Category Archives: General

Scientists back global climate strike

20 September sees the start of a week-long youth-led global climate strike. Students will be voicing their demands for action − backed by many scientists.

LONDON, 20 September, 2019 − Leading scientists have declared their support for the global climate strike which starts today.

In a statement published by the Earth League, headed Humanity is Tipping the Scales of the World, 20 respected scientists throw their weight into the argument. Among a stellar company, they number Lord Nicholas Stern, Johan Rockström from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, its founder.

The world is approaching a dual tipping point of social and environmental systems that will arguably determine the future of life-support systems on Earth, they say.

On the one hand, young people across the world are struggling to tip the social scale towards swift and concerted climate action.

“If that tipping towards sustainability does not happen quickly, we risk crossing different kinds of tipping points – those in the Earth System that may threaten the stability of life on our planet.

“Humanity is tipping the scales of our planet’s future”

“Tropical coral reef systems and the Arctic summer ice are at risk already at 1.5°C warming and we now know that there is a likely tipping point for the destabilisation of the Greenland Ice sheet, which may be as low as 2°C.”

Much of the factual material they explain is by now all too well-known; many of their specific warnings, however acutely they present them, echo with leaden but still necessary familiarity. But there is a new note to what they have to tell the world: that time really is running out.

“Humanity may tend to take the benign conditions of the past 10,000 years for granted, but we are already experiencing the highest global mean temperature on Earth since the last Ice Age”, they write.

“If anything, there is a growing understanding that expert assessments, which are usually conservative in the best sense of the word, have contributed to allow decision-makers to underestimate – not overestimate – the risks of climate impacts. Now it is apparent that impacts are happening much sooner and more severely than expected.

“In each report since 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has corrected its assessments of the so-called ‘reasons for concern’ upwards, i.e., to higher levels of worry.

Irreversible change

“The world is following a path which even at a conservative assessment will result in more than 3°C of warming – with definite irreversible tipping points – by the end of this century. Last time we had this level of warming on Earth was 4-5 million years ago.”

The scientists echo the call of the young strikers: “This is not a single-generation issue”, they say. “Humanity is tipping the scales of our planet’s future.”

Serious scientists are usually cautious people, unwilling to stick their necks out and speak out on something about which they are not absolutely certain. But today’s statement is not like that − and it is not the first of its kind.

Three other experts, all renowned in their fields, last April urged support for the school strikers, declaring: “The world’s youth have begun to persistently demonstrate for the protection of the climate and other foundations of human well-being … Their concerns are justified and supported by the best available science. The current measures for protecting the climate and biosphere are deeply inadequate.”

They attracted the support of more than 6,000 of their colleagues. When scientists are prepared to voice their fears as openly as they are now doing, where does that leave the rest of us? − Climate News Network

20 September sees the start of a week-long youth-led global climate strike. Students will be voicing their demands for action − backed by many scientists.

LONDON, 20 September, 2019 − Leading scientists have declared their support for the global climate strike which starts today.

In a statement published by the Earth League, headed Humanity is Tipping the Scales of the World, 20 respected scientists throw their weight into the argument. Among a stellar company, they number Lord Nicholas Stern, Johan Rockström from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, its founder.

The world is approaching a dual tipping point of social and environmental systems that will arguably determine the future of life-support systems on Earth, they say.

On the one hand, young people across the world are struggling to tip the social scale towards swift and concerted climate action.

“If that tipping towards sustainability does not happen quickly, we risk crossing different kinds of tipping points – those in the Earth System that may threaten the stability of life on our planet.

“Humanity is tipping the scales of our planet’s future”

“Tropical coral reef systems and the Arctic summer ice are at risk already at 1.5°C warming and we now know that there is a likely tipping point for the destabilisation of the Greenland Ice sheet, which may be as low as 2°C.”

Much of the factual material they explain is by now all too well-known; many of their specific warnings, however acutely they present them, echo with leaden but still necessary familiarity. But there is a new note to what they have to tell the world: that time really is running out.

“Humanity may tend to take the benign conditions of the past 10,000 years for granted, but we are already experiencing the highest global mean temperature on Earth since the last Ice Age”, they write.

“If anything, there is a growing understanding that expert assessments, which are usually conservative in the best sense of the word, have contributed to allow decision-makers to underestimate – not overestimate – the risks of climate impacts. Now it is apparent that impacts are happening much sooner and more severely than expected.

“In each report since 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has corrected its assessments of the so-called ‘reasons for concern’ upwards, i.e., to higher levels of worry.

Irreversible change

“The world is following a path which even at a conservative assessment will result in more than 3°C of warming – with definite irreversible tipping points – by the end of this century. Last time we had this level of warming on Earth was 4-5 million years ago.”

The scientists echo the call of the young strikers: “This is not a single-generation issue”, they say. “Humanity is tipping the scales of our planet’s future.”

Serious scientists are usually cautious people, unwilling to stick their necks out and speak out on something about which they are not absolutely certain. But today’s statement is not like that − and it is not the first of its kind.

Three other experts, all renowned in their fields, last April urged support for the school strikers, declaring: “The world’s youth have begun to persistently demonstrate for the protection of the climate and other foundations of human well-being … Their concerns are justified and supported by the best available science. The current measures for protecting the climate and biosphere are deeply inadequate.”

