We Have 12 Years to Save — or Lose — Our Only Home
Consider this your all-hands-on-deck, siren-blaring warning that we need to act now or forever hold our peace.
By Olivia Alperstein |October 31, 2018
Pull on the seat-belt in your gas-guzzling car, folks, and strap in for the worst ride of our lives.
This fall, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a critical report warning that humans have about 12 years — until 2030 — before global warming reaches a catastrophic level.
The report concludes, frighteningly, that the world can’t allow global temperatures to warm past 1.5 degrees Celsius, or there will quite literally be hell to pay. And unless we take drastic action, we’re already all set to get there.
Consider this your all-hands-on-deck, siren-blaring warning that we need to act comprehensively to mitigate climate change now — or forever hold our peace.
The IPCC predicts an increased risk of devastating climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food, water, security, and economic growth.
As sea levels and global temperatures rise, low-lying communities will disappear and heat-related deaths will increase, along with diseases like dengue fever and malaria. Areas that cease to be inhabitable by humans will fuel an accelerated refugee crisis, while resources like agriculture and crops will be decimated in key areas impacted by climate change.
That’s just a few of the highlights of the Ten Plagues-like punishment we’ll get for endangering our planet. We’re facing a pretty grim future — and that’s even if we manage to cap the rise at 1.5 degrees, which we’re not on track to do.
For those of us who are pretty young like me, our golden years may be anything but.
Before you slip quietly into your doomsday bunker or start praying that someone invents interstellar space travel, there’s an urgent message of hope: We’ve got a little bit of time to save the only home planet we’ve got. And it’s going to take all of us to do it.
While dire, the report also contains some critically useful recommendations.
Governments, companies, indigenous peoples, local communities, and individuals all have a critical role to play to solve this crisis. We can and must act quickly and collaboratively on a local and global scale before it’s too late. Acting alone or failing to cooperate, the IPCC report emphasizes, will fall short.
The Paris Climate Agreement isn’t going to be enough — we need massive, World War Two-level mobilization. The victory will be that we get a living, healthy planet.
The report also highlights the need to consider justice and equity as we consider solutions.
Some nations, like the United States, are leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and other accelerants of climate change. Others contribute less to emissions but are more vulnerable to catastrophic damage. A number of low-lying nations (on whose approval the Paris Agreement depended) will literally be underwater if temperatures rise beyond the IPCC’s limit.
The point being: The countries that have contributed the most to climate change need to contribute the most to fixing it — and to helping those who suffer most to adapt.
What can you do, right here, right now, besides giving up meat, your car, or plastic bags and straws?
Urge your local or state government to commit to 100 percent renewable energy in the next decade. Get your community and your state to ban the use of fracking and other fossil fuel production that will drive us to doomsday that much quicker, not to mention the other dangerous risks to people’s health.
Call on the federal government to implement the recommendations of the IPCC report, and commit to working with the rest of the world to act swiftly.
And if you vote, remember the planet when you do.
Olivia Alperstein is the Media Relations Manager for Physicians for Social Responsibility (www.psr.org). Distributed by OtherWords.org.
Opinion: What This Year’s Nobel Prize Winners in Economics Can Teach Us About Global Warming
By Joe Kennedy
In the early 1990s, Yale economist William Nordhaus made us an offer we shouldn’t have refused. His work showed we had an opportunity to curb carbon dioxide emissions, and thereby avert the worst of global climate change, if we simply taxed the emissions, starting at a rate of just $5 per ton. That would have provided our market-driven society an incentive to seek less carbon-intensive ways of operating.
Of course, we lacked the political will to accept the offer, so emissions continued unabated. As a result, our cumulative emissions problem has now worsened considerably, which has driven up the price we will have to pay to bring it under control.
The consequences of our refusal to take the deal Nordhaus offered were on full display recently as he collected a Nobel prize for modeling the link between climate and the global economy. Indeed, in the weeks leading up to the award, the White House released a reportstating matter-of-factly that the Earth’s temperature could rise as much as 4 degrees Celsius in the next century, while an international panel warned that an increase of just 1.5 degrees could be too much. Against that backdrop, the economic models now suggest that the highest carbon tax society can afford to pay would be about $40 per ton — and it wouldn’t be enough to reduce emissions to levels we need to stabilize the atmosphere.
So, where does this leave us? The answer is we need to accelerate significantly the pace of innovation in clean-energy technologies. And as it happens, Nordhaus shared this year’s Nobel prize with another economist, Paul Romer, whose work shows how to make that happen.
Romer made his name by incorporating technology into models of economic growth. Raise the profitability of new technology and companies produce more of it. One example of this is the so-called “induced innovation” that a carbon tax would create. Raising the cost of carbon emissions causes companies to emit less. But it would also cause them to invest more in finding better technologies to reduce emissions. One study estimates that this could reduce the total cost of achieving a given emissions level by 30 percent.
The impact would be even greater if we used carbon tax revenues to underwrite even more research and innovation. Policies such as research subsidies or an expansion of the research and development tax credit would generate even faster technological change, further lowering the cost of reducing emissions. Because research produces huge social benefits, public support makes sense. Broad subsidies would speed the advancement of clean technologies. It would also increase economic growth, making it easier to absorb the costs of whatever warming does occur.
America is at a tipping point as far as public support is concerned. The Obama administration negotiated an international agreement to reduce emissions. But even if every country met its commitments, we would still surpass the 1.5-degree target. The Trump administration has announced its intention to withdraw from the treaty, and in the same recent report that stated temperatures might increase as much as 4 degrees Celsius if nothing is done, it proposed doing nothing.
But others are beginning to act. A few prominent Republicans have come out in support of a carbon tax that rebates the revenues to Americans. Unfortunately, using the revenues this way would be less effective in boosting innovation and holding down the economic costs.
The dilemma only worsens as time goes on. To escape the worst effects of climate change, we need to take sensible actions now. We should enact a carbon tax that escalates steadily over the next few decades to signal that it will be profitable to develop clean technologies and expedient to adopt them, and we should plow the tax revenues back into research and innovation, including clean-energy breakthroughs, so the cycle of innovation begins to snowball.
The correct policy could produce a win-win-win: lower emissions, better technology and faster growth.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Joe Kennedy is a senior fellow covering tax, budget and regulatory issues at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Plastic Waste: Are We Stuck With It Forever?
By Doug Moss and Roddy Scheer
Dear EarthTalk: Considering all the well-publicized problems with plastic in our oceans, do you think that plastic has any kind of future?
—Lea Mauduit, via EarthTalk.org
As much as environmentalists shudder at the proposition, it looks like plastics (and plastic waste) are here to stay. Most experts agree that there’s no way to get humans to stop using plastic even if it would benefit the environment. This modern petrochemical-derived material is inexpensive to make, easy to form into various shapes and sizes, and is tough and strong enough to be used in a wide range of applications. We all make use of it in various forms hundreds of times a day just going about our business.
“Plastics are the workhorse material of the modern economy,” reports the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., adding that global production has surged from 15 million to 311 million metric tons yearly between 1964 and 2014. That number is projected to double to over 600 million metric tons in the next 20 years.
But At What Cost?
But the functional benefits of plastic come at a steep price, mostly as non-recyclable waste. Single-use plastics represent a quarter of the total volume of plastics produced and around 95 percent of the value of plastic-packaging material. McKinsey estimates that the single-use plastics industry is worth some $80-$210 billion annually. Plastic’s useful life is often less than a year, yet the material lives on for centuries.
Sadly, only 14 percent of plastic, single-use or otherwise, is recycled, even though much more of it could live another life if recycling processors were equipped and willing to handle it. Europeans manage to re-use a third of their plastic waste; the U.S. has only been able to re-use 10 percent.
Some are looking to so-called “bio-plastics” made from plant wastes instead of petroleum as one solution, but experts worry that even these nouveau greener formulations still won’t break down and go away, especially out at sea. “A lot of plastics labelled biodegradable, like shopping bags, will only break down in temperatures of 50°C and that is not the ocean,” says Jacqueline McGlade of the UN Environment Programme. “They are also not buoyant, so they’re going to sink, so they’re not going to be exposed to UV and break down.”
Getting Circular on Plastic Waste
According to McKinsey, we need to start applying “circular-economy” principles to global plastic-packaging if we want to stem the tide of plastic waste. To get this ball rolling, UK-based sailor Ellen MacArthur, who set the world record in 2005 for fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe, is using her personal foundation to fund the Circular Design Challenge to inspire creative solutions in reducing plastic packaging. Ten early-stage ideas will each receive $10,000 in funding to help get their concepts into production, while bigger operations with more established solutions already in the works can apply for one of three $100,000 awards to further prototyping and production goals. While this funding may represent a drop in the bucket of the kind of resources we’ll need to beat the problem of plastic waste, it sets the wheels in motion to thinking sustainably about the future of plastics and the long term health of our environment.
EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. To donate, visit www.earthtalk.org. Send questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stopping Future Wars by Saving Water at Home
By Allie Garnham October 25, 2018
Almost 2 billion people will be living in countries with a water shortage by 2025, according to the UN. However, there is hope that if people change the way they use water, the world can avoid that grim future. By just making a few alterations, changing some habits or installing new fixtures, you can save water and money. Your home can be your main battle ground against climate change and water shortage.
You Use Lots of Water Everyday
saving waterIn drier parts of the U.S. people use more water compared to people in other much cooler wetter regions. Generally, a family of four uses about 400 gallons of water every day, which means that each person in a home uses 100 gallons of water. Roughly 70 percent of water is used indoors while outdoor use accounts for 30 percent according to the EPA. It may sound ridiculous if you put in numbers, but the fact that each individual in a home flushes the toilet five times a day makes this easier to believe.
Old Habits Die Hard
Simply changing the way you use water in the house is enough to make a difference. For example, you can use a cup of water to brush your teeth instead of brushing while the faucet is running. Instead of taking a bath every day, you can limit that activity to the weekends and take showers the rest of the week.
Apart from that, depending on your local laws, you can use grey water to clean your home and water plants outdoors. If everyone did this, a lot of water and energy used to pump that water would be saved. Less fossil fuel burned to produce energy means less pollution.
Replace or Retrofit the Faucet
The kitchen faucet is used more than any other faucet in your home and it accounts for 20% of indoor water use. Your old kitchen faucet uses 5 gallons per minute but a water efficient faucet only uses 1.3 gallons per minute. To enjoy these savings, you may need to replace your existing kitchen faucet.
However, retrofits like aerators are a practical alternative to replacing your faucet. An aerator reduces the amount of water coming out of a faucet by mixing that water with air. It separates a single flow of water into many smaller streams just like a sieve would. This reduces the space water can flow through, which results in lower water flow. The aerator does this without reducing water pressure. You also do not need to spend any money on a plumber because aerators are very easy to install
Toilet Flushing Is A Culprit Too
Install high-efficiency toilets that use less than 1 gallon of water per flush. With a high-efficiency toilet, a family of four can save 20,000 gallons of water a year. After you have installed your new toilet or new retrofit for your toilet and faucet, check them regularly to make sure there are no leaks. We do not have to sit down and watch the world dry up because we are all capable of doing something about climate change.
How to Cut Fossil Fuels in Agriculture With Renewable Energy
By Emily Folk October 26, 2018
When you think of agriculture, what comes to mind are rolling fields of golden grain and enormous herds of cattle grazing their way across the landscape. You don’t normally think of crude oil, but the agriculture industry is reliant on it. This is a big problem, because while we will always need the food farms produce, crude oil is a finite resource. How can we cut the agriculture industry’s dependence on fossil fuels with the application of renewable energy resources?
Following the oil crisis of the early 1970s, a book was published called “Eating Oil” that investigated how much of the U.K.’s food supply relied on the use of fossil fuels. In spite of the problems that occurred during the 1970s, much of the agriculture industry relies on these finite resources.
Gas and oil are used in everything, from farm equipment to harvest the food to trucks that move it to grocery stores. Nearly every step of food production relies on fossil fuels or the energy that can be created by burning them. Even fertilizer is based on fossil fuels.
How can the industry reduce or eliminate its reliance on fossil fuels? One way is by making the switch to renewable energy.
Green Energy Options
Farms rely on sunshine to grow a successful crop. Why not utilize some of that sunshine to power the farm and its facilities? Solar panels can be installed on farm buildings or in empty fields and be used to generate electricity. This would greatly reduce the farm’s reliance on the energy created by burning fossil fuels. The number of government incentives, grants and customization make solar and other forms of renewable energy an option with high ROI.
Depending on the amount of usable sun the farm gets, theoretically the farm’s entire energy needs could be met with by installing enough solar panels.
Solar energy isn’t the only option for green and renewable energy. Depending on where the farm is located, hydroelectric, geothermal, wind and even biomass energy generation are all options to help reduce the necessity for power created by fossil fuels.
Many commercial farms are focused on generating the biggest crops possible, but that isn’t the best thing they could be doing for the environment. Big crops like wheat and corn pull nitrogen out of the soil. The plants need this mineral to grow, so farms replace the depleted nitrogen with fertilizer. The problem with that is that the nitrogen in fertilizer is produced from natural gas, which is another finite fossil fuel.
The reliance on fertilizer isn’t necessary if the farms utilize a centuries-old technique known as crop rotation4. You plant a nitrogen-draining crop one season, then the next you rotate that crop to another field and plant a nitrogen-renewing crop. Corn and wheat drain nitrogen from the ground, and crops like winter peas and hairy vetch return nitrogen to the soil, getting it ready for the next planting season.
The increasing demands on the agriculture industry aren’t going away anytime soon, especially with the world’s population expected to reach 10 billion in the next 50 years or so. In the same amount of time, we’re expected to exhaust the planet’s supply of fossil fuels, so a change needs to happen and it needs to happen soon. There are plenty of green options to get the agricultural industry away from fossil fuels. All we need now is some enterprising farmers willing to adopt them. The food production industry hasn’t changed much in the last few centuries, but now it’s time for an upgrade. It’s time to get away from the old hidebound ideal that everything needs to run on fossil fuels.
Emily Folk is the editor of Conservation Folks. She writes on topics of sustainability, conservation and green technology.
MASS MURDER AND AMERICAN HISTORY
By Robert C. Koehler
“Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
This is bigger than hate, this latest mass shooting, last weekend, at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, in which, oh my God, 11 more innocent souls died at the hands of a home-grown terrorist.
The president’s anti-immigrant tweets may have been in grotesque synchronicity with the killer’s: “Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border… . This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!” And they no doubt fed the climate in which Robert Bowers acted, but this is bigger than Donald Trump. He may be the trigger, but the weapon has been ready and waiting for a long time.
Every mass shooting happens in a context, and every mass shooting cries out that we must examine the social infrastructure of dehumanization and violence.
“Yet this too needs to be contextualized as a current manifestation of the racist foundations of our country,” Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote the day after the murders, reminding us of such matters as slavery, Native American genocide and the wars of the last half century.
“This pattern of violence and demeaning of ‘the Other’ has become so deeply embedded in the culture of the U.S. that only a true consciousness transformation will undermine its prevalence in both major political parties.”
“Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
These are the words I can’t get out of my head — the killer’s final post on his social media platform before he took his guns and headed off to the Tree of Life Synagogue. This is war talk — or rather, the pretend war talk of a boy playing with guns … a boy who has become an adult and now has real guns and a “real” enemy — the immigrants swarming into our country, aided by the Jews — and he’s about to leap to glory and save his people.
Maybe the problem of American violence begins here, in the fantasy of armed rescue and armed salvation. In this fantasy mindset, the default plot device of ten thousand mediocre movies and TV shows, the only consequence of violence is that it eliminates the bad guy.
Boyhood is all about glory, but boys grow up and learn a deeper reality — unless they don’t. And American militarism requires that Americans stay in their early adolescence psychologically, making a shift not in their understanding of other people but only in the weapons used against them. Beyond the entertainment industry and the gaming industry is the Department of Defense, which sustains itself by recruiting children before they grow up and teaching them to hate — and kill — the Other. The United States Army actually has a website devoted to hooking kids as young as 13. It’s called America’s Army, a gaming website with the message that war is awesome.
As I wrote some years ago, the site is “the very essence of America’s own arrested development: We command the world’s largest arsenal and throw our weight around with an adolescent swagger. Neocons famously declared ‘high noon’ with Saddam Hussein. If militarists had to face long-term or even short-term account ability for the damage they wreak, war would be obsolete in an eye blink.”
And war always, always, always comes home. Indeed, its consciousness pervades the social order. It grabs a mind and won’t let it go. And those who want to wage war on their own, without the inconvenience of having to follow someone else’s orders, are free not merely to define their own enemy but also to assemble their own stash of weapons and, when they are ready, “go in” and wreck some lives. This is America, where we have the freedom to kill one another.
This is the clincher. We are not allowed, in any official way, to be aware of this. While we pour maybe as much as a trillion dollars a year into Things Military, the amount of money devoted to research into the causes of social violence is, by congressional edict, zero. This has been true since 1996, when Congress, at the intense urging of the NRA, passed the Dickey Amendment, which in essence cut off any federal funding for research into the causes of gun violence.
Specifically, this piece of legislation, part of the federal government’s 1996 omnibus spending bill, bans at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using any federal money to conduct research that “may be used to advocate or promote gun control” — which is a built-in catch-22. Because research into gun violence is likely to reveal the need for gun control, the research cannot be federally funded.
As the New York Times pointed out: “The result is that 22 years and more than 600,000 gunshot victims later, much of the federal government has largely abandoned efforts to learn why people shoot one another, or themselves, and what can be done to prevent gun violence.”
And this is the context in which politicians peddle fear and war. Fear of immigrants is hardly new, hardly the invention of Trump. It has long been a component of American racism. As Trump threatens to dismantle the 14th Amendment and sign an executive order terminating birthright citizenship (an election ploy as the midterms grow nearer), we might want to reflect on good old Executive Order 9066, which Franklin Roosevelt signed in 1942 — and just like that, with a stroke of the pen, forced some 117,000 Japanese-Americans into concentration … excuse me, internment camps for the next three years.
We could also remember all the European Jews who were not allowed into the United States as they tried to flee Hitler, as we reflect on the nation’s moral shortcomings. This history, so lacking in official atonement, is available to anyone who wants to project blame on a specific Other. Indeed, there is no nationalism — white or otherwise — without an Other to fear and, every so often, kill.
“Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
The mass shootings will continue. We all know that. And we can’t undo our history. But we do have a choice: We can face it squarely and look beyond it, toward love, toward forgiveness, toward an understanding of our presumed enemies. When we do so, the hard part begins. We also start understanding ourselves.
Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.