12.14.2015

HOPE AND REALITY: PARIS CLIMATE ACCORD

I'm hopeful. Not by nature. But because I have no choice but to believe that eventually we will do what is right, and what is necessary, to save ourselves. I'm too old to give in to despair. And, I'm old enough to be welcoming my first grandchild into this world, next spring! 

So of course I’m joyful about the climate plan coming out of Paris. Compared to the disastrous finale of the last important climate meeting in Copenhagen, in 2009, the Paris accord is a triumph. It is no small achievement to have 195 countries decide to aim for a far more ambitious target than anyone had in sight at the start: to keep global warming contained at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Here’s one of the biggest differences between 2009 and 2015: concerned citizens—mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, sons and daughters—millions raised their voices to demand action against climate change. We are being heard.

The Paris accord is a triumph—but most especially, it is a triumph of hope. And hope, in these precarious times, is no small thing.

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Among many historic achievements in the Paris accord:

Action on climate has been firmly reframed, we hope, as a moral imperative.

A scaffolding has been erected, what negotiators refer to as a framework, one that will support, we hope, a new global energy structure.

That scaffolding has been built with windows and doors in place, so that, we hope, there will be a way for reporters and reviewers to see past national walls, to know that countries are actually making the cuts they pledge to make.

The degradation of the world’s tropical rainforests will, we hope, be given its due and considerable weight in accounting for the degradation of our climate.

And, we hope, significant funding will become available to help countries who have contributed nothing to the pollution of our skies, but who are being hit—hard—by new patterns of extreme weather.

We must only hope for all these things, because the Paris accord is not a binding treaty.

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Which brings us back home, to reality, to the hard part.

Not a single wealthy (fossil-fuel dependent) country submitted a plan, in Paris, that achieves deep enough carbon and methane cuts to get the world anywhere near the target of a 1.5 degree temperature rise. That Paris scaffolding gives us only a ground floor.

That does not mean such plans can’t or won’t be crafted—and met. But right now, globally, renewable energy, mostly hydroelectric power, accounts for only 10 percent of total energy supply; solar and wind account for 1.6 percent of total energy. This is changing. Will it change fast enough? Certainly there are some staggering plans for renewables on the table, around the globe. How can we do the same here at home?

In order to stall global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (we are approaching 1 degree C of warming right now), good estimates are that the wealthiest countries, all of whose economies are fossil fuel dependent, must essentially be carbon- and methane-emission free in the next decades. 

My grandson will be a teenager.

Every single person who cares about the safety of the world we live in, the world we leave for our children, has tough work ahead to meet the climate challenge.


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As I write: 2015 draws to a close, as the hottest year in human-recorded history. Every day we are experiencing the extreme flooding, drought, crop failures, ice melts and other dangers caused or worsened by climate change.

There is no hope that our planet will cool down, in our lifetimes, or for generations.

Meanwhile, more than seven hundred people in Southern California have been relocated because of an uncontrolled—since at least October—and enormous methane leak. This is a gusher, but invisible without infrared cameras. According to Climate Progress, “every day the leak continues, it single-handedly accounts for 25 percent of California’s total methane emissions.” Along with methane, other, toxic pollutants are released. Methane is a far more potent driver of warming than carbon—84 times more powerful in the first two decades of its release. Methane is a climate-change bomb.

Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry is fighting tooth and nail against regulations—not only those that control methane emissions but those that control carbon emissions, too—claiming the industry can and will voluntarily police itself.

The industry’s actions to date give us no hope that voluntary measures work.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has reduced its reliance on coal, which is filthy, and spews carbon, because of an abundance of fracked gas, which is far less expensive. Indeed, gas companies are beginning to hold back their product, so that prices will rise.  And this is causing economic devastation in fracking-dependent communities across Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Residents there see no hope of recovery.

Meanwhile, across Asia, coal use is on the rise. Significantly.

There is no hope that dirty coal is anywhere near dead.

Meanwhile, President Obama could not have signed the U.S. into a binding treaty in Paris without the consent of Congress—and there is absolutely no hope of this Congress doing anything at all about climate change. Many Republicans and some Democrats are already trying to dismantle America's Clean Power Plan to regulate carbon emissions. The Republican candidates for president are largely climate deniers; they do not even “believe” in climate change, as if it were an article of faith, rather than science.  

There is, right now, no hope of bipartisan political agreement around solutions to curbing carbon and methane emissions.

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And still, I’m hopeful that we will win the race of our lives—that we will take action to stop greenhouse gas emissions before it is too late, before our highly complex, interconnected climate system simply spins out of control. The planet--which has been through huge climate changes in the deep past--will be fine. This is about saving human civilization. We have thrived during 10,000 years of climate stability. We have never endured anything like the climate changes of the past.

We now have unprecedented, historic Presidential leadership. And we see that American leadership is consequential. Momentum around solutions is building. There is growing awareness of the problem--and its urgency. We are becoming excited about huge opportunities ahead, in a new energy world. We're talking about winning.

Some energy companies are calling for carbon taxes. Some leaders in the oil and gas industry are supporting rules against carbon and methane emissions. Some corporations are switching to renewable energy. Some conservatives are discussing an end to billions of dollars of fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks. Some towns across the country are changing antiquated laws so they can deploy clean energy. Who knows what other solutions will be engineered and invented?

Remember that big difference that got us to the Paris accord? We raised our voices. We demanded change. We demanded protection. We demanded divestment. We demanded investment. 

We demanded hope.

We are highly complex, interconnected, creatures, we humans. I am hopeful about the path beyond Paris. And hope is often the only thing that keeps us going. That--and the most sustainable, renewable energy there is: love, like the love I already feel for my grandson, not yet born. 





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