The urgency of keeping fossil fuels in the ground, stopping new fossil fuel infrastructure and transitioning to 100 percent clean energy is heightened by series of recent reports.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced in late September that August marked the 16th straight hottest month on record. We’ve noted this trend before, but the latest news confirms that we are “hurtling at a frightening pace toward the globally agreed maximum of 2.0°C warming,” as Jeff Masters and Bob Henson at Weather Underground claim. NOAA found that so far in 2016, “the average global temperature was 1.82 degrees F above average.” That’s roughly 1 degree Celsius, or half of the “agreed maximum” in warming.
As we’ve noted elsewhere, climate chaos can begin at temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius, and a much more aggressive target of 1.5 degrees Celsius is required.
Another new report, this time from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, shows that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have settled above 400 parts per million (ppm) and “it already seems safe to conclude that we won’t be seeing a monthly value below 400 ppm this year – or ever again for the indefinite future.” To put that in perspective, 350 ppm is considered by climate scientists as the highest sustainable level of carbon dioxide concentration without triggering climate chaos. A few years ago Scientific American noted that the last time the earth had concentrations this high – between 2.2 and 3.6 million years ago – the Artic had summers 14 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it does now and was ice-free. NOAA’s report notes that “average Arctic sea ice extent for August was 23.1 percent below the 1981–2010 average.”
We are reaching the tipping point for our climate: concentrations of greenhouse gases and increases in global temperature that result in irreversible changes to our planet. Conditions include permafrost melting, “traditional” vegetation shifting from where it commonly grows, melting sea ice, and the very circulation of the oceans altering. We could also expect to see diebacks in forests, including the Amazon, and disruptions in weather patterns. The effects of this climate tumult are already affecting the lives of millions around the world, and these new reports tell us we can expect more and bigger disruptions just around the corner.
Unless we act now.
In a report made available online at Applied Energy, an academic journal, researchers from the University of Oxford found that we need to stop building fossil fuel infrastructure immediately if we want a decent chance of avoiding 2 degrees Celsius in temperature rise. They write: “Too much carbon emitting electricity capital stock has already been installed to be consistent with a peak warming goal more ambitious than 2 degrees C with 66% probability, irrespective of the non-electricity emissions pathway.”
Meaning: even if we stopped all climate-harming emissions outside of the electricity sector today, our chances of avoiding the 2-degree planet warming are still 66% at best.
Our friends at Oil Change International recently released a report, The Sky’s the Limit, which looks at the climate agreement reached in Paris last December and at current fossil fuel extraction across the world. It concludes that just burning currently exploited fossil fuels would push us over 2 degrees Celsius. Their recommendation? “No new fossil fuel extraction or transportation infrastructure should be built, and governments should grant no new permits for them.”
We know what we need to do to keep our planet habitable for ourselves and our children, yet our politicians don’t act.
It’s easy to see some of the reasons why: we’ve noted the billions of dollars Wall Street banks are pouring into the Dakota Access Pipeline. Those same banks are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into our elections. And they are getting a lot in return. Congress is moving the Orwellian-named Energy Policy Modernization Act – they plan on sneaking it through after the election – that would expedite liquefied gas exports, steamroll local efforts to fight pipelines, and spend millions of tax dollars finding new fossil fuel reserves. This bill is the exact opposite of what we should be doing, yet our elected representatives are blithely moving it along ignoring the science.
Back in June 2011, when Food & Water Watch became the first national organization to call for a ban on fracking, we were told by many naysayers that the demand wasn’t realistic, wasn’t achievable. But the thousands of New Yorkers who organized and worked tirelessly there showed just three-and-a-half years later when Gov. Cuomo banned fracking in December 2014 that a ban is possible if we organize. Hundreds of communities across the country have already banned fracking and/or the disposal of toxic fracking wastewater, and those movements have shown what we can do when we develop real political power. We have to harness that same power to force our politicians to do what is necessary: keep fossil fuels in the ground, stop building fossil fuel infrastructure, and transition to 100 percent clean energy.
The time to act is now. We cannot continue to mine for coal and drill for oil and gas. We cannot continue to build pipelines, compressor stations and export facilities. We must develop wind and solar and other clean energy sources, retrofit our homes, and enact tough new energy efficiency standards. These aren’t discrete issues. They form the core of the fight to stave off the climate chaos that threatens our ability to live safely on this planet.
We’ve no time to lose.