JOIN US AND SIGN BELOW:
The world is in a state of Climate Emergency, and we must slash fossil fuel use now. Climate stabilization, consistent with international goals (1.5-2°C) means a fossil fuel phase-out in about a decade for the US and fifteen years worldwide. Otherwise, the risks of going past 2°C and crossing catastrophic tipping points are unacceptably high.
In that light, we need a Declaration of Global Warming State of Emergency so the people of the United States will demand immediate action. In that way, we meet the most critical moral issue of our time.
Therefore, our organization supports a Declaration of Climate Emergency.
Moreover, our organization supports the responses needed to address the emergency. The United States must mobilize and leave behind fossil fuels as soon as possible. This means we will:
Eliminate fossil fuels:
- Price carbon and remove subsidies. Make fossil fuels account for their true costs.
- Keep fossil fuels in the ground. Oppose their exploration, development, export, and new infrastructure through collective action.
Phase-in renewable energy:
- Incentivize clean energy development, production, and roll-out as quickly as possible.
- Assist developing nations with renewable energy so they bypass fossil fuel development.
FOR INDIVIDUAL SIGN-ON: GO HERESign up
Lessons for the Climate Crisis?*
We are out of time for any gradual phase-out of fossil fuels. We need an all-out Emergency Climate Mobilization to completely cut emissions within a decade. Is America’s World War 2 mobilization a good example for our situation? How can we create the “Pearl Harbor” urgency and society-wide response needed?
What Is Mobilization, Anyway?
Mobilization is a coming together as a people with a common cause--an emergency restructuring of a modern industrial economy, typically at rapid speed. It involves everyone and impacts all areas of society—a comprehensive societal and industrial metamorphosis.
Mobilization summons a sense of collective destiny and moral purpose. Importantly, mobilization is not a blind use of government control. Rather, this is a particular strategy that guides the economy away from petro-consumerism towards a fossil fuels phase-out.
THEN: The Axis nations—Japan, Italy, and Germany—threatened world freedom, stability, and security in the late 1930s. For years, Americans denied this real peril, believing the US could somehow stay on the sidelines, even as Axis Powers invaded country after country. But the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor shattered the United States’ denial. National sentiment flipped overnight from isolationism to mobilization. Most Americans then enthusiastically participated in a rapid transformation of the US economy and society.
NOW: As before Pearl Harbor, Americans today are caught in denial and apathy, obstructing and delaying any response to our global emergency. We are still beholden to the “non-negotiable American way of life” that actually threatens our very survival. How to create a “Pearl Harbor moment”—to wake up Americans—remains the central burning question of the climate movement.
Help build the Emergency Climate Movement: join the Climate Emergency Coalition.
PHOTO: San Diego Rally for Mobilization, March 2015. Jerry Phelps, Courtesy of The Climate Mobilization.
THEN: The war munitions industry in the US was diminished after WW1. Upon our entry into WW2, the federal government both required and supported a rapid conversion from consumer to war production. For example, private auto manufacturing was completely halted in early 1942. By mid-year, nearly all major industries and some 200,000 companies had converted to war production, making the nation’s wartime “miracle” possible—shattering all previous levels of war production. Astonishing the world, it exceeded the combined production of the Axis powers and made all the difference between victory and defeat. Pressing even further, the government collaborated with scientists and with universities for breakthrough research that contributed to the war effort.
Lockheed Ventura bombers built for the Royal Air Force under construction at the Lockheed Vega division, Burbank, California (USA), in June 1941. The factory originally made explorer aircraft, but was converted for the war effort.
To combat climate change, we need a similar-scale mobilization of our culture.
Photo: David Bransby, Farm Security Administration, Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress).
NOW: We need a complete reorientation of our economy to facilitate a wartime-speed deployment of renewable energy, smart grid technology, electric-based transportation, mass transit, zero waste, retrofitted buildings, sustainable agriculture, and more. Industry must maximize efficiency and produce the post-carbon energy infrastructure—the “armaments” in the climate war. Funding for clean energy research must be stepped up more than 500%. Since we have postponed action for so many years, as with WW2 we must now exceed our expectations of what can be accomplished.
THEN: Everybody helped. On the battle front, young men gave their lives. On the homefront, women surged into factories, and over 10% of the population relocated for a war job. People grew Victory Gardens that supplied 40% of America’s produce during the war. To channel maximum resources towards the war effort, the government called on citizens to invest in war bonds to help finance the war, to ration goods, and to use resources carefully. Communities held scrap drives to recycle goods like tin and rubber. The government imposed a speed limit of 35 mph, and outlawed pleasure driving and auto racing. People willingly sacrificed for the cause, and sacrifice was expected of everyone.
NOW: As with WW2, we need the participation of all. Initially, we must enact policies that incentivize low-carbon choices, however, policies cannot accomplish all the needed changes. A metamorphosis of culture—from individual consumerism to cooperation and sacrifice—can only come through the public’s perception and understanding of our crisis, and through a transformative vision of a better, just world. As before, citizens must throw themselves into the collective effort.
Courtesy of Northwestern University's WWII Poster Digital Repository.
THEN: Still a major issue since the Great Depression, unemployment rates were slashed from 14.6% to 1.4%, while wages grew 55%. Full employment, higher wages, and progressive taxation brought far greater income equality. The war effort also brought gains in social equality, especially for women and African Americans. Corporate profits boomed, however, profit-seeking was channeled towards the national mission. Government, not corporations, led the transformation.
NOW: Transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy will create many more net jobs. However, workers losing jobs in carbon-intensive sectors will need training and placement in the new economy. Climate mobilization will bring greater social and income equality, as did the WW2 mobilization. Corporations can no longer drive the agenda—the people and government must lead the way. This is our opportunity to create a just economy and a world that works for all.
