We need system change to stop climate change
September 20, 2014
Viking I landed on Mars, the Ramones released their first album, the Soweto Uprising began in South Africa, North and South Vietnam reunified to become the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, and Gerald Ford was in the White House.
1976: The same year scientists discovered that refrigerant chemicals, chlorofluorocarbons, better known as CFCs, were responsible for creating a hole in the ozone layer was also the last time when global average temperatures were below the 20th century norm.
Hence, the earth has now experienced 353 consecutive months—or an astonishing 38 years in a row— of above average temperatures. In terms of hot and cold spells, snowfall patterns and the number of extremely hot or cold days, there are millions of people alive today who have no direct experience of the kind of planet their parents grew up on.
For communities of small farmers and pastoralists—who number in the hundreds of millions around the world—dependent on seasonal bio-indicators for information on rainfall, planting, harvesting and herd movements, this becomes a life-and-death question. Knowledge from elders about the annual rhythms of springtime flowering; flocks of migratory birds; the emergence of butterflies, pests and other pollinating insects; trees and plants blooming; and when to expect rain is becoming dangerously unreliable, and even irrelevant.
Examining the situation in the U.S., one only has to look at the photography of drought-afflicted California, where 50 percent of the fruit, nuts and vegetables for the whole United States are grown, to imagine what is going to happen to food production and the price of agricultural produce in a warming world.
The loss of water in the state—240 gigatons of surface and groundwater, an amount equivalent to almost 10 cm (4 inches) of water spread over the entire West—is so great that the mountains are measurably rising, as the weight on them diminishes.
For exactly half of those 38 years since 1976, world leaders have been discussing at international climate talks what to do about the increase in global temperatures resulting from the burning of fossil fuels and land-use changes.
Such societal activities have increased the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the key global warming gas, from a pre-industrial level of 280 parts per million (ppm) to 400 ppm—having some time ago exceeded 350 ppm, the danger level calculated by scientists. Yet even as the science has become more definitive, and the direct impacts on our landscapes and climate ever more obvious, the political landscape has deteriorated faster than a California lake.
Indeed, world leaders and negotiators for the UN inter-governmental process on climate change, begun 19 years ago, have at this point essentially given up. The coming climate summit in Paris in December 2015—billed as the meeting that would finally adopt an international plan for replacing the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 to deal with carbon dioxide emissions and deforestation—is already acknowledged by participants as completely inadequate and having “no chance,” more than a year before it is set to take place.
As a new report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, titled “Expectations for a New Climate Agreement,” says:
We doubt there will be negotiation specifically on quantitative national emissions reduction targets, as under the Berlin Mandate [agreed to in 1995]. Furthermore, any legal provisions included in an agreement will not be of a form requiring ratification by national legislative bodies. Involvement by the United States is crucial to any future regime, and the U.S. Senate is an impassable barrier on the horizon of COP-21 negotiations.
So more than a year ahead of negotiations that are supposed to map out and finalize a global deal on significant emissions reductions—which in any case were not due to come into effect until five years later—we already know the outcome: there will be no specific limits on emissions or targets for setting them; nothing will be enforceable and whatever happens will be merely voluntary; and the U.S., the biggest polluter in history, will be the major obstacle.
The “impassable barrier” of the U.S. Senate, more than half of whom are Democrats at the moment, means that 100 people—the majority of them millionaires, 80 of them male, 93 of them white, 85 identifying as Christian, with an average age of 62 and an average ofmore than 10 years in the same job—are holding hostage 7 billion people, millions of species and the climate stability of the entire planet.
Is it any wonder that a recent Princeton study, titled “Testing Theories of American Politics,” affirmed what many American’s already know: The United States of America is not a democracy in any meaningful sense. The report notes:
In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.
The study also reports: “The net alignments of the most influential, business oriented groups are negatively related to the average citizen’s wishes.” Which means that not only do ordinary people in the United States have virtually no influence on government policy, despite formal national elections which might suggest otherwise, but the policies that are enacted under the influence of a small economic and political elite are contrary to the expressed desires of the majority of the population.
Many examples related to issues like taxing the rich, public health care and education could be cited. On the environmental front, several polls show majorities in favor of stronger U.S. government action on climate change. And contrary to a popular myth, the polls show consistently higher support from people of color, due to the fact that they are most directly, immediately and worst affected by environmental problems.
Art by Favianna Rodriguez. Download it & share here.
People’s Climate March in New York City
Sunday, September 21 at 11:30 a.m.
Central Park West btw 65th & 86th St.
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Flood Wall Street - Mass action to shut down climate profiteers
Monday, September 22 at 9 a.m.
Battery Park, New York City
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See you out on the streets!