They attracted the support of more than 6,000 of their colleagues. When scientists are prepared to voice their fears as openly as they are now doing, where does that leave the rest of us? − Climate News Network

UN Secretary General Urges Public Pressure Against Climate “Emergency”

This story originally appeared in The Nation. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

The United Nations Secretary General says that he is counting on public pressure to compel governments to take much stronger action against what he calls the climate change “emergency.”

19 September, 2019 − “Governments always follow public opinion, everywhere in the world, sooner or later,” Antonio Guterres said Tuesday in an interview with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets. Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, added: “We need to keep telling the truth to people and be confident that the political system, especially democratic political systems, will in the end deliver.”

Guterres refused to comment on US president Donald Trump and the Trump administration’s hostility to climate action, but a CBS News poll released on September 15 found that 69 percent of Americans want the next president to take action, while 53 percent say such action is needed “right now.” Guterres said that “it would be much better” if the US was “strongly committed to climate action,” just as it would be better if Asian countries [notably, China and Japan] stopped exporting coal plants. Until then, he said, “what I want is to have the whole society putting pressure on governments to understand they need to run faster. Because we are losing the race.”

With six days remaining before the UN Climate Action Summit on September 23, the Secretary General cited the “fantastic leadership” of young activists as a leading example of how civil society can pressure governments to honor the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and preferably to 1.5˚C. Recent election results across Europe − in which green parties gained significant public backing − also left Guterres optimistic that at next Monday’s summit the European Union will announce that it promises to be “carbon neutral” by 2050, as the Paris Agreement mandates.

“Nature is angry,” said Guterres, who recently returned from a visit to the Bahamas, where Hurricane Dorian unleashed what he called “total destruction.” He further cited ferocious drought in Africa, melting glaciers, bleaching coral reefs, the hottest month in recorded history last July, and potential future sea level rise of 10 to 20 meters (33 to 66 feet) as evidence that “you cannot play games with nature. Nature strikes back.”

“Don’t bring a speech − bring a plan,” Guterres famously told heads of state and government in the months leading up to this summit, and it appears that only leaders who followed his instructions will be allowed to speak at the plenary session. To gain a slot, a country had to commit to doing one of three things, said UN officials: be carbon neutral by 2050; “significantly” increase how much it will cut emissions (or, in UN jargon, significantly strengthen its Nationally Determined Contribution); or make a “meaningful” pledge to the Green Climate Fund, a pool of money provided by wealthy countries to help developing countries leave fossil fuels behind and increase their resilience against climate disruption. UN officials expect that 60 to 70 countries will have made sufficiently solid commitments by next Monday that their leaders will be invited to outline their country’s plans from the dais, with each leader granted a mere three minutes to speak.

While emphasizing that he had no desire to intervene in the 2020 US presidential election, Guterres spoke positively about a proposal by a leading Democratic candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, for a Green New Deal that would be global. Most of the leading Democratic presidential candidates endorse one form or another of the Green New Deal, a program in which the US government would create millions of jobs by investing in solar power, energy efficiency, and other measures to reduce heat-trapping emissions. But a new report by The Nation pointed out that only Sanders’ Green New Deal meets the scientific imperative of cutting global emissions by 45 percent by 2030 on the way to carbon neutrality by 2050. Sanders’s Green New Deal does this by pledging not only to slash emissions in the US but to help developing countries cut their emissions as well.

“The Paris Agreement was very clear,” said Guterres. “There was a commitment by the developed countries to mobilize $100 billion per year, from private and public sources, to support the developing world both in mitigation [i.e., reducing emissions] and adaptation [preparing against impacts]. Obviously, it is essential that all countries, including the United States, play a role in relation to this.”

Rich and poor countries have wrestled with the question of whether and how much financial assistance the rich should give the poor ever since governments first began debating the climate problem at the UN “Earth Summit” in 1992. The poorer countries argue that the rich countries’ emissions are the foremost cause of global warming and climate disruption, while poor countries are the ones that suffer most from that disruption. Rich countries generally do not dispute those facts and have paid lip service to providing assistance, but actual contributions have been modest. The US, for example, has contributed only $1 billion, and the Trump administration blocked any additional contributions.

Guterres said in the interview Tuesday that “of course” he was aware of the global dimensions of Sanders’ Green New Deal, and he added that “any attitude from a country like the United States to increase… finance to the developing world would be of course welcome.” As required by UN protocol, the Secretary General was careful to add: “That doesn’t mean that we want to interfere in the American election.”

As a former elected official himself, Guterres also emphasized the need for governments to show the public that climate protection need not mean economic hardship. The Secretary General advocates in particular for climate-smart tax reform: reducing taxes on people’s incomes while increasing taxes on heat-trapping emissions. “If I [as a politician] take money from you with an increased carbon tax but I give you nothing in return, people will be against [it],” said Guterres. Although rarely described this way, corporate subsidies for production of fossil fuels are also a form of tax. “Let’s be clear: Subsidies are paid with taxpayers’ money,” he said, adding with a smile, “I really do not like to see my money as a taxpayer going to bleach corals and melt glaciers.”

Guterres disputed a common criticism of a Green New Deal − that it will cost too much − by turning the question around. “What is the cost of the consequences of taking no action?” he asked. Depending on what governments do at the Climate Action Summit next Monday, and are pressured to do by civil society in the weeks and years to come, the world may learn the answer to that question soon enough.

This story originally appeared in The Nation. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

The United Nations Secretary General says that he is counting on public pressure to compel governments to take much stronger action against what he calls the climate change “emergency.”

19 September, 2019 − “Governments always follow public opinion, everywhere in the world, sooner or later,” Antonio Guterres said Tuesday in an interview with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets. Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, added: “We need to keep telling the truth to people and be confident that the political system, especially democratic political systems, will in the end deliver.”

Guterres refused to comment on US president Donald Trump and the Trump administration’s hostility to climate action, but a CBS News poll released on September 15 found that 69 percent of Americans want the next president to take action, while 53 percent say such action is needed “right now.” Guterres said that “it would be much better” if the US was “strongly committed to climate action,” just as it would be better if Asian countries [notably, China and Japan] stopped exporting coal plants. Until then, he said, “what I want is to have the whole society putting pressure on governments to understand they need to run faster. Because we are losing the race.”

With six days remaining before the UN Climate Action Summit on September 23, the Secretary General cited the “fantastic leadership” of young activists as a leading example of how civil society can pressure governments to honor the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and preferably to 1.5˚C. Recent election results across Europe − in which green parties gained significant public backing − also left Guterres optimistic that at next Monday’s summit the European Union will announce that it promises to be “carbon neutral” by 2050, as the Paris Agreement mandates.

“Nature is angry,” said Guterres, who recently returned from a visit to the Bahamas, where Hurricane Dorian unleashed what he called “total destruction.” He further cited ferocious drought in Africa, melting glaciers, bleaching coral reefs, the hottest month in recorded history last July, and potential future sea level rise of 10 to 20 meters (33 to 66 feet) as evidence that “you cannot play games with nature. Nature strikes back.”

“Don’t bring a speech − bring a plan,” Guterres famously told heads of state and government in the months leading up to this summit, and it appears that only leaders who followed his instructions will be allowed to speak at the plenary session. To gain a slot, a country had to commit to doing one of three things, said UN officials: be carbon neutral by 2050; “significantly” increase how much it will cut emissions (or, in UN jargon, significantly strengthen its Nationally Determined Contribution); or make a “meaningful” pledge to the Green Climate Fund, a pool of money provided by wealthy countries to help developing countries leave fossil fuels behind and increase their resilience against climate disruption. UN officials expect that 60 to 70 countries will have made sufficiently solid commitments by next Monday that their leaders will be invited to outline their country’s plans from the dais, with each leader granted a mere three minutes to speak.

While emphasizing that he had no desire to intervene in the 2020 US presidential election, Guterres spoke positively about a proposal by a leading Democratic candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, for a Green New Deal that would be global. Most of the leading Democratic presidential candidates endorse one form or another of the Green New Deal, a program in which the US government would create millions of jobs by investing in solar power, energy efficiency, and other measures to reduce heat-trapping emissions. But a new report by The Nation pointed out that only Sanders’ Green New Deal meets the scientific imperative of cutting global emissions by 45 percent by 2030 on the way to carbon neutrality by 2050. Sanders’s Green New Deal does this by pledging not only to slash emissions in the US but to help developing countries cut their emissions as well.

“The Paris Agreement was very clear,” said Guterres. “There was a commitment by the developed countries to mobilize $100 billion per year, from private and public sources, to support the developing world both in mitigation [i.e., reducing emissions] and adaptation [preparing against impacts]. Obviously, it is essential that all countries, including the United States, play a role in relation to this.”

Rich and poor countries have wrestled with the question of whether and how much financial assistance the rich should give the poor ever since governments first began debating the climate problem at the UN “Earth Summit” in 1992. The poorer countries argue that the rich countries’ emissions are the foremost cause of global warming and climate disruption, while poor countries are the ones that suffer most from that disruption. Rich countries generally do not dispute those facts and have paid lip service to providing assistance, but actual contributions have been modest. The US, for example, has contributed only $1 billion, and the Trump administration blocked any additional contributions.

Guterres said in the interview Tuesday that “of course” he was aware of the global dimensions of Sanders’ Green New Deal, and he added that “any attitude from a country like the United States to increase… finance to the developing world would be of course welcome.” As required by UN protocol, the Secretary General was careful to add: “That doesn’t mean that we want to interfere in the American election.”

As a former elected official himself, Guterres also emphasized the need for governments to show the public that climate protection need not mean economic hardship. The Secretary General advocates in particular for climate-smart tax reform: reducing taxes on people’s incomes while increasing taxes on heat-trapping emissions. “If I [as a politician] take money from you with an increased carbon tax but I give you nothing in return, people will be against [it],” said Guterres. Although rarely described this way, corporate subsidies for production of fossil fuels are also a form of tax. “Let’s be clear: Subsidies are paid with taxpayers’ money,” he said, adding with a smile, “I really do not like to see my money as a taxpayer going to bleach corals and melt glaciers.”

Guterres disputed a common criticism of a Green New Deal − that it will cost too much − by turning the question around. “What is the cost of the consequences of taking no action?” he asked. Depending on what governments do at the Climate Action Summit next Monday, and are pressured to do by civil society in the weeks and years to come, the world may learn the answer to that question soon enough.

Carbon emitters face higher legal risks

This story originally appeared in newsroom. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Climate change risk for big companies − and their investors − is often seen in terms of physical risk: sea level rise, temperature increases, or extreme weather events. But a spate of court cases around the world has highlighted a different kind of risk. Carbon emitters, and the big investors that support them, could find themselves on the wrong end of the law if they don’t take action on climate change.

18 September, 2019 − When, two weeks ago, a New Zealand environmental activist started court action against our top carbon emitters, Kiwi companies became just the latest to find themselves under fire for not doing enough to stop climate change.

Mike Smith, chair of the Climate Change Iwi Leaders Group, hopes to force Fonterra, Genesis Energy, NZ Steel, NZ Refining, Z Energy, Dairy Holdings and BT Mining to reduce their total net greenhouse gases by 50 percent by 2030. Then he wants them to get them to zero by 2050.

Smith’s action follows a case in Australia last year where a 23-year-old ecology graduate is suing his superannuation provider − $A50 billion fund REST − for not telling him what it’s doing to protect his savings from the impact of climate change.

The year before, two Commonwealth Bank of Australia shareholders launched court action against the bank for not adequately disclosing climate change risks in its 2016 annual report.

In the US, a group of fishing companies are suing oil giant Chevron and others for their contribution to climate change. And the state of New York is suing Exxon Mobil for misleading investors over the company’s climate change risks.

And these are not isolated cases.

In its climate change litigation update, released earlier this year, the US’ second largest law firm, Norton Rose Fulbright, said the number of climate change-related cases has now reached more than 1300.
The majority of these are against governments, and so affect business only indirectly.

But increasingly, companies are also being taken to court.

There hasn’t yet been a decision in any of these cases – the wheels of justice grind slow. But judgments, particularly if they go against the big companies, could set precedents the corporate world can’t ignore.

Simon Watt, who leads the climate change team at NZ law firm Bell Gully, says the REST superannuation case shows it’s not just corporates that are at risk from climate change litigation, but the funds that invest in them.

“The legal risks will be around the sorts of disclosures made to investors at the point they invest in funds, as well as the degree of risks associated with the investments themselves.

“If they invest in companies which have material carbon exposure, how should those investments be classified in terms of the risk they carry? For trusts, there may be the potential for legal testing around the fiduciary duties of trustees.

“New Zealand won’t necessarily lead the way in testing these types of issues, but if a claim is successful overseas there is the potential for that to have knock-on effects locally.”

A Bell Gully climate change report released in February includes a UNDP map of climate change cases based on 2017 figures.

And litigation risks aren’t the only problems for corporates and investors, Watt says. There are also “transition risks” as companies shift away from a carbon-based economy. That could be anything from consumer backlash, to expensive changes in production, to increased prices for insurance and carbon.

Super Fund costs carbon

Matt Whineray, chief executive of the NZ Super Fund, is taking these risks seriously. He says traditionally, environment-related risks have been considered “non financial” and therefore, irrelevant to decision-making for a fund manager.

That’s rubbish, he says.

“It’s true they are hard to stick into a model, but these things become financial because they are part of the risk of doing business. If you think about the long-term value of the company, it is the cash flows you expect from that company and the discount rate. And the discount rate reflects the riskiness of those cash flows.”

That’s where climate change risks come in, Whineray says.

“These issues are either going to affect that stream of cash flow that you expect from that business, or affect the discount rate that you apply to it.”

The Super Fund, which had $41 billion under management as of March this year, first started thinking about climate change risk more than a decade ago when it joined the international Carbon Disclosure Project (now known as CDP), a group of 525 institutional investors around the world trying to get companies to report on their climate emissions and what they are doing to mitigate risk.

In 2015, the Super Fund and a group of other investors commissioned investment consultants Mercer to provide an analysis of climate change scenarios on portfolio risks and returns out to 2050, based on different scenarios – for example 2, 3 or 4 degrees of warming.

The results were sobering.

Climate change is a market and policy failure. Markets are producing too many emissions and are over-invested in fossil fuels, given the international context

“There was a lot of variation of impact across different sectors, but almost regardless of the path you take, there will be negative impact on the returns to global equities from climate change over a 30-year period,” Whineray says.

“So we had to think about it at the asset allocation level, not just at an individual investment level.”

Over the next few months, the Super Fund developed a climate change investment strategy and by June 2017 it started putting its plan into action, selling out or down of a number of stocks and funds which they thought had unacceptable risk.

The basis of the new Super Fund thinking may shock many economists: Climate change is a market and policy failure. Markets are producing too many emissions and are over-invested in fossil fuels, given the international context.

“Generally we think markets are pretty good at pricing risk,” Whineray says, but climate change is different. The timeframe is too long for most market analysts and the way the risks will play out are too uncertain.

There’s a tendency to think: ‘I’ll be able to sell this [stock] the day before the market prices it in’, which is a wonderful seductive idea. But our point is we don’t know when that will be and it’s really path-dependent.

No one knows how much hotter the world will get, or when, and what governments will do to counter it, or when. No one knows what technology will be available.

“You have risks that depend on the path you go down, and you don’t know how long it’s going to be. There’s a tendency to think: ‘I’ll be able to sell this [stock] the day before the market prices it in’, which is a wonderful seductive idea. But our point is we don’t know when that will be and it’s really path-dependent.

“We’re saying there’s risk in there and we don’t think we are being paid for that risk, so we should reduce our exposure to a risk that we aren’t being compensated for.”

