Opinion: Good News And Perspectives On 1.5°C


Entrance to the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala, India. The sign was titled, “SAVE OURSELVES.” Photo: Russ Vernon-Jones

Love, Justice And Climate Change

Russ Vernon-Jones

Two weeks ago I shared the deeply troubling news that many scientists now think that we are definitely going to see global warming increase by more than 1.5°C. The effects of this warming will be devastating around the world, and especially in frontline nations. We do still have the possibility of overshooting that target and then, in time, with great effort, bringing warming back down below it.

This post recaps some key ideas from two weeks ago, reflects on reasons we are where we are, and offers many reasons to be encouraged about the possibilities for now accelerating our progress on solving the climate crisis.

As I wrote in that post, “[This] does not mean that we should now give up. If anything, it means that our efforts to reduce emissions, sequester carbon, and live sustainably are more important than ever. It is time to redouble our efforts, to get more people engaged in the climate movement, to demand bolder action from our governments, to take the individual steps we can take, and to build the political muscle and will to stop the corporations and wealthy individuals who continue to destroy the climate as they put their profits ahead of the welfare of all of humanity.

“If you feel pulled to sink into despair, I urge you to weep, to tremble with fear, and to rage, instead. We get to feel whatever deep pain we have about this situation. But the people in frontline communities all over the world need us not to linger too long with our pain, but rather to rise together, to fight together, energized and courageous, for a livable world for all people and other living things.”

Reflecting On Why
I think it is worth reflecting briefly on why humanity has failed to limit global warming more decisively. We knew what needed to be done–stop extracting and burning fossil fuels, transition rapidly to clean renewable energy, stop deforestation, adopt regenerative agriculture, and reduce consumption. Why didn’t humanity do enough of these things? Three key reasons all involve powerful forces that do not reflect the desire for climate action that is growing among people around the world.

Three Major Reasons
One big reason is that in our global economic system decisions are made on the basis of profit, not for the common good or the health of the planet. This system continues to concentrate more and more wealth and power in the hands of the wealthy. It depends on endless growth–in production, extraction, and consumption. A great many of the most effective, although modest, gains we have made in the U.S. in reducing total emissions are the result of the government “interfering” in the market and incentivizing and requiring more decisions to be pro-climate.

Another reason we haven’t made more progress in the U.S. is that one of our two major political parties has wedded itself fully to white supremacy and to making the wealthy even wealthier. It has absolutely refused to put any limits or penalties on the extraction and burning of coal, oil and gas, even though these are destroying the climate and causing devastating hardship and death around the world. They have consistently undermined efforts to transition to sustainable ways of living. They are abandoning any commitment to fair elections in their efforts to retain and expand their power.

A third major obstacle has been the greed of the fossil fuel industry and their accomplices in the financial industry. They have continued to seek to expand extraction of fossil fuels in the face of a scientific consensus that we must eliminate the burning of such fuels very rapidly if we want the world to be habitable for humans and other creatures. They have lied and deceived the public about the science for decades and are continuing to lie about what they are doing. The immorality of their business practices is staggering.

Reasons To Be Encouraged – Good News
Nonetheless, I think there are reasons to be encouraged about the possibilities for accelerating our progress. The number of people around the world working on finding solutions to the climate crisis has exploded exponentially. People are working on making energy storage batteries without lithium and recycling old batteries; on growing food in floating hydroponic flood-proof farms in Bangladesh and India; on making cement that doesn’t emit carbon dioxide; on making electric school busses widely available to U.S. schools, on solar powered irrigation in Senegal and Guinea, on clean air in Beijing, on getting solar power on low-income housing in the U.S., on reimagining the World Bank and IMF to provide climate finance for frontline nations, on ending new oil and gas extraction in Columbia, on making plastics from waste instead of oil, and on adopting a carbon border tax in the EU. This is just a small sample of the many thousands of current initiatives.

Si, Se Puede
No single one of these things is going to get us out of this crisis, but the multiplicity of efforts– literally millions of people around the world dedicating their ingenuity, determination, and energy to making a difference–is birthing a new era — an era where a significant portion of humanity is all working in the same direction, finding sustainable ways to live on this earth. Each of us can find ways to participate, to engage others, and to build a people’s movement powerful enough to overcome the political and corporate forces that still stand in the way. Si, se puede! Yes, we can!

Russ Vernon-Jones was principal of Fort River School 1990-2008 and is currently a member of the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now-Western Massachusetts. He blogs regularly on climate justice at www.russvernonjones.org.

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