Climate Change -- Point of No Return
August 18, 2014
Margaret Kimberley / The Black Agenda Report & Inside Story Team / Al Jazeera America
The Russian Arctic belches deadly methane as global warming pushes the biosphere beyond the tipping point. We have a choice: revolution or extinction. "The profit motive must be eliminated in favor of managed economies that limit growth, fairly distribute resources, regulate the polluting industries and activities, and end the gross inequalities of this gilded age."
Climate Change -- Point of No Return
Margaret Kimberley / The Black Agenda Report
"A temperature rise of only two degrees centigrade
is enough to make permafrost thaw and begin a chain of terrible events."
(August 6, 2014) -- Time's up, or so planet earth seems to be telling humanity. Extreme weather conditions around the globe, including rising temperatures, droughts, crop failures, melting sea ice, rising sea levels, disappearing glaciers and the loss of plant and animal species all point in only one direction. The tipping point towards the sixth great extinction is taking place right now.
It is clear that these problems are all human made. Rising carbon dioxide levels caused by fossil fuel emissions are creating a series of catastrophes in ecosystems around the world. The processes are clear to anyone who pays attention.
Two large craters, one more than 200 feet in diameter, were recently discovered in the remote Yamal peninsula of northern Russia. In an extreme case of irony, Yamal is said to mean "end of the world" in the local Nenets language. Scientists have concluded that the holes were formed when a mixture of salt, water and natural methane gas exploded underground.
They theorize that rising temperatures made the permafrost unstable and released methane, the key ingredient in the explosions. A temperature rise of only two degrees centigrade is enough to make permafrost thaw and begin a chain of terrible events.
"The tipping point towards the sixth great extinction
is taking place right now."
All of the bad news is relevant as the United Nations prepares to host a Climate Summit on September 23, 2014 in New York. Past climate conferences haven't provided much in the way of relief, as the United States and other industrialized nations subverted the 2009 Copenhagen climate accords.
The supposedly environmentalist president Barack Obama and his European cohorts forced an agreement that allowed a two degrees increase in temperature. This seemingly small amount will kill humans and other species and brought the giant holes to Siberia and now more dangerously, methane from the sea. Climatologist Jason Box recently made this pithy comment on Twitter. "If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we're f'd."
As the situation is dire, so must the solutions be truly radical. The free for all of capitalism is deadly in so many ways as financial collapse, exploitation and wars bring misery to millions of people. Money is the problem and not individual decision making. We may feel useful when recycling trash or driving hybrid vehicles but these are bandages when the world needs major surgery.
"Green capitalism" is doomed because capitalism can't be green. The imperative to maximize profits is in direct conflict with environmental and human sustainability. The profit motive must be eliminated in favor of managed economies that limit growth, fairly distribute resources, regulate the polluting industries and activities, and end the gross inequalities of this gilded age.
Money is the elephant in the climate change room. Corporations are beholden to no one but themselves, only claiming to be like human beings when they really want to get their way with governments and citizens around the world. "Corporate personhood" is a one way street and everything from income inequality to planetary destruction is the proof.
"Green capitalism is doomed
because capitalism can't be green."
Recently residents of Toledo, Ohio and southeast Michigan literally had no water to drink for three days. A combination of sewage, live stock manure, and fertilizer run-off create algae blooms, which spread more rapidly because of rising temperatures.
If the amount of algae grows enough it contaminates drinking water from lake Erie. The causes of this recurring problem are well known but the obvious solution of regulating the businesses responsible for the problems doesn't happen and the inaction is a direct result of corporate power flexing political muscle.
The Fertilizer Institute is the industry lobby which makes sure that neither federal nor local regulators restrict the use of fertilizers which deprived 500,000 people of drinkable water. Acquiescence to corporate interest makes life itself untenable.
Unfortunately, the elites will not suffer in the collapse as much as the rest of us will. Poor Detroit residents live with the threat of a privatization plan which begins with the loss of access to water, while golf courses and publicly financed stadiums owe the city $30 million in unpaid water bills without facing any loss of this resource.
On the very same day that struggling people were forced to accept pension cuts, the wealthy owners of the Detroit Red Wings hockey team unveiled plans for a publicly financed stadium and said nothing about paying the overdue water bill at Joe Louis arena.
The 1% will make the rest of us suffer slowly before suffering at all themselves. They will still get plenty of water, or energy, or land or whatever the rest of us lack. The end will not come as Hollywood tells us, with a sudden cataclysm. It is moving surely but slowly enough to keep some people safe while others suffer.
"Maintaining the status quo means
the end of life on the planet."
The People's Climate March scheduled to take place on September 21 in New York cannot be just a feel good precursor to the United Nations meeting.
It must have as part of its agenda a critique of the world financial system. The criminals who must be exposed aren't just in New York and London either. India and China poison the air and their citizens in a mad dash to catch up with the other industrial polluters of the world.
There are many villains in this story but there is only one important point. Maintaining the status quo means the end of life on the planet. The 1% will limit their exposure for a time but eventually the end will come for them too.
The only optimistic point is that past extinctions always left some life on earth. The human survivors of the future will dissect the reasons that most of their species died out. Hopefully they will conclude that restarting industrial society is a bad idea [that] shouldn't be repeated.
