Sunday, April 17, 2016

Out of time on Planet Earth - Climate "World War II" needed

We are out of time on Planet Earth.

In the three months since the Paris climate summit declared a 1.5° C global warming target to hold climate disruption dangers in check, rapidly escalating world temperatures came within a hair’s breadth.   The average for the January-March timeframe was 1.47°C above the 1890s, the baseline before mass fossil fuel burning began to significantly heat the planet, the Japan Meteorological Agency reported.  For the first time in the historical record the planet has neared or crossed the agreed danger threshold for three months in a row.  

Never has radical climate disruption caused by fossil fuel pollution been so visible.  Besides the temperature spike, the Arctic is raising red flags.  An Arctic Ocean ice pack at record lows could be setting up a record melt season.  The Greenland ice melt season started around a week ago, nearly a month ahead the previously recorded start and two months before normal.

Whether this is a temporary spike or a jump to a new climate state, the message is clear.  We have used up all time or space for anything but the most urgent actions to eliminate the carbon pollution that is twisting the climate.  We need a people power upsurge to demand immediate, deep reductions in fossil fuel burning and pollution.  That is the goal of Break Free, a worldwide popular mobilization in May aiming for the greatest wave of direct actions against the fossil fuel industry in history.  The Pacific Northwest action targets refineries in Anacortes, Washington, source of nearly half the vehicle fuels used in the region.

Here are three key demands people power must make:

Rapidly move to 100% renewable power – Dramatically expand wind and solar energy production. Modernize the grid so it can transmit variable sun and wind energies between different regions. Shut down coal and gas power plants as quickly as possible.

Electrify transportation – Quickly build out a comprehensive network of electrified mass transit, including buses, urban rail systems and interurban rail. Ban production of oil-powered cars. Amp up production of electric vehicles to make them affordable to ordinary people.

Make buildings efficient and clean – Commence a program of universal building energy efficiency retrofits.  Switch out fossil fuel powered heating/cooling systems with heat pumps run on renewable electricity, and direct solar hot water collectors. Require top efficiency and renewable power in new buildings.

We cannot rely on the market to make the changes quickly enough.  It will take public investment and mandates.  The only way our nation and the world will achieve these goals quickly enough is with a World War II-scale mobilization of political will and resources.  The U.S. has a particular responsibility to lead.  Our nation invented the power grid and mass automobile mobility. One-quarter of human carbon pollution now in the atmosphere came from the U.S.

The new World War II message is quickly coming in from the climate movement’s leading edges to the mainstream.  One group leading the call for a climate emergency response is Climate Mobilization.  The group aims to zero out U.S. climate-heating pollution by 2025.  Its Pledge to Mobilize asks that we, “Immediately commence a social and economic mobilization to restore a climate that is safe, stable, and supportive of human civilization. This heroic campaign shall be carried out on the scale of the American World War II home front mobilization, and will require hard work and shared sacrifice from all Americans.”

Climate Mobilization has called for people to take to the streets July 10 for a Climate Emergency Day of Action. More on that here.

An Iowa Climate Emergency Caucus held in conjunction with the January presidential caucus crystallized the call.  It has now been taken up by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. In his recent Brooklyn debate with Hillary Clinton, Sanders said:

“We have a global crisis. Pope Francis reminded us that we are on a suicide course . . . We have got to stand up and say right now, as we would if we were attacked by some military force, we have got to move urgently and boldly . . . approach this . . . as if we were literally at a war. You know, in 1941, under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we moved within three years, within three years to rebuild our economy to defeat Nazism and Japanese imperialism. That is exactly the kind of approach we need right now.”

We must do this, and we can.  Scientists tell us we must end fossil fuel use by 2030 at latest.  A new University of Sussex study concludes the world has the capability to end fossil use for energy by 2025.

Climate disruption is accelerating, but so are the ideas needed to address the challenge at the scale it must be addressed.  The concept of 100% renewables, on the fringes even a few years ago, has now moved to the forefront. The message was flashed on the Eiffel Tower at the Paris summit. Sierra Club officially launched its Ready for 100 campaign in January. Environment America is also forwarding the 100% message. is making 100% a central part of the Break Free actions, putting it in the proper Post-Paris urgency framework:  “World governments have agreed to global action – but without a clear commitment on how and when they will transition off of fossil fuels. The way to make that transition a reality is by organizing to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground and accelerate the just transition to 100% renewable energy.”

Just transition is a crucial concept.  The world energy system will not be transformed without disruption.  Workers in conventional energy industries must be given help to transition into new occupations that pay as well.  Fortunately, there will be more jobs in new clean energy sectors.  A plan for 100% renewables in the U.S. done by Mark Jacobson of Stanford projects that while 3.9 million old energy jobs will be lost, 5.9 million jobs will created in new energy sectors.  Old energy skills are highly transferrable to the new, and displaced workers should be given explicit preference in hiring.  They should also be provided with job training, and full pay and benefits until they are placed in new jobs.   

Now is the time to push the idea of a new World War II for clean energy to the forefront.  A rapidly changing climate is sounding a red alert. We must respond with a people power movement calling for rapid and just transition from fossil fuels to 100% clean, renewable energy.  We can’t wait a moment longer.


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