The Super Fund’s initial targets involve a 20 percent reduction in the “carbon emissions intensity” of the fund (as measured by tonnes of carbon emissions divided by $US millions of company sales) by 2020, and a 40 percent reduction in the fund’s carbon reserves (tonnes of carbon emissions divided by $US million invested) by the same time.

Whineray says reducing the fund’s climate change risk in the equity part of its portfolio was relatively simple, and the fund has already got its emissions intensity down 50 percent and reduced its fossil fuel-related potential emissions by 70 percent in terms of equities.

“We took out a lot of companies from the mining and oil sectors, though not all. Some significant emitters are very active in adaptation or development of alternative energy sources.”

Still, almost anything with the word “coal” in the company title is out, Whineray says, both in terms of being a high carbon-emitting fuel, and also because of the risk from companies’ coal reserves.

Now the Super Fund’s analysis, engagement and investment focus has shifted to more difficult parts of the portfolio, he says, including real estate, rural assets, and manufacturing.

“In most cases we don’t have majority stakes in the company, but we are using our influence with boards and management teams to put in place climate change strategies.”

If it sounds simple, it isn’t. In many companies you are starting from Climate Change 101.

“To begin with, companies have to actually begin measuring their footprint,” Whineray says. “That can be quite new to the organisation.”

This story originally appeared in newsroom. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Climate change risk for big companies − and their investors − is often seen in terms of physical risk: sea level rise, temperature increases, or extreme weather events. But a spate of court cases around the world has highlighted a different kind of risk. Carbon emitters, and the big investors that support them, could find themselves on the wrong end of the law if they don’t take action on climate change.

18 September, 2019 − When, two weeks ago, a New Zealand environmental activist started court action against our top carbon emitters, Kiwi companies became just the latest to find themselves under fire for not doing enough to stop climate change.

Mike Smith, chair of the Climate Change Iwi Leaders Group, hopes to force Fonterra, Genesis Energy, NZ Steel, NZ Refining, Z Energy, Dairy Holdings and BT Mining to reduce their total net greenhouse gases by 50 percent by 2030. Then he wants them to get them to zero by 2050.

Smith’s action follows a case in Australia last year where a 23-year-old ecology graduate is suing his superannuation provider − $A50 billion fund REST − for not telling him what it’s doing to protect his savings from the impact of climate change.

The year before, two Commonwealth Bank of Australia shareholders launched court action against the bank for not adequately disclosing climate change risks in its 2016 annual report.

In the US, a group of fishing companies are suing oil giant Chevron and others for their contribution to climate change. And the state of New York is suing Exxon Mobil for misleading investors over the company’s climate change risks.

And these are not isolated cases.

In its climate change litigation update, released earlier this year, the US’ second largest law firm, Norton Rose Fulbright, said the number of climate change-related cases has now reached more than 1300.
The majority of these are against governments, and so affect business only indirectly.

But increasingly, companies are also being taken to court.

There hasn’t yet been a decision in any of these cases – the wheels of justice grind slow. But judgments, particularly if they go against the big companies, could set precedents the corporate world can’t ignore.

Simon Watt, who leads the climate change team at NZ law firm Bell Gully, says the REST superannuation case shows it’s not just corporates that are at risk from climate change litigation, but the funds that invest in them.

“The legal risks will be around the sorts of disclosures made to investors at the point they invest in funds, as well as the degree of risks associated with the investments themselves.

“If they invest in companies which have material carbon exposure, how should those investments be classified in terms of the risk they carry? For trusts, there may be the potential for legal testing around the fiduciary duties of trustees.

“New Zealand won’t necessarily lead the way in testing these types of issues, but if a claim is successful overseas there is the potential for that to have knock-on effects locally.”

A Bell Gully climate change report released in February includes a UNDP map of climate change cases based on 2017 figures.

And litigation risks aren’t the only problems for corporates and investors, Watt says. There are also “transition risks” as companies shift away from a carbon-based economy. That could be anything from consumer backlash, to expensive changes in production, to increased prices for insurance and carbon.

Super Fund costs carbon

Matt Whineray, chief executive of the NZ Super Fund, is taking these risks seriously. He says traditionally, environment-related risks have been considered “non financial” and therefore, irrelevant to decision-making for a fund manager.

That’s rubbish, he says.

“It’s true they are hard to stick into a model, but these things become financial because they are part of the risk of doing business. If you think about the long-term value of the company, it is the cash flows you expect from that company and the discount rate. And the discount rate reflects the riskiness of those cash flows.”

That’s where climate change risks come in, Whineray says.

“These issues are either going to affect that stream of cash flow that you expect from that business, or affect the discount rate that you apply to it.”

The Super Fund, which had $41 billion under management as of March this year, first started thinking about climate change risk more than a decade ago when it joined the international Carbon Disclosure Project (now known as CDP), a group of 525 institutional investors around the world trying to get companies to report on their climate emissions and what they are doing to mitigate risk.

In 2015, the Super Fund and a group of other investors commissioned investment consultants Mercer to provide an analysis of climate change scenarios on portfolio risks and returns out to 2050, based on different scenarios – for example 2, 3 or 4 degrees of warming.

The results were sobering.

