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September 20, 2019

Will the adults act?


September 20, 2019

The Global Climate Strike today is expected to draw millions of people across 150 countries in what is poised to be the largest worldwide climate protest in history. Led by 16-year-old Swedish student and climate activist Greta Thunberg, the strike, which will call on world leaders to take decisive and meaningful climate change action ahead of the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York on September 23, encapsulates the growing frustration, particularly among the world’s youth, with how adults have so horribly mismanaged a crisis that world leaders knew was possible a generation ago.

In 1979, the First World Climate Conference (FWCC), backed by an international committee of 100 scientific experts, concluded that it was necessary for nations to “prevent potential man-made changes in climate that might be adverse to the well-being of humanity.”

In the four decades since the FWCC, humanity has done a terrible job at reining in greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, we have done just the opposite. Since 1980, global carbon emissions have increased by more than 80 percent. The lion’s share of that polluted pie is taken up by the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial processes, followed by changes in land use tied to a steadily growing human population; namely, agriculture and deforestation.

The United States, the world’s biggest producer and consumer of oil, and second-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide after China, has set a remarkably poor example for other nations since Donald Trump entered the White House. His administration, which pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, has been aggressively attacking science, gutting the agencies tasked with caring for the natural environment and protecting the public from the health harms related to the environment, including fossil fuel pollution, and the entry of plastics, agricultural waste and toxic chemicals into waterways and food chains.

Just last week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to revoke the Obama-era Waters of the US rule, which defines which of the nation’s waterways are subject to federal regulations. Now it will be easier for power stations, factory farms and industrial firms to pollute lakes, rivers, streams and sources of drinking water. In July, the agency rejected an Obama-era proposal to ban the neurotoxic insecticide chlorpyrifos. Produced by Dow Chemical (a major donor to Trump’s inauguration committee), chlorpyrifos, which hampers brain development in children, has made its way into the nation’s rivers and streams, where it threatens both humans and wildlife.

Looking to the south, the Amazon rainforest continues to burn, releasing millions of tons of stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day. In 2019 alone, the Amazon – a sink that safely sequesters 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year – has experienced more than 100,000 fires, resulting in a spike in air pollution, with much of the destruction financed by BlackRock, the world’s biggest investment firm. In May, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon surged to a new high, with forest cover being lost at the rate of two soccer fields – more than 150,000 square feet – every minute, as industry leaders feel emboldened by President Jair Bolsonaro’s pro-business, anti-environment stance.

Looking to the steadily warming north offers gloomy pictures as well, with the Arctic losing near-record amounts of sea ice this summer to rising temperatures, and suffering through some of the longest-running wildfires ever recorded. This summer, Alaska lost more than 1 million hectares to wildfires, while Greenland experienced a record heatwave. Siberia fared even worse, with more than 2.6 million hectares burned since July.

While the situation of the beloved polar bear, so long the face of global warming, appears to have stabilized – at least for now, for some subpopulations – there is no short supply of new mascots to be the sad emissaries of the climate crisis. A frontrunner is the Bramble Cay melomys, which earlier this year became the first mammal to go extinct due to climate change. The small rodent lived on a single island in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which itself could be the new face of climate carnage. Supporting thousands of animal species up and down the food chain, the reef has stood the test of time for the last 20,000 years, but it has finally met its match: a deadly cocktail of climate change, overfishing and land clearance.

The world’s largest living organism is dying, and we are to blame. “Climate barbarism” is what Naomi Klein, the inspirational climate change chronicler, calls it in her new book “On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal.” At least 17 countries have now declared a “climate emergency.”

But amid all the human-caused death and destruction across the world’s ecosystems and the planet’s climactic mechanisms, all is not lost – yet. “There is still time to tackle climate change, but it will require an unprecedented effort from all sectors of society,” says the United Nations. There have been some key victories and signs of progress, indicators that some kind of system change may be underway. In July, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the landmark New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Targeting a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, it is America’s most aggressive state-level climate legislation.

In the US, the Green New Deal, which seeks to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, is making headway into the 2020 presidential election, with a majority of Democratic candidates supporting it. Co-authored by Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen Ed Markey (D-Mass), the nonbinding resolution – the most sweeping climate policy ever introduced into the U.S. Congress – calls for “a fair and just transition” to protect communities impacted by climate change, particularly those who have been disproportionately affected by pollution in the past. Its proponents are signaling a break with the consumer-capitalist model of profit and resource depletion to embrace a model that values nature, sustainability, communities of color and Indigenous people.

Excerpted from: 'Global Climate Strike: Kids Are Demanding Action, But Will Adults Act?'.


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