THEN: Defense spending rose from 1.4% of the Gross National Product in 1939, to 45% at the peak of the war effort in 1944. This was financed primarily through war bonds, excess corporate profit taxes, and raised income taxes, especially on the highest earners (their rate was 94% in 1944).
Courtesy of Northwestern University's WWII Poster Digital Repository.
NOW: Combating climate change will not be cheap, as some advocates claim, but it will be affordable with the right priorities and measures: (1) ending dinosaur government subsidies—such as for fossil fuels, corn biofuels, and non-sustainable agricultural practices, (2) cutting military spending, (3) ending corporate welfare, (4) reversing the immense transfer of wealth to the rich, and (5) ending fossil fuel externalities through a fair carbon tax that distributes revenue to citizens—to account for costs borne by society.
THEN: Wartime agencies, given broad powers to plan and prioritize, guided the war effort. The mobilization required large-scale deficit spending, higher taxes and price controls to contain inflation, extensive regulations, and government control over the distribution of basic goods and raw materials.
NOW: This mobilization effort will require an expansion of public sector powers, expenditures, and planning. Government must make substantial investments in clean energy research, public transit, smart grid investment, electric vehicle charging stations, job transition, building retrofits, land-soil-forestry restoration, and many more projects that reduce greenhouse gases. The US and other developed nations must also finance low-carbon assistance for developing nations who would otherwise burn coal and chop down trees, thus eventuating climate chaos no matter what wealthy countries do.
The WW2 mobilization provides an inspiring example of what is necessary and possible, given our best efforts. In less than four years, the US achieved the unimaginable: it fought and won a two-front war against two powerful military empires, forcing each to surrender unconditionally. For humanity’s survival, we must mount a similar heroic effort. In our two-front war on climate chaos, we must phase out fossil fuels within a decade, and draw down atmospheric carbon to safe levels.
Mobilization clashes with today’s dominant paradigms: corporatism, anti-government, deregulation, privatization, hyper-individual consumerism, perpetual economic growth no matter the cost, tax cuts, and diminishment of the public sphere. This neoliberal capitalism is trashing the planet, and its era must end before it ends us.
Yet it is hard to imagine the level of cooperation and revolutionary change needed now. So how can we create this complete mobilization, when the climate crisis has no clear, galvanizing “Pearl Harbor moment,” and the dominant worldview is completely opposite of what is needed?
The public must perceive that: (1) we must phase out fossil fuels as fast as humanly possible, not gradually over decades, which would cook us, (2) individual actions are insufficient—we need a collective, united mobilization to fight humanity’s common enemy, climate chaos, and (3) we can win this war and avert catastrophe.
A Climate Emergency Coalition Campaign with personal, face-to-face engagement and moral conversations in tens of thousands of faith and civic spaces across the nation may be necessary to awaken and galvanize citizens to change the cultural conversation and quickly generate the public will necessary to create such a society-wide Emergency Climate Mobilization. Additionally, the Climate Emergency Coalition supports groups and citizens calling for emergency mobilization.
Fear is empowering, when experienced in community and coupled with a vision of collective action for a better world. Moreover, we are not innately selfish; we are capable rising up with the needed response. It is time to face this existential threat to civilization and the natural world, and to use fear to spur us to responsible action.
Importantly, history has repeatedly demonstrated that culture can transform dramatically, especially in times of emergency. And it only takes 3-4% of the public to trigger that transformation.
*With appreciation for the work of The Climate Mobilization, for helping develop much of the thinking and comparison between World War 2 and what a climate mobilization might look like.
We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
—POPE FRANCIS, Laudato Si (#49)
Some of most vexing and unresolved aspects of the climate crisis involve issues of justice and equity. No climate strategy has a moral center without including the call for Justice. The Climate Emergency Coalition agrees with Pope Francis’s call for justice, both for the underprivileged and for our Earth itself, highlighting climate chaos as an environmental, economic, equity, and moral crisis. His demand for the rich and powerful to care for the earth fits well with how we ask philanthropies to fund the march to climate mobilization. We also endorse the Fair Shares approach to applying equity.
Climate justice is complex—here we explain the necessity of climate assistance for poor nations, why an effective response must start with the United States, and the importance of citizen action to accomplish this.
The Paris Agreement and Justice
We fully support the Principles of the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change, as they demand that the more wealthy nations help with funding, technology, and personnel to support nations who cannot afford low carbon energy otherwise.
From Article 3.1: The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.
In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted by nearly all nations as the foundational agreement for equitable international climate negotiations. However in the quarter century since, weak and stalled international climate talks have continually postponed effective responses, nearly closing the window of time available to avert the worst aspects of looming climate catastrophe.
While the UN 2015 Paris Climate Agreement provides a significant “what” (a 1.5-2°C target in response to demands by certain nations vulnerable to sea level rise), its “how” and “by when” do not provide any pathway to accomplish the target. The bottom-up approach, with nations’ pledges (INDCs – Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) resulted in highly unequal levels of commitment and effort, far too little assistance for poor nations’ climate mitigation and adaptation, and a dangerous course towards 3.5°C this century, far above the 1.5-2°C goal. The Agreement’s five-year schedule to review pledges also makes staying within the target highly unlikely.
So given Paris’s varied shortcomings, how can the world possibly move forward cooperatively and fairly in meeting the true scope, scale, and urgency of the climate crisis?
Differing on Differentiation
Cumulative CO2 Emissions 1850-2011
(% of World Total)
Combined, the US and EU were responsible for 52% of cumulative CO2 emissions from 1850-2011. India, with a much larger population, was responsible for only 3%.
