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Making a stand for our future
In conjunction with http://climatecritical.com
Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
Three Norwegian lawmakers have nominated Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg, who has become a prominent voice in campaigns against climate change, for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Freddy Andre Oevstegaard and two other members of the Socialist Left Party said they believe “the massive movement Greta has set in motion is a very important peace contribution.”
Thunberg, 16, has encouraged students to skip school to join protests demanding faster action on climate change, a movement that has spread beyond Sweden to other European nations.
Oevstegaard told the VG newspaper Wednesday that “climate threats are perhaps one of the most important contributions to war and conflict.”
Any national lawmaker can nominate somebody for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee doesn’t publicly comment on nominations, which for 2019 had to be submitted by Feb. 1.
Time to Panic
The planet is getting warmer in catastrophic ways. And fear may be the only thing that saves us.
The age of climate panic is here. Last summer, a heat wave baked the entire Northern Hemisphere, killing dozens from Quebec to Japan. Some of the most destructive wildfires in California history turned more than a million acres to ash, along the way melting the tires and the sneakers of those trying to escape the flames. Pacific hurricanes forced three million people in China to flee and wiped away almost all of Hawaii’s East Island.
We are living today in a world that has warmed by just one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 1800s, when records began on a global scale. We are adding planet-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at a rate faster than at any point in human history since the beginning of industrialization.
In October, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released what has become known as its “Doomsday” report — “a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen,” as one United Nations official described it — detailing climate effects at 1.5 and two degrees Celsius of warming (2.7 and 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). At the opening of a major United Nations conference two months later, David Attenborough, the mellifluous voice of the BBC’s “Planet Earth” and now an environmental conscience for the English-speaking world, put it even more bleakly: “If we don’t take action,” he said, “the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”
Scientists have felt this way for a while. But they have not often talked like it. For decades, there were few things with a worse reputation than “alarmism” among those studying climate change.
This is a bit strange. You don’t typically hear from public health experts about the need for circumspection in describing the risks of carcinogens, for instance. The climatologist James Hansen, who testified before Congress about global warming in 1988, has called the phenomenon “scientific reticence” and chastised his colleagues for it — for editing their own observations so conscientiously that they failed to communicate how dire the threat actually was.
That tendency metastasized even as the news from the research grew bleaker. So for years the publication of every major paper, essay or book would be attended by a cloud of commentary debating its precise calibration of perspective and tone, with many of those articles seen by scientists as lacking an appropriate balance between bad news and optimism, and labeled “fatalistic” as a result.
In 2018, their circumspection began to change, perhaps because all that extreme weather wouldn’t permit it not to. Some scientists even began embracing alarmism — particularly with that United Nations report. The research it summarized was not new, and temperatures beyond two degrees Celsius were not even discussed, though warming on that scale is where we are headed. Though the report — the product of nearly 100 scientists from around the world — did not address any of the scarier possibilities for warming, it did offer a new form of permission to the world’s scientists. The thing that was new was the message: It is O.K., finally, to freak out. Even reasonable.
This, to me, is progress. Panic might seem counterproductive, but we’re at a point where alarmism and catastrophic thinking are valuable, for several reasons.
The Difference a Degree Makes
The number of people projected to experience heat waves, water stress and other climate events by 2050 rises sharply as the global mean temperature increases.
The first is that climate change is a crisis precisely because it is a looming catastrophe that demands an aggressive global response, now. In other words, it is right to be alarmed. The emissions path we are on today is likely to take us to 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2040, two degrees Celsius within decades after that and perhaps four degrees Celsius by 2100.
As temperatures rise, this could mean many of the biggest cities in the Middle East and South Asia would become lethally hot in summer, perhaps as soon as 2050. There would be ice-free summers in the Arctic and the unstoppable disintegration of the West Antarctic’s ice sheet, which some scientists believe has already begun, threatening the world’s coastal cities with inundation. Coral reefs would mostly disappear. And there would be tens of millions of climate refugees, perhaps many more, fleeing droughts, flooding and extreme heat, and the possibility of multiple climate-driven natural disasters striking simultaneously.
There are many reasons to think we may not get to four degrees Celsius, but globally, emissions are still growing, and the time we have to avert what is now thought to be catastrophic warming — two degrees Celsius — is shrinking by the day. To stay safely below that threshold, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, according to the United Nations report. Instead, they are still rising. So being alarmed is not a sign of being hysterical; when it comes to climate change, being alarmed is what the facts demand. Perhaps the only logical response.
This helps explain the second reason alarmism is useful: By defining the boundaries of conceivability more accurately, catastrophic thinking makes it easier to see the threat of climate change clearly. For years, we have read in newspapers as two degrees of warming was invoked as the highest tolerable level, beyond which disaster would ensue. Warming greater than that was rarely discussed outside scientific circles. And so it was easy to develop an intuitive portrait of the landscape of possibilities that began with the climate as it exists today and ended with the pain of two degrees, the ceiling of suffering.
In fact, it is almost certainly a floor. By far the likeliest outcomes for the end of this century fall between two and four degrees of warming. And so looking squarely at what the world might look like in that range — two degrees, three, four — is much better preparation for the challenges we will face than retreating into the comforting relative normalcy of the present.
The third reason is while concern about climate change is growing — fortunately — complacency remains a much bigger political problem than fatalism. In December, a national survey tracking Americans’ attitudes toward climate change found that 73 percent said global warming was happening, the highest percentage since the question began being asked in 2008. But a majority of Americans were unwilling to spend even $10 a month to address global warming; most drew the line at $1 a month, according to a poll conducted the previous month.
Last fall, voters in Washington, a green state in a blue-wave election,rejected even a modest carbon-tax plan. Are those people unwilling to pay that money because they think the game is over or because they don’t think it’s necessary yet?
This is a rhetorical question. If we had started global decarbonization in 2000, according to the Global Carbon Project, we would have had to cut emissions by only about 2 percent per year to stay safely under two degrees of warming. Did we fail to act then because we thought it was all over already or because we didn’t yet consider warming an urgent enough problem to take action against? Only 44 percent of those surveyed in a survey last month cited climate change as a top political priority.
But it should be. The fact is, further delay will only make the problem worse. If we started a broad decarbonization effort today — a gargantuan undertaking to overhaul our energy systems, building and transportation infrastructure and how we produce our food — the necessary rate of emissions reduction would be about 5 percent per year. If we delay another decade, it will require us to cut emissions by some 9 percent each year. This is why the United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, believes we have only until 2020 to change course and get started.
A fourth argument for embracing catastrophic thinking comes from history. Fear can mobilize, even change the world. When Rachel Carson published her landmark anti-pesticide polemic “Silent Spring,” Life magazine said she had “overstated her case,” and The Saturday Evening Post dismissed the book as “alarmist.” But it almost single-handedly led to a nationwide ban on DDT.
Throughout the Cold War, foes of nuclear weapons did not shy away from warning of the horrors of mutually assured destruction, and in the 1980s and 1990s, campaigners against drunken driving did not feel obligated to make their case simply by celebrating sobriety. In its “Doomsday” report, the United Nations climate-change panel offered a very clear analogy for the mobilization required to avert catastrophic warming: World War II, which President Franklin Roosevelt called a “challenge to life, liberty and civilization.” That war was not waged on hope alone.
But perhaps the strongest argument for the wisdom of catastrophic thinking is that all of our mental reflexes run in the opposite direction, toward disbelief about the possibility of very bad outcomes. I know this from personal experience. I have spent the past three years buried in climate science and following the research as it expanded into ever darker territory.
The number of “good news” scientific papers that I’ve encountered in that time I could probably count on my two hands. The “bad news” papers number probably in the thousands — each day seeming to bring a new, distressing revision to our understanding of the environmental trauma already unfolding.
I know the science is true, I know the threat is all-encompassing, and I know its effects, should emissions continue unabated, will be terrifying. And yet, when I imagine my life three decades from now, or the life of my daughter five decades from now, I have to admit that I am not imagining a world on fire but one similar to the one we have now. That is how hard it is to shake complacency. We are all living in delusion, unable to really process the news from science that climate change amounts to an all-encompassing threat. Indeed, a threat the size of life itself.
How can we be this deluded? One answer comes from behavioral economics. The scroll of cognitive biases identified by psychologists and fellow travelers over the past half-century can seem, like a social media feed, bottomless, and they distort and distend our perception of a changing climate. These optimistic prejudices, prophylactic biases and emotional reflexes form an entire library of climate delusion.
We build our view of the universe outward from our own experience, a reflexive tendency that surely shapes our ability to comprehend genuinely existential threats to the species. We have a tendency to wait for others to act, rather than acting ourselves; a preference for the present situation; a disinclination to change things; and an excess of confidence that we can change things easily, should we need to, no matter the scale. We can’t see anything but through cataracts of self-deception.
The sum total of these biases is what makes climate change something the ecological theorist Timothy Morton calls a “hyperobject” — a conceptual fact so large and complex that it can never be properly comprehended. In his book “Worst-Case Scenarios,” the legal scholar Cass Sunstein wrote that in general, we have a problem considering unlikely but potential risks, which we run from either into complacency or paranoia. His solution is a wonky one: We should all be more rigorous in our cost-benefit analysis.
That climate change demands expertise, and faith in it, at precisely the moment when public confidence in expertise is collapsing is one of its many paradoxes. That climate change touches so many of our cognitive biases is a mark of just how big it is and how much about human life it touches, which is to say, nearly everything.
And unfortunately, as climate change has been dawning more fully into view over the past several decades, all the cognitive biases that push us toward complacency have been abetted by our storytelling about warming — by journalism defined by caution in describing the scale and speed of the threat.
So what can we do? And by the way, who’s “we”? The size of the threat from climate change means that organization is necessary at every level — communities, states, nations and international agreements that coordinate action among them. But most of us don’t live in the halls of the United Nations or the boardrooms in which the Paris climate agreement was negotiated.
Instead we live in a consumer culture that tells us we can make our political mark on the world through where we shop, what we wear, how we eat. This is how we get things like The Lancet’s recent dietary recommendations for those who want to eat to mitigate climate change — less meat for some, more vegetables — or suggestions like those published in The Washington Post, around the time of New Year’s resolutions. For instance: “Be smart about your air-conditioner.”
But conscious consumption is a cop-out, a neoliberal diversion from collective action, which is what is necessary. People should try to live by their own values, about climate as with everything else, but the effects of individual lifestyle choices are ultimately trivial compared with what politics can achieve.
Buying an electric car is a drop in the bucket compared with raising fuel-efficiency standards sharply. Conscientiously flying less is a lot easier if there’s more high-speed rail around. And if I eat fewer hamburgers a year, so what? But if cattle farmers were required to feed their cattle seaweed, which might reduce methane emissions by nearly 60 percent according to one study, that would make an enormous difference.
That is what is meant when politics is called a “moral multiplier.” It is also an exit from the personal, emotional burden of climate change and from what can feel like hypocrisy about living in the world as it is and simultaneously worrying about its future. We don’t ask people who pay taxes to support a social safety net to also demonstrate that commitment through philanthropic action, and similarly we shouldn’t ask anyone — and certainly not everyone — to manage his or her own carbon footprint before we even really try to enact laws and policies that would reduce all of our emissions.
That is the purpose of politics: that we can be and do better together than we might manage as individuals.
And politics, suddenly, is on fire with climate change. Last fall, in Britain, an activist group with the alarmist name Extinction Rebellion was formed and immediately grew so large it was able to paralyze parts of London in its first major protest. Its leading demand: “Tell the truth.” That imperative is echoed, stateside, by Genevieve Guenther’s organization End Climate Silence, and the climate-change panel’s calls to direct the planet’s resources toward action against warming has been taken up at the grass roots, inspiringly, by Margaret Klein Salamon’s Climate Mobilization project.
Of course, environmental activism isn’t new, and these are just the groups that have arisen over the past few years, pushed into action by climate panic. But that alarm is cascading upward, too. In Congress, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has rallied liberal Democrats around a Green New Deal — a call to reorganize the American economy around clean energy and renewable prosperity. Washington State’s governor, Jay Inslee, has more or less declared himself a single-issue presidential candidate.
And while not a single direct question about climate change was asked of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential debates, the issue is sure to dominate the Democratic primary in 2020, alongside “Medicare for all” and free college. Michael Bloomberg, poised to spend at least $500 million on the campaign, has said he’ll insist that any candidate the party puts forward has a concrete plan for the climate.
This is what the beginning of a solution looks like — though only a very beginning, and only a partial solution. We have probably squandered the opportunity to avert two degrees of warming, but we can avert three degrees and certainly all the terrifying suffering that lies beyond that threshold.
But the longer we wait, the worse it will get. Which is one last argument for catastrophic thinking: What creates more sense of urgency than fear?
If you don’t know who Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg is, you can think of her as an international climate-change counterpart to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Like the rock-star congresswoman from New York, Thunberg is a charismatic young woman whose social-media savvy, moral clarity, and fearless speaking truth to power have inspired throngs of admirers to take to the streets for a better world and call out the politicians and CEOs who are standing in the way.
Ocasio-Cortez, 29, is known for championing the #GreenNewDeal and schooling right-wing haters on Twitter. Thunberg, 16, is known for launching the #SchoolStrike4Climate movement—tens of thousands of high-school students worldwide are skipping school on Fridays until their governments treat the climate crisis as an emergency—and for torching billionaires and heads of state at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week.
Demolishing the convenient notion that we are all to blame for climate change, Thunberg told a Davos panel that included president Trump’s former chief economics adviser Gary Cohn, “Some people, some companies, some decision makers in particular have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money.” She paused before a final thrust of the knife: “I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.”
Call them the Climate Kids. Like Ocasio-Cortez and Thunberg themselves, the grassroots activist movements they have roused are comprised almost exclusively of teenagers and twentysomethings. These are not your father’s environmentalists: supplicant, “realistic,” and accepting of failure. These young people are angry about the increasingly dire climate future awaiting them and clear-eyed about who’s to blame and how to fix it. And they seem to have the bad guys worried.
Greta Thunberg was all of 15 years old when she began her solo weekly protests outside the Swedish Parliament last August. With her round, serious face and light brown hair braided into pigtails, the teenager cut a quixotic figure as she held a handmade sign that said, in Swedish, “School Strike for Climate.” But a BBC reporter filed a story, the story got shared on social media, and before long students as far away as Australia were striking too.
Like the United States, Australia is a country that has long produced massive amounts of fossil fuels and that has been getting hammered by the impacts of burning those fossil fuels; last week, Australia registered the highest seaside temperature ever recorded in the Southern hemisphere: 121 degrees Fahrenheit, in Port Augusta. When prime minister Scott Morrison reprimanded the student strikers for “participat[ing] in things that can be dealt with out of school,” high-school student Imogen Viner gave voice to the generational divide. “Without activism,” Ms. Viner told Australian television, “there’s no point in going to school, because there won’t be a future we want to live in.”
The biggest student strikes for climate so far appear to be taking place in Europe, with journalists reporting that 32,000 students and supporters filled the streets of Brussels last Friday demanding climate action. Additional thousands rallied in Berlin, Munich, and smaller cities across Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium. In Dublin, striking students displayed an impressive grasp of climate science—particularly the need to dial back emissions levels by extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it underground—by chanting, “No more coal, no more oil, keep the carbon in the soil.”
Thunberg claimed on her Twitter feed that there have been student strikes for climate on every continent except Antarctica—70,000 strikers in total last week. Meanwhile, the Swedish teenager continued to blast the elites in Davos, in flawless English. “Adults keep saying, ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope,’” she said. “But I don’t want your hope…. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire. Because it is.”
Inspired by Thunberg, 13-year-old Alexandria Villasenor in New York City hopes young people will join her climate strike at the United Nations on Friday, March 15. “We are calling it the #SchoolShutdown Strike 4 Climate, because our goal is to get so many students striking that we shut down the schools for a day!” Villasenor told The Nation. After reading about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 1.5 C report in October—and seeing how governments nevertheless took little action at the COP 24 UN meeting in Poland in December—Villasenor began her own school strike outside the UN. Some of her friends, she says, “don’t understand what climate change is, and if they do, they don’t think it’s as big of a problem as it is. So my goal is to educate my generation about the climate emergency and mobilize them to force adults to do the right thing.”
Three groups that are supporting Villasenor’s March 15 strike at the UN—the Sunrise Movement, 350.org, and the Extinction Rebellion—are representative of the more militant stance that younger activists have brought to the climate movement in recent years. Traditionally, most big environmental groups were resolutely nonpartisan, focused on inside-the-Beltway policy fights and loathe to explicitly call out corporate interests, though Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and Friends of the Earth were exceptions. Now, an array of scrappy, youth-dominated grassroots groups are ready and eager to get in the face of the climate-wrecking industry, its executives and the politicians they bankroll.
The Sunrise Movement, for example, has been a primary mover behind the Green New Deal. Mainstream media coverage usually credits Representative Ocasio-Cortez for injecting the idea into the political conversation, and her role was pivotal, but the true story is more complex. After watching most elected officials, including Democrats, fail to treat the climate crisis as an emergency, Sunrise activists welcomed the incoming Democratic majority in the US House of Representatives with protest signs demanding that Democrats “Step Up Or Step Aside.” Next, Sunrise activists occupied the office of incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to demand her support for a Green New Deal. Echoing the intra-movement argument during the Obama years over whether to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, older environmentalists condemned the sit-in: Why put an ally like Pelosi on the spot? Sunrise, however, accepted no such constraints. The sit-in went viral after Ocasio-Cortez, likewise rejecting the wait-your-turn etiquette expected of freshmen members, joined the protestors. And Pelosi, who began her political career as an activist, applauded the Sunrise activists, even if she eventually disagreed with their demand for a special committee for the Green New Deal.
Few ideas in recent political history have spread as rapidly as the Green New Deal, and it’s notable that it was these young outsiders who made it happen. Their elders certainly had the opportunity to do so, as I can attest from personal experience. Having proposed a Global Green Deal—essentially, a Green New Deal that would apply internationally—in my 1998 book Earth Odyssey, I sought meetings with leaders of US environmental groups to urge them to consider the idea. A massive green investment program would not only prevent climate catastrophe, I argued, it would create millions of jobs, solving the environmental movement’s political problem of appearing not to care about ordinary people’s economic needs. Only one environmental leader agreed to meet with me, and that was to tell me that my idea was impractical.
Twenty years later, a Green New Deal is well on its way to being the de facto climate policy of the Democratic Party and is spreading overseas. Last week at Davos, the new prime minister of Spain, Pedro Sanchez, told the billionaire class that the era of neoliberalism and deregulation was over, adding that the climate crisis now demanded “ecological responses” from every government on earth. “The ecological transition, which has started to be known in many forums as the Green New Deal, should not instill fear,” Sanchez said, because it would create jobs, not destroy them.
At a separate Davos appearance, Greta Thunberg all but taunted the elites who hold young people’s fates in their hands, saying, “I want to challenge those companies and those decision makers into real and bold climate action…. I don’t believe for one second that you will rise to that challenge. But I want to ask you all the same. I ask you to prove me wrong.”
“Power concedes nothing without a demand,” said Frederick Douglass during the fight against slavery. “It never has and it never will.” It’s their understanding of this fundamental theory of social change that makes Thunberg, Ocasio-Cortez and all the Climate Kids so effective and exciting. They grasp what many of their elders apparently never learned: that the climate struggle is about power—not having the best science, or the smartest arguments, or the most bipartisan talking points, but power. Specifically, it’s about the power Exxon and the rest of the fossil-fuel industry have over governments and economies the world over, and the industry’s willingness to use that power to enforce a business model that is guaranteed to fry the planet. With the moral absolutism of youth and the self-preservation instinct of all living things, the Climate Kids recognize that either the industry goes or they do. And they are not going down without a fight.Home Page - other - GretaThunberg