Since the election ended and Hurricane Sandy passed, there’s been much more talk of climate change by average citizens, the press, politicians and lobbyists.
Polls show the desire for action on climate change has skyrocketed since Sandy and the extreme weather during 2012. 82% of Democrats, 73% of Independents and 50% of Republicans are worried about extreme weather and its growing costs. That’s a big change from 2009, when two-thirds of Republicans and nearly half of Independents said they weren’t ‘at all concerned.’
A majority of voters (65%) want immediate action and want renewable energy over fossils fuels or the tar sands pipeline.
Last weekend, over 3,000 people marched around the White House, calling on the Obama Administration to keep his commitment to tackle climate change by rejecting the Keystone tar sands pipeline.
Hundreds of people turned out in NYC and in 40 solidarity actions worldwide to demand "System Change, Not Climate Change."
Universities are under pressure to divest their portfolios from fossil fuels, thanks to the "Do the Math" national campaign, that’s just begun. Unity College in Maine pledged to divest and the Mayor of Seattle is considering divesting city funds. Campaigns are underway at 50 universities and Harvard’s student body voted 72% in favor of divesting its $30.7 billion endowment from fossil fuels.
Interestingly, Shell – which insists on drilling in the Arctic and has strong ties to tar sands – is among 100 corporations that sent a letter to European lawmakers asking for a "clear" world-wide price on carbon emissions. "Putting a clear, transparent and unambiguous price on carbon emissions must be a core policy objective to underpin the investment needed to deliver substantial greenhouse gas emissions reductions by mid-century, says the letter. Signatories include Kodak, KPMG, Unilever, Swiss Re, Alstom, Acciona and Electricite de France.
Even Exxon came out in favor of a carbon tax, saying, it prefers that to heavy-handed regulation. "Combined with further advances in energy efficiency and new technologies spurred by market innovation, a well-designed carbon tax could play a significant role in addressing the challenge of rising emissions," spokesperson Kimberly Brasington told Bloomberg. "A carbon tax should be made revenue neutral via tax offsets in other areas," she added.
But Koch Bros-backed Americans for Prosperity reminded House GOP members that they all signed a "no climate tax" pledge. Signers agree to "oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue."
The conservative American Enterprise Institute held a full-day discussion last week on how best to implement a carbon tax, which could also enable a cut corporate taxes and head off EPA regulation. The same day, another conservative outfit, Competitive Enterprise Institute, filed a lawsuit against the Treasury Department, seeking private e-mails that would show the administration is secretly pushing for a carbon tax, reports Bloomberg.
Meanwhile, most everyone has heard President Obama’s reaction to a question on how he’ll address climate change asked during his first press conference. His reply was that his priority is to extend economic growth, expand job creation, not realizing that addressing climate change would do exactly that (as he’s said in the past!).
A recent Congressional Research Service analysis that concludes a modest carbon tax of $20 per ton, rising 5.6% a year, would cut the projected 10-year deficit IN HALF – from $2.3 trillion down to $1.1 trillion.
If designed correctly, it would shift the burden of paying for pollution (and solutions to it) from taxpayers to polluters, and generate revenue that could be used to pay down the debt, incentivize clean energy, and build our resiliency to climate change.
Avalanche of Bad News
An avalanche of bad news about the progression of climate change came out this week from a variety of sources – The World Bank, United Nations and World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
As in past years, they are ringing the alarm bell for the world to take action, because emissions continue to rise to record levels. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are now 30% higher than in 1990.
As of 2011, carbon concentrations stand at 390.9 parts per million (ppm), breaching the upper "safe" limit scientists have set at 350 ppm. Methane and nitrous oxide are also at record levels.
About 375 tons of carbon have been released into the atmosphere since the industrial era began in 1750, primarily from fossil fuel combustion, says WMO’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. Half of that is still in the atmosphere and half has been absorbed by the oceans and terrestrial biosphere.
"These billions of tonnes will remain there for centuries, causing our planet to warm further and impacting on all aspects of life on earth," says Michel Jarraud, Secretary General of WMO. "Future emissions will only compound the situation."
"Until now, carbon sinks have absorbed nearly half of the carbon dioxide humans emitted in the atmosphere, but this will not necessarily continue in the future. We have already seen that the oceans are becoming more acidic as a result of the carbon dioxide uptake, with potential repercussions for the underwater food chain and coral reefs," he says.
But, unbelievably, the world is still moving in a suicidal direction, with almost 1200 new coal plants planned, according to a World Resources Institute analysis. Many of them many not ending up getting built because of rising protests worldwide, but they are planned in many countries, mostly in China and India, but also in America, Australia, Europe, and Russia. In the US, none of the plants may be built because of legal pressure from environnmental groups, cheap natural gas and growing renewables.
World Bank Says Turn Down the Heat
The conservative World Bank also joined the chorus with its report, Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided.
The report states that the science is unequivocal that humans are the cause of global warming, and major changes are already being observed. The global mean temperature has so far increased to 0.8°C above pre-industrial levels.
"The world must tackle the problem of climate change more aggressively," says World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. "Greater adaptation and mitigation efforts are essential and solutions exist. We need a global response equal to the scale of the climate problem, a response that puts us on a new path of climate smart development and shared prosperity. But time is very short."
"The Earth system’s responses to climate change appear to be non-linear," points out John Schellnhuber, director of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, which prepared the report with Climate Analytics. "If we venture far beyond the 2 degrees guardrail, towards the 4 degrees line, the risk of crossing tipping points rises sharply. The only way to avoid this is to break the business-as-usual pattern of production and consumption."
Among their top solutions is one that everyone knows but has yet to act on: stop subsidizing fossil fuels and put that $1 trillion to better use.
Other recommendations: put a price on carbon; introduce natural capital accounting into national accounts; expand public and private investments in green infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather, such as urban public transport systems; and increase energy efficiency, especially in buildings, while rapidly ramping renewable energy.
Although the World Bank says it’s helping 130 countries take action on climate change, doubling financial lending for adaptation last year, it’s been criticized for continued support of fossil fuels.
The World Bank administers a $7.2 billion Climate Investment Fund, which operates in 48 countries, leveraging an additional $43 billion in private investment.
"This is an alarming and sobering report from an organization not known for its environmental activism," says Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), who co-authored the comprehensive energy bill that passed the House in 2009 but didn’t advance in the Senate.
United Nations Report
The next round of United Nations-led climate talks takes place in Doha, Qatar in late November. The goal is to create an international treaty that replaces Kyoto.
It’s not a secret that even the voluntary commitments made at past summits aren’t enough to prevent a 2°C rise, and now that gap has widened, says the UN.
To keep temperatures from rising 2°C, no more than 44 billion tons can be emitted in 2020, but the world could reach 58 billion on the path we’re on now.
"Even if the most ambitious level of pledges and commitments were implemented by all countries and under the strictest set of rules, there will now be a gap of 8 billion tonnes of CO2e by 2020," says the report.
"It is still technically feasible to close the emissions gap but swift action is needed, UNEP says, by focusing on building, power generation and transport.
Watch this fantastic video from Al Gore’s recent 24 Hours of Reality – The Dirty Weather Report.