Image: World Resources Institute
One of the most contentious divisions between wealthy and poor nations involves “differentiation”—how to fairly assign responsibility among nations for curbing emissions. Fairness requires two major considerations, in accordance with the UNFCCC principles:
- Historical responsibility: Since CO2 stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, nations that industrialized and burned fossil fuels earliest bear the most responsibility (see box). They are accountable for far more of the overall burden of climate stabilization. Poor nations have contributed little to the CO2 problem, yet they are most vulnerable to climate impacts.
- Capacity: Some nations have much more capacity to act than others. National income beyond what is needed for basic living standards would be a good measure of response capacity.
Wealthy nations have such large historical emissions, that equity cannot be achieved just through their own emissions reductions. They must also offset their historical emissions with assistance for developing nations for both climate mitigation and adaptation. The mitigation that poorer nations will need to implement, with international support, accounts for a substantial portion of the global reductions required.
Percentage of CO2 Emissions by World Population
In a recent report, “Extreme Carbon Inequality,” Oxfam finds that the world’s richest 10% emit half of all fossil fuel pollution, while the poorest 50% contribute a mere 10%. The richest 1% may emit 175 times more per person than the poorest 10%.
Climate Justice as Necessary
The imbalances of wealth and consumption between the wealthiest of humanity and the poorest are simply unconscionable. The majority of citizens within developed nations enjoy abundant “luxury emissions,” while many in developing nations lack even “survival emissions” for basic necessities. Consider that 1.3 billion people globally have no electricity and 1.2 billion have unreliable electricity—a third of the world’s population. That portion of humanity both desires and deserves the right to lift itself from destitution. Additionally, poor nations are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. They want to fight it and prepare for it. For these reasons, they need help from wealthy nations.
Crucially, if wealthy nations do not provide massive assistance to impoverished nations (financing, technology, and capacity building), then they will continue to take the cheaper, dirty fossil fuel development pathway. In that case, no matter how quickly rich countries cut their own greenhouse gas pollution, the Earth and her human community will face climate chaos and ecological ruination.
As Africa leapfrogged past landlines straight to mobile phones, developed nations must help the poor nations to leap over and beyond fossil fuel economies. In what little carbon budget remains, we must include developing nations’ need to alleviate poverty.
Replacing Kerosene Lanterns
“In February 2014, in rural Kenya, we toured the front lines of oil eradication in African lighting, with a SolarAid field team. We saw that it is not difficult at all to replace a whole sector of fossil fuel use at the bottom end of the energy ladder.”
—Jeremy Leggett, “Winning the Carbon War”
In 2009 the world established the Green Climate Fund at Copenhagen, within the framework of the UNFCCC, as a mechanism to assist developing nations with mitigation and adaptation. The goal by 2020 is $100 billion per year, an amount that is far too little. Even attaining that funding is in doubt. For an updated status of financing, see: Status of Pledges and Contributions to the Green Climate Fund.
In spite of this, from the widest perspective justice is not a “nice thing to do, the right thing to do, or even the morally correct thing to do.” Beyond helping the poor, equity and justice must be understood as necessary for our collective survival. Each of us must be included on the “survival boat.”
A Way Forward
The shortfall of developed nations’ commitments amply demonstrates that equity is not something that each nation can decide for itself. It must be defined in a robust, rigorous, transparent, and scientific manner anchored in the core principles of the UNFCCC—an agreement that would produce a dramatic reduction of emissions, even while allowing the developing world to expand energy use to relieve poverty. The Fair Shares approach provides such a mechanism. An equitable system such as Fair Shares should be employed to determine all nations' responsibilities for carbon reduction.
Fair Shares also addresses the vast wealth disparities within countries. Nations such as China and India have growing numbers of wealthy citizens with high levels of carbon consumption.
What Does This Mean For “US”?
What does all this mean for “us,” the United States? The US is key to turning the situation around. The United States must lead the world's transition; as no other nation can—given our unequaled wealth, our role as the largest historic carbon polluter, and our capacity to remedy the situation.
To sum it all up: wealthy nations—especially the US—must pay up big time to assist developing nations reduce emissions, while at the same time drastically cutting our own. The reality is that it will demand enormous financial help, human resources, and technological transfers to developing nations. At the same time, we must see this as an urgent priority. We seem to manage hundreds of billions of dollars for military fighter planes, even though climate change is our biggest national security threat. A good response would be to end fossil fuel subsidies—$700 billion annually in the US—and apply that money towards climate assistance and our own climate stabilization efforts.
In spite of our role as the largest historic perpetrator, Americans are mostly unaware of the crisis, and of our continuing fossil fuels excesses. We are 5% of the population but emit 15% of the world's CO2—one of the highest rates per capita. In our ignorance, we continue in our historic consumption patterns, and we continue to foster fossil fuel dependency. Therefore, we continue to burn up what little carbon budget remains.
However, we cannot expect the US to lead without informing Americans about the necessity of climate justice for the survival of us all. A Climate Emergency Coalition Campaign across the US, with personal face-to-face dialogue and moral conversations in our “communities of meaning,” can inform and galvanize citizens on this crucial issue. We must grow a substantial people’s movement, through the Climate Emergency Coalition that demands justice and equity as part and parcel for protecting a livable climate.
Climate Equity Reference Project –basis for the Fair Shares approach.
Extreme Carbon Inequality, Oxfam, December 2, 2015
Fair Shares: A Civil Society Equity Review of INDCs – a new analysis from a diverse mix of civil society organizations seeking to ascertain the fairness of the Paris Agreement. Association for the Tree of Life and Climate Mobilization Coalition are both signatories.
The Core Convention-Based Equity Indicators – Climate Action Network, September 2013
What Is Equity in the Context of Climate Negotiations? – Edward Cameron and Wendi Bevins, World Resources Institute, December 14, 2012
Photo: Department of Energy
One Step toward Carbon Sanity is to Price or Tax Carbon.