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City and can be reached at Margaret.Kimberley@BlackAgendaReport.com.
US Cities Combating Climate Change on the Local Level
More than a thousand mayors have signed on to a climate protection agreement
Inside Story Team / Al Jazeera America
(August 15, 2014) -- When it comes to climate change, a major part of President Barack Obama's plan is to promote ideas and solutions at state and local levels.
Last month, surrounded by his task force of state, local and tribal leaders, Obama unveiled a national climate preparedness plan, pressing forward in his commitment to combat the effects of climate change in the United States.
The plan activates a variety of federal agencies to implement recommendations from the task force. The Department of Agriculture will award more than $236 million in grants to improve rural electricity infrastructure in eight states. The US Geological Survey will spend $13 million to develop advanced 3-D mapping that will allow cities and states to respond to weather-related disasters.
"We're going to help communities improve their electric grids, build stronger seawalls and natural barriers and protect their water supplies," said Obama. "We're also going to invest in stronger and more resilient infrastructure."
The new federal initiatives are an example of what the president has called his "year of action." And with a pen and a phone, he's sidestepping Congress through executive orders.
What do mayors think of the recommendations made by the president's task force?
What are mayors already doing to combat climate change?
How are politics affecting their progress?
We consulted a panel of experts for The Inside Story.
Jim Brainard is the mayor of Carmel, Indiana. He is also a member of the White House task force on climate preparedness and resilience.
What were the main takeaways from your recommendations for the president on the White House task force?
There's a lot of work yet to be done. It's important to look back to the purpose of task force. It's a way for the administration to help local governments do what they're already doing in terms of mitigating and adapting to climate change.
It's also important to remember that almost all mayors of cities with over 30,000 residents voluntarily signed what is, in essence, an agreement like the Kyoto protocol, pledging to work toward voluntarily goals of reducing emissions of carbon in their own cities.
Mayors have been doing things in their own cites, and the White House recognizes that. The White House is asking us, "How can we support you, since we won't get large environment legislation through Congress?"
What are some specific reforms you've made in Carmel?
I issued an executive order to require all [city] fleets to be electric. We are hydrogen testing. We are a huge user of electricity, and we get it from coal plants. Now we're taking the flame and using it to turn product into fertilizer. We used to spend half of a million dollars a year on this, and now we're using it and selling it to landscapers and giving it away to our constituents.
We're developing our city center core as a pedestrian-friendly, walkable environment.
We have built more roundabouts than any other city in country. We do it because it's cheap to build, reduces accidents, and we save millions of gallons of fuel per year.
How is politics affecting the process of change?
That's important if you look at the history of leadership on fighting climate change in the US, it's traditionally come from Republican Party
It started with [Teddy] Roosevelt setting aside millions of acres of land for a federal park system. It was [Richard] Nixon who signed the bill that set up the Environmental Protection Agency and started Earth Day. He signed the Endangered Species Act.
I remember [Ronald] Reagan and [UK Prime Minister Margaret] Thatcher talking about climate change in the 1980s. She understood that the climate was changing and caused by man-made activities.
People from both sides of aisle should want those things, and it doesn't make sense to make this a partisan issue.
Rick Piltz is the director of Climate Science Watch for the Government Accountability Project. He was a senior associate for the US government's Climate Change Science Program.
Does Obama's climate initiative address the issue?
A solid climate initiative has to have both adaption and prevention. There is no way you can adapt to the amount of climate change that we're going to get on the path that we're at now on burning fossil fuels all around the world.
We're on a path to get global warming and global disruption that will be probably beyond the ability to really adapt to. There are limits to adaptations. It's expensive. It can only take you so far.
I think it's good that Obama's climate plan has both migration and preparedness. That much is right. There is no reason why we can't be doing both fronts at once.
But the thing is, in order to get someone like the mayor of Mobil, Alabama -- where they don't even admit that climate change is real -- they won't likely do anything for preparedness. How do you get to parts of country that aren't being progressive and proactive and not taking this seriously?
In absence of any action from Washington, what can be done? Can state and local governments really carry it on their own?
You want to see innovative things on the local level, and then that becomes contagious and adopt it elsewhere. But the problem is larger than can be dealt with strictly on local level. It has to be also international.
I think what Obama is doing with this initiative, with very limited resources, is trying to use existing authorities and resources of the executive branch to say, "OK, this emergency management agency is going to require states to get disaster aid, and the Agricultural Department is going to do smart gird projects. We're going to have a contest for which citizens can have the best resilience plans and help fund those plans.
What are the costs associated with adaptation?
I think that climate change adapters is likely to be an expensive proposition. If you look at the full range -- drought, wildfire, coastal zones with sea level rise and severe storms, the public health system, disease vectors, disrupted supply -- and to try to analyze it at all levels of government, such as how you're likely to be adversely affected by climate change and what you could actually do to reduce the damage, it's a tremendously complicated problem.
You can't do it for free. You have to devote resources to infrastructure. But everything costs money to be more resilient to climate change. Maybe it can be done in a way to create jobs, but I think it's just the very beginning -- the very beginning -- of something that's going to have to be throughout fabric of this whole society.
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