “give a damn about the biggest crisis our civilization has
ever faced” to gather in New York City on Sept. 21 for a People’s Climate March to demand bold
climate action at the UN Summit. We ask, what could be bolder than zero
Earth is the only known habitable planet in the universe, making
the climate risks to humanity so great as to warrant the utmost precaution. Now
is the time for the climate justice movement to rally around a goal of zero
emissions, with the U.S. leading the way by enacting zero emissions policies at
the local, state and federal levels. For the love of humanity, and our
children, we must act now.
emissions: because the first step to making things better is to stop making