Climate change is a market and policy failure. Markets are producing too many emissions and are over-invested in fossil fuels, given the international context

“There was a lot of variation of impact across different sectors, but almost regardless of the path you take, there will be negative impact on the returns to global equities from climate change over a 30-year period,” Whineray says.

“So we had to think about it at the asset allocation level, not just at an individual investment level.”

Over the next few months, the Super Fund developed a climate change investment strategy and by June 2017 it started putting its plan into action, selling out or down of a number of stocks and funds which they thought had unacceptable risk.

The basis of the new Super Fund thinking may shock many economists: Climate change is a market and policy failure. Markets are producing too many emissions and are over-invested in fossil fuels, given the international context.

“Generally we think markets are pretty good at pricing risk,” Whineray says, but climate change is different. The timeframe is too long for most market analysts and the way the risks will play out are too uncertain.

There’s a tendency to think: ‘I’ll be able to sell this [stock] the day before the market prices it in’, which is a wonderful seductive idea. But our point is we don’t know when that will be and it’s really path-dependent.

No one knows how much hotter the world will get, or when, and what governments will do to counter it, or when. No one knows what technology will be available.

“You have risks that depend on the path you go down, and you don’t know how long it’s going to be. There’s a tendency to think: ‘I’ll be able to sell this [stock] the day before the market prices it in’, which is a wonderful seductive idea. But our point is we don’t know when that will be and it’s really path-dependent.

“We’re saying there’s risk in there and we don’t think we are being paid for that risk, so we should reduce our exposure to a risk that we aren’t being compensated for.”

The Super Fund’s initial targets involve a 20 percent reduction in the “carbon emissions intensity” of the fund (as measured by tonnes of carbon emissions divided by $US millions of company sales) by 2020, and a 40 percent reduction in the fund’s carbon reserves (tonnes of carbon emissions divided by $US million invested) by the same time.

Whineray says reducing the fund’s climate change risk in the equity part of its portfolio was relatively simple, and the fund has already got its emissions intensity down 50 percent and reduced its fossil fuel-related potential emissions by 70 percent in terms of equities.

“We took out a lot of companies from the mining and oil sectors, though not all. Some significant emitters are very active in adaptation or development of alternative energy sources.”

Still, almost anything with the word “coal” in the company title is out, Whineray says, both in terms of being a high carbon-emitting fuel, and also because of the risk from companies’ coal reserves.

Now the Super Fund’s analysis, engagement and investment focus has shifted to more difficult parts of the portfolio, he says, including real estate, rural assets, and manufacturing.

“In most cases we don’t have majority stakes in the company, but we are using our influence with boards and management teams to put in place climate change strategies.”

If it sounds simple, it isn’t. In many companies you are starting from Climate Change 101.

“To begin with, companies have to actually begin measuring their footprint,” Whineray says. “That can be quite new to the organisation.”

How extreme weather threatens people with disabilities

This story originally appeared in Yale Climate Connections. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

“Any single disastrous event can really endanger people with disabilities.”

17 September, 2019 − It took Kathlean Wolf a few extra minutes to get ready. She had to put the braces on her feet that allow her to walk. But once ready to go, she was winding through tall grasses of the marshy stormwater swale [ditch] across from her apartment on the east side of Madison, Wisconsin. As she walked, Wolf, a certified master naturalist, pointed out edible plants and called out a hello to a butterfly.

Seeing her walking outside in the evening, one might not realize the challenges Wolf and her neighbors face during a heatwave. The community is outside of downtown Madison, home to the University of Wisconsin; it doesn’t get the extreme impacts of the urban heat island.
There’s a large park across the way from Wolf’s neighborhood, a good collection of shade trees around the buildings, and a breeze coming off nearby Lake Mendota. But Wolf lives in a low-income neighborhood long vulnerable to the whims of weather – from flooding to temperature extremes.

In late July 2019, southern Wisconsin experienced a four-day heatwave with heat index values of more than 100°F [38°C]. In the middle of that heatwave, Wolf’s apartment – where she lives with her college-student daughter – was 85°F at 2 a.m. She fished ice packs out of the freezer to try to cool down enough to sleep.

For anyone, that’s an uncomfortable night. For others, it’s unsafe as overnight heat prevents the body from getting a much needed cool-down. Climate change disproportionately threatens the health of vulnerable groups. According to the 2016 Climate and Health Assessment, vulnerable groups include “those with low income, some communities of color, immigrant groups (including those with limited English proficiency), Indigenous peoples, children and pregnant women, older adults, vulnerable occupational groups, persons with disabilities, and persons with preexisting or chronic medical conditions.”

For Wolf, who lives with a physical disability affecting her joints and also a bipolar disorder, the heat left her lacking energy. “There’s a point at which, you know, if I had to put up with too much heat, that could physically kill me, or it could just make life so not worth living,” Wolf said.

“The only way I keep my bipolar level and steady is, besides the medication, I have to go out in the woods. I have to go out in the marsh. I have to go out in nature.”

Wolf, who regularly leads educational programs around the nearby park, said that if the heat prevents her from getting outside, life would be unbearable. “I’m not equipped for that,” she said.

Climate change is hard on people with disabilities

According to the CDC, one in four American adults, or 61 million people, live with a disability. For many, high temperatures can be a major challenge. Alex Ghenis, a policy and research specialist at the World Institute on Disability, manages New Earth Disability, a project addressing the ways that climate change affects people with disabilities.

There are physical effects for some. Ghenis, for example, has a spinal cord injury that inhibits him from sweating, the body’s primary way of minimizing overheating. Additionally, there are societal aspects, like being more likely to live in poverty, having a harder time accessing transportation, and being more likely to be socially isolated than able-bodied people.

“Climate change – and natural disasters in general – threatens the stability of the built environment, that accessible built environment that supports independent living,” Ghenis said. “Any single disastrous event can throw that out of whack and really endanger people with disabilities.”

Wolf’s apartment has one window air conditioning unit in the living room, and she’s rigged a series of fans to try to get more air circulating. “I have box fans that are on the top of the doorways that blow hot air back to the living room where the A/C unit is, and then four box fans that blow it back towards the back,” she said. But it’s rare that she runs her A/C too much. “As an environmentalist, I can’t bring myself to do that,” she said. “I also can’t afford it. I add my bills up right now and it’s like, ‘Oh my bills exceed my available income.’”

Poverty makes people more vulnerable to weather extremes
Wolf’s neighborhood is one of the few affordable spots (“If $825 [£665] a month is affordable,” Wolf said) left in the increasingly sprawling metro area.

According to the city of Madison’s Neighbourhood Indicators Project, annual median household income in Wolf’s area trails that in the city overall by more than $13,000. Additionally, the unemployment rate in Wolf’s area is 10.2%; in the city as a whole, it’s 4.1%.

“For low-income and vulnerable groups, they’re typically in the poorest housing conditions,” said Jenna Tilt, an associate professor at Oregon State University who teaches geography, environmental sciences, and marine resource management and often works with emergency planners on best practices.

Low-income communities are more likely to find affordable housing in flood plains or in older or cheaply built buildings that may not be equipped to handle temperature extremes.

There has been some effort to shore up vulnerabilities in Wolf’s area. When she first moved in, in 2013, flooding was a major issue. In the past, the street in front of her apartment building flooded regularly as stormwater raced down a concrete channel into nearby Lake Mendota.

During one storm, the water was so deep that Wolf and her daughter kayaked up and down the street, and in another, floodwaters destroyed Wolf’s car. After the concrete ditch was replaced with native plants and a more pond-like system, flooding has been much less of an issue.

Additionally, earlier this year, a local nonprofit called Project Home installed new insulation in the attic of her building to help bring some relief from both hot and cold days. “How much worse would it have been if there hadn’t been as much insulation in the attic, I don’t know,” Wolf said.

When emergencies hit

In Dane County, where Madison is located, emergency managers are having to put more resources into heat-related planning. John McLellan works with the county’s department of emergency management as a population protection planner.

“In terms of the amount of staff time our office is doing to ensure we’re being vigilant and we can stay ahead of the curve, yeah we’re spending a lot more time doing that,” he said. “Whether you attribute it to climate change or not, we’re spending a lot more time doing these things than we were five, 10 years ago.”

During heatwaves, McLellan’s office coordinates with area service providers to ensure that there are available places people can go to get cool – libraries, for example, are cooling centers which Wolf has taken advantage of – and transportation to get people there.

The county primarily relies on broadcast news to provide notifications about risks and resources, but McLellan acknowledges that approach is not perfect – particularly, he noted, as many people leave traditional broadcast media sources, like local TV and radio stations, for streaming services. So his team is also active on social media, like Facebook and Twitter.

Additionally, McLellan said his office tries to reach particularly vulnerable populations through organizations that work within those communities like homeless shelters and libraries, and their listservs.

Wolf is pretty plugged in, but she still wasn’t totally sure what resources were available during that heatwave. “The disability resource center over there,” she said, while pointing down the street, “seems like that’s a really good outreach point, but I’ve never heard a word from them.”

Ghenis said it would be helpful for those providing risk warnings to do so specifically for the disability community, and to also provide advance information about when the power grid may be at risk of being overwhelmed, and information about accessible shelters. Tilt, the Oregon State professor, acknowledged that preparing for climate change requires dedicating more resources to emergency planning and managing.

“All those things take money. It can be a huge constraint, but I think we have to start thinking about it as an opportunity,” she said. “The cost of doing nothing is not zero, right, in terms of health, in terms of community well-being, and who’s suffering.”

The need to build resilience before an emergency

Tilt said that planning for climate change on a more long-term scale can ease some of the burden when an emergency does happen. For dangerous heat waves, that can mean planting more trees to reduce urban heat, ensuring that affordable housing is built to standards that keep some of the heat out, and installing air conditioning when necessary.

“These are larger systemic issues in terms of planning that have to be addressed or we’re always playing catch up,” she said. “That’s a really important thing that we have to start moving the needle forward with climate change and adaptation – that we’re really thinking about everything from our transportation planning, our housing policies, our land use policies.”

Tilt said that integrating community leaders into the planning process and leaning on their expertise is also important. She said it’s best to reach people where they already are – where they work, where they worship, and where their kids go to school. Ghenis echoed this point and said it’s critical that people with disabilities be involved in developing emergency plans.