A price on carbon fuels commensurate with their threat level to the environment is one step to plausibly reduce fossil fuel consumption. However, the discussion about pricing, or “internalizing costs,” has been delayed so long that taxes on carbon would have to be extremely high to lead to a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels.
That phase-out is necessary for reasonable climate stability.
Unfortunately, in 2018 and beyond, carbon pricing would need to be in the area of $100-$200 per-ton of CO2, and even that price could not be managed within the confines of an economic-growth-at-all-costs policy approach. Effective carbon pricing as discussed by economists and climate stabilization advocates is not being even being proposed at anything like >$100/ton CO2, and nothing at all is even being considered at the national level.
Emissions reductions needed now to stabilize climate at levels where a livable future is likely, must be so deep and consistent that policies leading to direct reductions, rather than trying to lower emissions through taxation is a more sensible approach.
To be clear however, CEC favored a Fee-and-Dividend approach when it was proposed at the very beginning of the Obama Administration, however it is too late to focus on that idea which has passed its effective date for implementation. Since that time some 400 billion tons of CO2e have been dumped into the atmosphere, almost half of the carbon budget remaining to hold to the Paris Agreement 2◦C warming ceiling.
Algal bloom off English Coast, 1999.
Photo: Steve Groom, Plymouth Marine Laboratory.
Aquatic dead zones in oceans are usually caused by excessive nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, a condition called eutrophication. These elements are fundamental nutrients of certain phytoplankton (single-celled algae). Typically, the proper balance of these elements limits algal growth. However, excess nitrogen and phosphorus leads to explosive growth of phytoplankton in “algal blooms,” which can be so large they can be visible from space, as green drifting shapes. They can also be yellow, brown, or red, depending on the species. Bacteria then feast on the phytoplankton and consume oxygen, leaving little oxygen for the survival of other marine life.
This state of low oxygen, called hypoxia, is devastating to marine life. Reproductive rates decline in low oxygen conditions. Fish are often unable to flee oxygen-absent areas, so they become unconscious and quickly suffocate.
Photo: triplj* (cc)NCND
The blooms are also toxic for humans. Senator James Inhofe became ill in 2011 after swimming in a lake with a toxic bloom, triggered by unusual summer heat. Toxins can become airborne, causing asthma. In August 2014, a toxic bloom in Lake Erie shut down Toledo, Ohio’s water supply system, which serves 500,000 people.
Agricultural runoff from fertilizer and factory farming is the leading culprit of eutrophication. Unfortunately, most of the nitrogen used as fertilizer ends up in our oceans. Additionally, airborne nitrogen from fossil fuel combustion ends up in the water. Climate change also worsens dead zones in two primary ways: (1) warmer water holds less oxygen, and (2) warming reduces ocean currents, creating stagnant zones.
Jubilees have typically been naturally occurring low-oxygen sea events similar to dead zones. Rather than killing the fish, however, they cause marine life such as flounder, eels, and crabs to flee by the droves onto the shore, gasping for oxygen. Jubilees are celebrated events and attract large crowds, drawn by easy-to-catch seafood.
Naturally-caused jubilees occur in summer months when bacteria feed on large masses of decomposing plant matter that accumulate in the water, which depletes the oxygen. They used to occur in only a few places, especially Mobile Bay, Alabama. However, jubilees now occur elsewhere, triggered by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. These events are not causes for celebration but for concern and action.
Image: Richard Scardamalia, NOAA
Sizable dead zones appear along US coasts and in inland waterways. The dead zone off the Louisiana coast in 2014 was about the size of Connecticut. A 2008 study counted 405 dead zones worldwide—about half are in the US. The number has doubled every decade.
The economic impact of dead zones is enormous, costing billions of dollars in diminished tourism and fishing yield. In 1997, fear of the toxins essentially shut down Maryland’s $400 million seafood industry for several months.
Dead zones can be reversed if nitrogen and phosphorus inputs are reduced through the policies and incentives that transform our agricultural system and phase out the burning of fossil fuels.
Organic farming doesn't use extreme-nitrogen fertilizers, but instead uses cover crops to “fix” or introduce nitrogen in the soil. Long-term research at Rodale Institute shows that properly managed cover crops (legumes, grains, grasses or mixtures) can provide all the nitrogen crops need. Farmers could be given incentives for conserving nitrogen and building organic material in soil. Crop rotation and no- or low-till practices reduce soil erosion and runoff. Transitioning from factory farms to pasture-based livestock and composting manure are also important mitigation strategies.
Corn is the most chemical-hungry crop, using nearly half of nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer in the US. Ending the government subsidized corn ethanol program—which consumes 40 percent of that corn with no net energy benefit—is also essential.
“Coastlines – Sound Reflections,” New York Sea Grant, Fall 2006, Vol. 35, No. 3, pp. 3-5, 12, http://www.seagrant.sunysb.edu/Images/Uploads/PDFs/CL-Fall06.pdf.
"Dead Zone – For Educators, Science Education Resource Center," Carleton College, MN, http://serc.carleton.edu/microbelife/topics/deadzone/educators.html.
Hypoxia 101, U.S. EPA Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watershed, Washington, DC, http://water.epa.gov/type/watersheds/named/msbasin/hypoxia101.cfm.
"The N2 Dilemma: Is America Fertilizing Disaster?," Grist.org, http://grist.org/series/the-n2-dilemma-is-america-fertilizing-disaster/.
Karen Villarante-Tonido, Philippines, “Ocean Oxygen Decline,” Climate Emergency Institute, March 18, 2012, http://www.climateemergencyinstitute.com/ocean_oxy_karen_vt.html.
Wikipedia, “Hypoxia (environmental), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypoxia_(environmental).
Wikipedia, “Mobile Bay jubilee, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_Bay_jubilee.
As carbon dioxide levels increase in our atmosphere, our oceans absorb almost a third of carbon emissions. The excess CO2 changes the water’s chemistry through a process called acidification.
Baby Oysters: Early Victims
Over the past decade, rising seawater acidity on the Northwest coast has hit young oysters hard. This is an early warning signal of trouble. In turmoil over the losses, the coast’s $84 million oyster industry has worked closely with scientists to determine the causes.
PH levels have always varied seasonally in the coastal waters. But scientists found that human-caused increases in CO2 are shifting the overall pattern towards more acidity, sometimes causing the water to be more acidic than the tiny, delicate baby oysters can endure. Researchers looked at all the possible explanations for the oyster deaths other pollutants, local factors, sewage treatment, logging, lack of oxygen, or temperature shifts. They ruled out all other possibilities, finding that the shift in acidity—primarily from the burning of fossil fuels—is the culprit.
Oyster growers are finding ways to cope with the situation. But they realize these are stopgap measures that won’t last forever and have become early vocal advocates for addressing the pH issue at its source, by cutting carbon emissions.
Carbon dioxide combines with seawater to produce carbonic acid, which increases the acidity of the water, lowering its pH. The acidity of the ocean has increased by over 25 percent since before the Industrial Revolution when humanity started burning fossil fuels. Previously, the oceans were in relative balance with the atmosphere, absorbing about the same amount of CO2 each year as they released. If current trends continue, ocean CO2 levels could double by the end of this century, exceeding the levels of the past 20 million years.
A grave consequence of increasing ocean acidity is a reduction in the amount of calcium carbonate available for use by shell-forming marine animals including corals, oysters, shrimp, crab, lobster, and the shells of some marine plankton, severely impacting the ability of these creatures to create their protective structures. Furthermore, acidic water can become so corrosive that it will dissolve their shells and skeletons directly. Colder water absorbs higher levels of CO2 than warmer water, and West Coast seas are already so acidic that this is occurring (see photo below: Pteropods).
Coral reefs are already showing significant stress from acidification warming, and other factors, resulting in "coral bleaching,” an often fatal condition. Nearly 30 percent of the world's tropical corals have vanished since 1980. At the current rate of emissions increase, tropical corals could be gone by the middle to the end of this century. Coral reefs—the “rainforest of the sea”—provide habitat for at least a quarter of all marine species, many of which will face extinction if reefs disappear. The effects will ripple through ecosystems and food webs, ultimately affecting even the largest marine animals and commercial fisheries. This would cost society billions of dollars annually due to losses of fishing, tourism, and coastal protection. It would also jeopardize an estimated half billion people who depend on coral reefs for their daily food and income.
Pteropods are tiny delicate snails that use their feet as wings to “fly” through the sea. They are a “keystone species,”—a crucial food source for organisms ranging from small fish to whales. They comprise up to 60 percent of the diet for young pink salmon. West Coast pteropods are already affected by acidification. In a study conducted by NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center pteropods are shown after living in acidified surface (top) or normal water (bottom) for six days. The white lines depict shell dissolution and reflect why ocean acidification is referred to as "osteoporosis of the sea.“
While fish don't have shells, they still feel the effects of acidification. Fish are also sensitive to pH and must to put their bodies into overdrive
, to normalize their chemistry. They must burn extra energy to excrete excess acid from their blood through gills, kidneys, and intestines. This reduces their energy for taking care everything else digesting food, escaping predators, catching food, reproduction, and growth.
As another impact, acidification make it harder for phytoplankton to absorb nutrients, and without nutrients they are more likely to succumb to disease and toxins. These toxins then concentrate in the zooplankton, shellfish, and other marine species that graze on phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are a critical part of our planetary life support system, sitting at the bottom of the ocean’s food chain. They produce over half the oxygen we breathe! They also reduce atmospheric CO2, and ultimately support all fishes.
As the oceans continue to absorb CO2, their capacity as a carbon storehouse will diminish. More of the CO2 we emit will remain in the atmosphere and increase the climate crisis.
Important new research shows that if we continue to dump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it would still acidify our oceans, poisoning marine life—even if down the road we could sequester it from atmosphere. The CO2 would still remain in our oceans, poisoning marine living systems (explained here and here). Only dramatic emission reductions—starting now—will save the oceans' living systems.
While acidification alone could kill our ocean ecosystems—and dead oceans would mean no us—warming, deoxygenation, aquatic dead zones, and plastics pollution also put our oceans on a lethal pathway. About 80 percent of the heat generated by greenhouse gases is absorbed by the seas, mitigating much of the atmospheric temperature increases that would otherwise occur, but this heat comes at a great price to ocean life, especially to coral reefs. We simply must change course if our oceans are to regenerate and stabilize.
Martha Baskin and Mary Bruno, “Acid seas threaten creatures that supply half the world's oxygen,” Crosscut, June 16, 2014, http://crosscut.com/2014/06/16/environment/120507/aboard-rv-melville-ocean-acidfication-baskin/
Bednarsek, N, et.al., “Limacina helicina shell dissolution as an indicator of declining habitat suitability owing to ocean acidification in the California Current Ecosystem,” Royal Society Publishing, April 30, 2014, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.0123, http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/281/1785/20140123.abstract?sid=a2b07728-4c93-4339-923e-38b11dc152de
Dissolve seashells in vinegar – Ocean Carbon & Biogeochemistry Program, October 2009: http://www.nrdc.org/oceans/acidification/files/labkit.pdf
KQED / QUEST, “Ocean Acidification,” http://science.kqed.org/quest/ed-collection/ocean-acidification-2/
Fred Moolton, “Ocean Acidification—The Other CO2 Problem,” Encyclopedia of Earth, December 17, 2011, http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbf26c7896bb431f6a93fd/
NOAA Ocean Acidification Program, “Sharing Ocean Acidification Resources for Communicators and Educators,” http://oceanacidification.noaa.gov/AreasofFocus/EducationOutreach/SOARCEWebinarSeries.aspx
NOAA, “Ocean Acidification Around the World: A story map,” http://noaa.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapTour/?appid=1c33c6304fb9466a9185adb0d12a4e7c
NOAA, PMEL Carbon Program, “Ocean Acidification: The Other Carbon Problem,” http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/Ocean+Acidification
NOAA, PMEL Carbon Program, “A primer on pH,” http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/A+primer+on+pH
International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, “Ocean Acidification,” http://ocean-acidification.net/
Craig Welch, “SEA CHANGE: Oysters dying as coast is hit hard,” Seattle Times, September 11, 2013, http://apps.seattletimes.com/reports/sea-change/2013/sep/11/oysters-hit-hard/ and Welch, “Expert: critique of Seattle Times “Sea Change” project ignores the science,” Seattle Times, October 12, 2013, http://blogs.seattletimes.com/seachange/2013/10/12/expert-critique-of-seattle-times-sea-change-project-ignores-the-science/.
Smithsonian, “Ocean Acidification,” http://ocean.si.edu/ocean-acidification
Smithsonian, Lesson Plan, “Off Base,” http://ocean.si.edu/for-educators/lessons/base
Wikipedia, “Ocean Acidification,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_acidification
Mountaintop removal for coal has turned regions of Appalachia into devastation zones.
Photo: Kent Kessinger
KEEP IT IN THE GROUND
We must now turn away from our costly, dirty, and deadly energy path. We are entering the era of "extreme energy" in which operators go to great lengths and risks to extract the remaining fossil fuels. As conventional reserves of cheap, easy-to-extract coal, oil and gas dwindle, fossil fuel extractors are turning to costlier, dirtier, harder-to-extract "unconventional" reserves, and to high-impact drilling on farmland and within towns and cities. On our present course, the impacts and devastation will only increase over time, as more localities become sacrifice zones.
Fracking operation near a bank in Fort Worth, Texas. 15 million Americans—that’s 5%—now live within one mile of an oil or gas drilling operation. Ever increasing numbers of wells are required in the US to maintain output.
Photo: Jeremy Buckingham
The quality—the energy density—of these reserves is lower, so their footprint becomes ever larger. For example, gas fracking wells run dry faster, so far more wells must be dug to extract the same amount of fuel. As easily pumped liquid oil is depleted, heavier oils must be mined or heated underground for extraction. As underground coal mines thin out, new mining operations destroy mountains and ecosystems. Typically, vast amounts of water are required for unconventional production. (For more impacts, see box below.)
Unconventional extraction processes release much higher levels of greenhouse gases, so as extreme fuels comprise more of the total fossil fuel production, the climate impact proportionally becomes even greater. But even though remaining reserves are becoming more problematic to extract, they are more than sufficient to roast the planet. This is the hidden reality behind the promise of America's bright new abundant oil and "clean" gas future that the fossil fuel industry portrays.
The Current Course
The US and the world have embarked on a course of dependency on poor quality fossil fuels. The industry itself is not making any significant investments in renewable energy. Instead, it is pursuing new fossil-fuel projects. Even though wind farms and solar arrays are being built, investment in unconventional fuel extraction and distribution is expected to be three times greater than spending on renewables, according to the International Energy Agency. Michael Klare, an expert on natural resource issues, predicts "an increasingly entrenched institutional bias among energy firms, banks, lending agencies and governments toward next-generation fossil-fuel production, only increasing the difficulty of establishing national and international curbs on carbon emissions."
Even though President Obama speaks of a green energy revolution, his Climate Action Plan includes a fatal embrace of shale gas. Any further investment in fossil fuel projects and infrastructure further commits us to "locked in" carbon emissions and to our planet laid waste. Increasing reliance on these destructive resources is not a sign of technological innovation; it is a sign of desperation.
A Course-Changing Response
This dangerous trajectory can only be reversed by a culture-wide acceptance of the dangers posed by unconventional fuels. The current resistance campaigns by local citizen's groups are important, but must be supplemented by a large public call for a society-wide mobilization, to drive a comprehensive shift from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy at wartime speed and scale.
This goal can be achieved through extensive media and moral conversation campaigns to awaken and galvanize citizens, accompanied by a grassroots mobilization of citizens demanding change. The future of humanity and all of life depends on keeping most remaining fossil fuels in the ground. Americans must be called to rise and meet the challenges facing us.
Oil tar sands production in Alberta, Canada has turned a Florida-sized stretch of boreal forest into a toxic wasteland. The production of tar sands “syncrude” pollutes vast quantities of water and releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases. Climate scientist James Hansen says that if we develop tar sands, it will be "game over" for the climate. Activists have opposed the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada to the US Gulf Coast, which would facilitate the exploitation of the tar sands. Yet already over a million barrels per day of tar sands bitumen flows into the US through the existing network of pipelines.
Gas and oil "fracking" has been especially ruinous. Across the nation, gas and oil extractors increasingly use hydrofracturing techniques, injecting a brew of toxic chemicals underground, polluting groundwater, and leaking more methane into the atmosphere than do conventional processes. Many complaints of foul water, severe illness, and livestock poisoning had been filed. The industry and government approach has largely been to “frack now, worry later,” while proceeding at full speed without assessing the impacts.
