Climate chaos and us
To the Editor:
Everyone's already exhausted, that's the problem. It's not always
obvious, many of us get through our days al right, but if someone asked
you to go out there and keep the oceans from rising, make it rain
where crops are dying, and halt the waves of monster hurricanes, heat
spells, and floods – would you have what it takes? Do we even know
what 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 storm
surge hurricane like Sandy – zeroing in for a direct hit here. With a
warmer ocean all of a sudden, storms like that in this part of the world
do not come just once in a century, a lifetime, a generation or even just
once in a decade anymore. From DC up into Maine, it's nothing but
bull'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 slow
this trend. In his second inaugural speech, the president sounded more
serious about conducting the people's business, including on the climate
crisis – a new report released the week before could be one reason
It's official, from the National Climate Assessment, US Government
report, "Climate change is already affecting the American people.
Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or
intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions,
floods and droughts. These changes are part of the pattern of global
climate change, which is primarily driven by human activity."
Look, this overarching crisis we face in a way is no one's fault – but
everyone's responsibility. As nature writer Bill McKibben explained last
July, in what is a very important source of perspective on this subject,
Global Warming's Terrifying New Math, "Much of their profit stems from
a single historical accident. Alone among businesses, the fossil fuel
industry is allowed to dump its main waste, carbon dioxide, for free.
Nobody else gets that break – if you own a restaurant, you have to pay
someone to cart away your trash, since piling it in the street would
breed rats. But the fossil fuel industry is different, and for sound
historical reasons. Until a quarter-century ago, almost no one knew
that CO2 was dangerous ..."
But after that, everyone who needed to know what it would mean to
keep pouring CO2 into our atmosphere did know, quite well.
However, today the value on the books of these private, for profit
companies 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 international
climate change conferences, etc. the only thing officially agreed on is
that we can't let the global temperature rise more than 2 degrees
Celsius. The stringent limit to how much more fossil fuels we can burn
and possibly hold to that two-degree rise has also been determined. But
the fossil fuel companies and producer states are already paying
themselves in advance from the future burning of confirmed reserves
totaling five times that limit. They are literally counting on burning it.
With Irene and Sandy in back to back years, Australia engulfed now in
record smashing heat induced wildfires, and last year's drought
returning this spring to threaten world food supplies and prices – that
is a very serious problem. The science tells us that it is just now, "in
the next few decades" that the fossil fuels we burn, or don't, will be
what make really destructive sea level rise inevitable, or not. It would
be a staggering calculated theft of not only our children's future but our
own to burn too much.
People and markets are proving themselves willing and able now to
transition quickly away from fossil fuels. But as part of that process we
must immediately and forcefully serve notice on the fossil fuel
companies in a way that begins to threaten their freedom and impunity
to 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 industry
in the world? Because the president, the Congress and the courts may
have 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 and
committed folks have been preparing a way for us to do just that. A lot
of very careful, hard work is being done on our behalf. A well establish
divestment campaign like the one that helped to end Apartheid in the
1980's is sweeping US colleges, universities, churches and major cities.
Seattle is the first city to order its investment portfolios to divest
from 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 and
would drive even more extremely destructive scorched-earth mining of the
dirtiest carbon heavy fuel there is. Many thousands of your fellow citizens
will converge on Washing DC this Presidents Day, February 17, for a
massive peaceful rally. It is in the hands of the US president and
secretary of state to approve or cancel this pipeline project. Obama must
be shown that the citizens of the country he governs want no on the XL
pipeline to be the first of many truly responsible decisions.
Bill McKibben continues, "But now that we understand that carbon is
heating the planet and acidifying the oceans, its price becomes the
central issue. If you put a price on carbon, through a direct tax or other
methods, it would enlist markets in the fight against global warming.
Once Exxon has to pay for the damage its carbon is doing to the
atmosphere, the price of its products would rise. Consumers would get a
strong signal to use less fossil fuel."
So after Presidents Day here on the Island, we can go to work on
divestment with local institutions and towns and push hard for a national
initiative to put the true price on carbon, in order to raise the
determination and the funding for our total transition away from fossil
fuels. Join the more than 15,000 people who have already committed to
bringing the urgency of this message to the president's door on February
17, including the full staff and student body of at least one school in
Delaware. Please learn more details on these campaigns. If you need information or have suggestions for local travel arrangements to DC write: