by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
September 18, 2014
CLIMATE CHANGE, AND THE FIERCE URGENCY OF NOW
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The fight against global warming and climate change is entering the critical phase.
With the UN Climate Summit scheduled for later this month, there is a renewed effort to get both government and the private sector to take concrete action to save our planet.
The People's Climate March & Mobilization on Sept. 21 will likely be the largest public protest in history, with the main march in New York City and hundreds of associated actions around the world.
It is hoped the actions on that day will refocus attention on climate change, and the urgency of a problem that can longer be ignored or wished away.
Last week, we learned that atmospheric levels of CO2, the primary source of greenhouse gas in our atmosphere, is at record levels.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, levels of CO2 were 396 parts per million (ppm) in 2013, which is 142 percent of the pre-industrial level and is on track to surpass 400 ppm of CO2 in 2015 or 2016.
Levels of methane, another major greenhouse gas, are also sharply higher.
Nearly all climate scientists agree that CO2 levels need to be below 350 ppm to prevent a drastic change in the Earth's climate. Is there a way out?
For those who think that green energy and economic growth are mutually exclusive, it would take $200 billion in public and private investment, about 1.2 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, every year for the next 20 years to sharply reduce carbon emissions.
How? According to University of Massachusetts economics professor Robert Pollin, it would entail "dramatically raising energy efficiency standards in buildings, transportation systems, and industrial processes, and, equally dramatically, expanding the supply of renewable energy sources - solar, wind, geothermal, small-scale hydro, and clean bioenergy."
In a piece published in the Boston Review last week, Pollin states that such an investment "will create roughly 2.7 million more jobs per year than will spending the same amount of money on our existing fossil fuel-based energy system" while reducing carbon pollution by 40 percent from 2005 levels.
And, Pollin writes, that increase in jobs "would come after we account for declines in U.S. fossil fuel production and consumption. In order to meet emissions reduction targets over the next 20 years, coal consumption will need to fall by about 60 percent, oil consumption by 40 percent, and natural gas consumption by 30 percent."
The specifics of this plan, developed by Pollin's >A HREF="http://www.peri.umass.edu/219/">Political Economy Research Institute and the Center for American Progress, will be coming out shortly. One thing is certain. Achieving these gains entails fossil fuel companies leaving about 80 percent of their coal, oil, and gas reserves in the ground.
"[They] will not accept these cuts without a fight, of course, writes Pollin. "Their assets still in the ground will lose about $3 trillion in value, according to a recent study by Carbon Tracker and the Grantham InstituteBut a serious commitment is exactly what's lacking right now in Washington and on Wall Street.
And then there is, as Pollin puts it, "one critical tradeoff that cannot be avoided: the fossil fuel industry will inevitably have to experience major cutbacks and, over the longer term, near-total demise.
"There is simply no choice in the matter if we believe the research produced by climate scientists. The profits of oil, coal, and natural gas companies will have to yield to the imperative of sustaining life on earth."
The power of the fossil-fuel industry is considerable. So is the power of people coming together to fight for what's right.
And what's just and right at this moment is to stand up and demand that our leaders take action that matches what the science says we need to do collectively - to walk away from gas, coal, and oil and move full speed ahead toward renewable energy.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.>/i>