Fracked shale gas also poses a clear and present danger to climate stability through substantial venting of methane. Methane is 84 times more potent in greenhouse capacity than CO2 for the first 20 years. The industry's own research shows there is no practical way to create a leak-proof fracking well due to failures in cement casings. Essentially, fracked gas is no better for the climate than coal and is likely far worse. Shale gas now accounts for about 40 percent of overall US gas production.
 International Energy Agency, "World Energy Outlook 2012." The agency forecasts that cumulative worldwide investment in new fossil-fuel extraction and processing will total an estimated $22.87 trillion between 2012 and 2035, while investment in renewables, hydropower, and nuclear energy will amount to only $7.32 trillion.
 Michael Klare, "The Third Carbon Age: Don't for a Second Imagine We're Heading for an Era of Renewable Energy," Tom Dispatch, August 8, 2013.
 Jeff Tollafson, "Air sampling reveals high emissions from gas field," Nature, February 7, 2012. This study revealed that gas production in the Denver-Juhlsberg Basin, Colorado, lost about 4 percent of gas into the atmosphere. Jeff Tollafson, "Methane leaks erode green credentials of natural gas," Nature, January 2, 2013. The preliminary findings of a field study in the Uintah Basin, Utah, found that methane releases were 9 percent of total production.
Climate change is already creating more frequent heat waves, droughts, fires, and floods.
Map: USDA Farm Services Agency
Cheap fossil fuels historically have assured continuing growth to our economy, but now their negative impacts are mounting. Nonetheless, our nation's policies, subsidies and tax codes still heavily favor hydrocarbon energy. Oil, gas, and coal remain undeservedly cheap, and their wastes are dumped into our common atmosphere for free, as if it were an open sewer. All of us, and the living systems that support us, bear enormous costs associated with their use.
There are different ways to measure these costs and assess their impact upon society and the environment. A recent report, "Climate Vulnerability Monitor: A Guide to the Cold Calculus of A Hot Planet," finds the impacts cost the world more than $1.2 trillion, a whopping 1.6 percent of global GDP. It was written by more than 50 scientists, economists and policy experts, and was commissioned by 20 governments.
Social Cost of Carbon
The Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) is the US government's estimate of how much carbon emissions harm the economy. This is a measure of climate change impacts. US government's 2013 mid-range estimation of the SCC is $35 per ton, revised from 2010 at $26 per ton.
However, the E3 Network (Economics for Equity & Environment), a national group of economists, estimates that CO2 actually costs far more than federal current estimates, contending that the government analysis omits many of the biggest risks of climate change, and downplays the impacts of climate change on future generations. E3 points out that if the SCC were higher, it would bring much more urgency to the value of reducing emissions.
A higher SCC incentivizes efficiencies in appliances and autos; it is not the same as a carbon tax, as it is narrower in effect.
The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) estimates the true cost of a gallon of gasoline is upwards of $15.00 per gallon, by factoring in externalities, such as climate disruption, oil spills, and health impacts from air pollution. Other hidden costs include military defense of oil supply lines, subsidies, and maintaining the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Paul Epstein, with the Harvard School of Public Health, found that coal's hidden costs—climate disruption, public health impacts, pollution, toxic waste—were $345 billion per year (median estimate). The costs are higher than the electricity provided by coal is worth. The public bears the costs of increased asthma, heart attacks, and pulmonary issues. Coal burning releases radiation, heavy metals, and other toxins. It is the largest source of airborne mercury, now seeping into every habitat. Coal ash is our second-largest source of toxic waste.
Fossil fuel extraction impacts (such as CO2 emissions and groundwater pollution) are particularly growing, as producers are increasingly using lower-grade reserves (see Extreme Extraction). Our oceans and marine life are threatened by fossil fuels in several ways: ocean acidification, dead zones, and the plastics crisis.
Including the Costs
If these damages were factored in to the actual prices for carbon fuels, renewable energy would become much more competitive. We must begin now to phase in the costs by using a carbon fee policy, with an annual rising price that is stiff enough that the playing field becomes clearly favorable for renewable energy.
 DARA and Climate Vulnerable Forum, "Climate Vulnerability Monitor: A Guide to the Cold Calculus of A Hot Planet," Also see: Fiona Harvey, "Climate change is already damaging world economy, report finds," The Guardian, September 25, 2012.
Zero US Carbon In a Decade Is a Must!
There are no such things as ‘allowable carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.’ There are only ‘damaging CO2 emissions’ … The CO2 emissions budget framing is a recipe for delaying concrete action now.
—KEN CALDEIRA, email to Joe Romm, Climate Progress
The mission of the ill-fated voyage of Apollo 13 was aborted after an oxygen tank blew up, which allowed the buildup of carbon dioxide in the spacecraft. For their survival, the astronauts had very limited time to respond. Fortunately, an all-out emergency operation returned them safely to Earth.
Humanity is aboard Spaceship Earth, and its precious, vulnerable atmospheric balance must be maintained above all else. For humanity's survival, we now need an all-out emergency response to stop emitting greenhouse gases, and to restore the proper atmospheric balance.
Photo: Movie still, "Apollo 13"
The notion of a “carbon budget”—the amount of fossil fuels we can safely “spend” or burn without exceeding the 1.5-2°C heat limit—has gained nearly complete endorsement within the climate world. Bill McKibben’s 2012 article, “Global warming’s terrifying new math,” the popularized the concept, stating there are five times more fossil fuel deposits than can ever be burned to stay under 2°C.
“Burnable carbon” budgets that state what can typically be "safely burned" range between one-fifth and one-third of the remaining proven fossil fuel reserves, and assume we have several decades to phase out fossil fuels.
But what if the carbon budget concept is actually a dangerous illusion? Consider this:
- Climate change is already dangerous at just 1°C warming. Major impacts are becoming apparent now (such as polar ice melt and extreme weather) that are severely underestimated in the IPCC’s modeling and are not accounted for in the Paris Agreement.
