Climate chaos and us


To the Editor:

Everyone’s already exhausted, that’s the problem. It’s not alwaysobvious, many of us get through our days al right, but if someone askedyou to go out there and keep the oceans from rising, make it rainwhere crops are dying, and halt the waves of monster hurricanes, heatspells, and floods – would you have what it takes? Do we even knowwhat it would take?

There’s no way to find the right tone for the seriousness of this issue.Just take a few minutes to picture a super low pressure, record stormsurge hurricane like Sandy – zeroing in for a direct hit here. With awarmer ocean all of a sudden, storms like that in this part of the worlddo not come just once in a century, a lifetime, a generation or even justonce in a decade anymore. From DC up into Maine, it’s nothing butbull’s eyes on the East Coast, and the Vineyard’s one of them.

It so happens that now we actually do know what it will take to slowthis trend. In his second inaugural speech, the president sounded moreserious about conducting the people’s business, including on the climatecrisis – a new report released the week before could be one reasonwhy.

It’s official, from the National Climate Assessment, US Governmentreport, “Climate change is already affecting the American people.Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/orintense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions,floods and droughts. These changes are part of the pattern of globalclimate change, which is primarily driven by human activity.”

Look, this overarching crisis we face in a way is no one’s fault – buteveryone’s responsibility. As nature writer Bill McKibben explained lastJuly, in what is a very important source of perspective on this subject,Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, “Much of their profit stems froma single historical accident. Alone among businesses, the fossil fuelindustry is allowed to dump its main waste, carbon dioxide, for free.Nobody else gets that break – if you own a restaurant, you have to paysomeone to cart away your trash, since piling it in the street wouldbreed rats. But the fossil fuel industry is different, and for soundhistorical reasons. Until a quarter-century ago, almost no one knewthat CO2 was dangerous …”

But after that, everyone who needed to know what it would mean tokeep pouring CO2 into our atmosphere did know, quite well.However, today the value on the books of these private, for profitcompanies includes $20 trillion in fossil fuel reserves that must not,cannot, be burned.

That’s the new information we have this year. After all the internationalclimate change conferences, etc. the only thing officially agreed on isthat we can’t let the global temperature rise more than 2 degreesCelsius. The stringent limit to how much more fossil fuels we can burnand possibly hold to that two-degree rise has also been determined. Butthe fossil fuel companies and producer states are already payingthemselves in advance from the future burning of confirmed reservestotaling five times that limit. They are literally counting on burning it.With Irene and Sandy in back to back years, Australia engulfed now inrecord smashing heat induced wildfires, and last year’s droughtreturning this spring to threaten world food supplies and prices – thatis a very serious problem. The science tells us that it is just now, “inthe next few decades” that the fossil fuels we burn, or don’t, will bewhat make really destructive sea level rise inevitable, or not. It wouldbe a staggering calculated theft of not only our children’s future but ourown to burn too much.

People and markets are proving themselves willing and able now totransition quickly away from fossil fuels. But as part of that process wemust immediately and forcefully serve notice on the fossil fuelcompanies in a way that begins to threaten their freedom and impunityto promote the burning of carbon at levels way beyond the safe limit.Why does it have to be us serving notice on the most powerful industryin the world? Because the president, the Congress and the courts mayhave too many old habits to break – to be able to do it fast enough.And we literally can’t afford to wait.

Fortunately over the course of the last year some very brave andcommitted folks have been preparing a way for us to do just that. A lotof very careful, hard work is being done on our behalf. A well establishdivestment campaign like the one that helped to end Apartheid in the1980’s is sweeping US colleges, universities, churches and major cities.Seattle is the first city to order its investment portfolios to divestfrom the 200 major fossil fuel corporations.

The XL Tarsands pipeline project is being targeted and must be stopped.Its construction would in reality provide very few long term jobs andwould drive even more extremely destructive scorched-earth mining of thedirtiest carbon heavy fuel there is. Many thousands of your fellow citizenswill converge on Washing DC this Presidents Day, February 17, for amassive peaceful rally. It is in the hands of the US president andsecretary of state to approve or cancel this pipeline project. Obama mustbe shown that the citizens of the country he governs want no on the XLpipeline to be the first of many truly responsible decisions.

Bill McKibben continues, “But now that we understand that carbon isheating the planet and acidifying the oceans, its price becomes thecentral issue. If you put a price on carbon, through a direct tax or othermethods, it would enlist markets in the fight against global warming.Once Exxon has to pay for the damage its carbon is doing to theatmosphere, the price of its products would rise. Consumers would get astrong signal to use less fossil fuel.”

So after Presidents Day here on the Island, we can go to work ondivestment with local institutions and towns and push hard for a nationalinitiative to put the true price on carbon, in order to raise thedetermination and the funding for our total transition away from fossilfuels. Join the more than 15,000 people who have already committed tobringing the urgency of this message to the president’s door on February17, including the full staff and student body of at least one school inDelaware. Please learn more details on these campaigns. If you need information or have suggestions for local travel arrangements to DC

Chris Riger

West Tisbury