- We are already committed to further warming, even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases today.
- Budgets assume unacceptably high risks of failure, of going past 2°C.
- The budgets state that we have years of carbon left to spend. So we continue spending literally “as if there were no tomorrow.”
1.5-2°C is not a safe target to begin with. At just 1°C warming, impacts are occurring faster and more extensively than expected. While “high impact events” (such as rapid Arctic sea ice loss, accelerating melting of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, and extreme weather) were thought to have low probability, they are already starting to happen. The IPCC reports, which take 5-6 years to produce, are at odds with the quickly unfolding reality. Kevin Anderson states that 2°C is actually the threshold between dangerous and extremely dangerous climate change.
We are already committed to additional heat increase "in the pipeline"—due to the lag in ocean heating—even if we cut all emissions today. So today’s greenhouse gases levels are already catastrophic.
The carbon budget and probability of success. The budget (vertical axis) is related to risk of failure (overshooting the 2°C horizontal axis) along the blue curve. Emissions to date are indicated by grey box, leaving the available budget as the distance between the blue curve and grey box. As chance of not exceeding the target increases from 33% (green) to 50% (orange) to 66% (red), the budget decreases. At 90% chance of not exceeding the target (black), no carbon budget remains.
Source: Spratt, David and Dunlop, Ian, “Dangerous Warming: Myth, reality and risk management”, and Raupach (2013, unpublished), based on Raupach, M.R., I.N. Harman and J.G. Canadell (2011) “Global climate goals for temperature, concentrations, emissions and cumulative emissions”
Right Level of Risk
Catastrophic climate risk must be approached very differently from current thinking. The buildup of CO2 in our air and water poses many possibilities of civilization-ending calamities, such as sea level rise, death of the oceans, and extreme drought. Why not take a risk-averse approach for staying under 1.5-2°C, when the possible outcome is so dire?
Even the “safest” IPCC budget (RPC 2.6) assumes an unacceptably high-risk of exceeding 2°C, at 33%. No one would board a plane with a 33% chance of crashing.
Even a 10 percent chance far exceeds modern safety standards. We know we would not take these levels of risks with our lives. Rather, we must consider risk differently and adopt a low-risk pathway, such as less than 10% of exceeding the 2°C target.
What isn’t being discussed is this: given the carbon fuels we have already burned, even if we stopped right now, we’d have less than a 90 percent chance of staying below 2°C, without net negative emissions. Planet Earth is our “spaceship-home.” We must stop taking the increasing risk that we will make its near future both “hell and high water” for our children.
There is an unacceptable risk that feedbacks will be triggered before 2°C, such as releasing major stores of carbon and methane. Some feedbacks are already starting. If we trigger unstoppable tipping points of runaway warming, we are in for hell and high water. Given these potentially dire consequences, we need a strong risk-management, low-risk approach.
Taking all these issues into account, with a risk-averse approach for staying under 2°C we have no carbon budget left for burning oil, coal, and gas. We need to heed what Caldeira is saying, that there are only damaging CO2 emissions.
Syncrude tar sands operation, Alberta, Canada. The vast Albertan tar sand deposit is a major carbon bomb that must remain buried for climate stability.
Photo: David Dodge, Pembina Institute
Time to Mobilize
To save our Spaceship Earth, humanity must quickly turn away from hydrocarbon fuels and build a system of renewable energy sources. The US must mobilize to stop fossil fuel use as soon as possible, adopting a mandate of US zero carbon within a decade. This requires an all-out mobilization, involving all of society to radically change our economy, energy policy, and energy systems. The rest of the world needs to quickly follow with global zero carbon within fifteen years.
Climate Mobilization and US zero carbon in a decade is inevitable because it is what must be done. It is time to declare a global emergency and mobilize all available resources, political will, and ingenuity towards the task of confronting climate chaos.
Really Keeping It In the Ground
In spite of all this, governments, corporations, and global markets are currently treating remaining reserves as assets to be burned in the coming decades. Numerous massive hydrocarbon projects, in some phase of planning or development, could significantly push emissions well above 2°C and bring on complete climate destabilization, thus ending humanity. In North America, these include the Alberta tar sands, shale gas reserves, deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and exports from the massive coal deposits in the Powder River Basin, Wyoming.
With so much momentum towards complete self-destruction, the only way to keep these massive carbon stores in the ground is through a massive people’s campaign, which includes personal, face-to-face education and moral conversations, demanding an Emergency Climate Mobilization.
The question we face is simple: will America quickly mobilize against climate chaos on a massive scale, or will we remain stuck in denial and passivity until it is too late to avert impacts that will devastate civilization and our living systems? Unfortunately, few people understand that we are in a planetary emergency, demanding urgent response. Decades of rising emissions, while scientists clearly explained the crisis, have closed the window of non-disruptive, gradual reductions. While an incremental, decades-long emissions reduction scenario (which the world agreed to in Paris) may seem “politically realistic,” it is not “scientifically realistic.”
The US now needs an all-out emergency climate mobilization at wartime speed. The goal must be Net Zero US Emissions within a decade; Net Zero Globally within fifteen years.
Yet in the face of endemic denial and passivity, how do we catalyze an Emergency Climate Mobilization quickly enough to protect a livable Earth? It will be impossible to achieve without public support and pressure. Importantly, it only takes 3-4% of engaged, impassioned citizens—those most concerned—to transform the situation.
We must move quickly to tell the truth and drive a cultural conversation, to achieve a US consensus on an Emergency Climate Mobilization within two years. A broad-based people’s campaign is needed to catalyze the mobilization. To ignite public pressure and build the “Emergency Climate Movement,” the Climate Emergency Coalition warns and motivates groups and citizens.