Beyond official plans, individuals can also work to build connections to help their community withstand emergencies better. Ghenis said that establishing relationships with neighbors before someone needs to ask for help can be invaluable. “Any sort of people doing more to get to know their neighbors, to understand what needs are, to build networks of mutual support and communication,” Ghenis said. “I think people with disabilities being OK with asking for help and viewing that as a normal part of life, instead of admitting some excess level of vulnerability and feeling shame around that, is important. And then on the flip side, able-bodied folks that are helping out to just accept it as a neighbor who might need a hand, as opposed to a burden on them or some societal duty.”

In her community, Wolf works to build that neighbor-to-neighbor connection. She says hello to those who pass by – humans and animals alike – and just added two blueberry bushes she found on discount to the community garden she tends to.

“I don’t worry about me so much,” she said. “It’s other people.”

This story originally appeared in Yale Climate Connections. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

“Any single disastrous event can really endanger people with disabilities.”

17 September, 2019 − It took Kathlean Wolf a few extra minutes to get ready. She had to put the braces on her feet that allow her to walk. But once ready to go, she was winding through tall grasses of the marshy stormwater swale [ditch] across from her apartment on the east side of Madison, Wisconsin. As she walked, Wolf, a certified master naturalist, pointed out edible plants and called out a hello to a butterfly.

Seeing her walking outside in the evening, one might not realize the challenges Wolf and her neighbors face during a heatwave. The community is outside of downtown Madison, home to the University of Wisconsin; it doesn’t get the extreme impacts of the urban heat island.
There’s a large park across the way from Wolf’s neighborhood, a good collection of shade trees around the buildings, and a breeze coming off nearby Lake Mendota. But Wolf lives in a low-income neighborhood long vulnerable to the whims of weather – from flooding to temperature extremes.

In late July 2019, southern Wisconsin experienced a four-day heatwave with heat index values of more than 100°F [38°C]. In the middle of that heatwave, Wolf’s apartment – where she lives with her college-student daughter – was 85°F at 2 a.m. She fished ice packs out of the freezer to try to cool down enough to sleep.

For anyone, that’s an uncomfortable night. For others, it’s unsafe as overnight heat prevents the body from getting a much needed cool-down. Climate change disproportionately threatens the health of vulnerable groups. According to the 2016 Climate and Health Assessment, vulnerable groups include “those with low income, some communities of color, immigrant groups (including those with limited English proficiency), Indigenous peoples, children and pregnant women, older adults, vulnerable occupational groups, persons with disabilities, and persons with preexisting or chronic medical conditions.”

For Wolf, who lives with a physical disability affecting her joints and also a bipolar disorder, the heat left her lacking energy. “There’s a point at which, you know, if I had to put up with too much heat, that could physically kill me, or it could just make life so not worth living,” Wolf said.

“The only way I keep my bipolar level and steady is, besides the medication, I have to go out in the woods. I have to go out in the marsh. I have to go out in nature.”

Wolf, who regularly leads educational programs around the nearby park, said that if the heat prevents her from getting outside, life would be unbearable. “I’m not equipped for that,” she said.

Climate change is hard on people with disabilities

According to the CDC, one in four American adults, or 61 million people, live with a disability. For many, high temperatures can be a major challenge. Alex Ghenis, a policy and research specialist at the World Institute on Disability, manages New Earth Disability, a project addressing the ways that climate change affects people with disabilities.

There are physical effects for some. Ghenis, for example, has a spinal cord injury that inhibits him from sweating, the body’s primary way of minimizing overheating. Additionally, there are societal aspects, like being more likely to live in poverty, having a harder time accessing transportation, and being more likely to be socially isolated than able-bodied people.

“Climate change – and natural disasters in general – threatens the stability of the built environment, that accessible built environment that supports independent living,” Ghenis said. “Any single disastrous event can throw that out of whack and really endanger people with disabilities.”

Wolf’s apartment has one window air conditioning unit in the living room, and she’s rigged a series of fans to try to get more air circulating. “I have box fans that are on the top of the doorways that blow hot air back to the living room where the A/C unit is, and then four box fans that blow it back towards the back,” she said. But it’s rare that she runs her A/C too much. “As an environmentalist, I can’t bring myself to do that,” she said. “I also can’t afford it. I add my bills up right now and it’s like, ‘Oh my bills exceed my available income.’”

Poverty makes people more vulnerable to weather extremes
Wolf’s neighborhood is one of the few affordable spots (“If $825 [£665] a month is affordable,” Wolf said) left in the increasingly sprawling metro area.

According to the city of Madison’s Neighbourhood Indicators Project, annual median household income in Wolf’s area trails that in the city overall by more than $13,000. Additionally, the unemployment rate in Wolf’s area is 10.2%; in the city as a whole, it’s 4.1%.

“For low-income and vulnerable groups, they’re typically in the poorest housing conditions,” said Jenna Tilt, an associate professor at Oregon State University who teaches geography, environmental sciences, and marine resource management and often works with emergency planners on best practices.

Low-income communities are more likely to find affordable housing in flood plains or in older or cheaply built buildings that may not be equipped to handle temperature extremes.

There has been some effort to shore up vulnerabilities in Wolf’s area. When she first moved in, in 2013, flooding was a major issue. In the past, the street in front of her apartment building flooded regularly as stormwater raced down a concrete channel into nearby Lake Mendota.

During one storm, the water was so deep that Wolf and her daughter kayaked up and down the street, and in another, floodwaters destroyed Wolf’s car. After the concrete ditch was replaced with native plants and a more pond-like system, flooding has been much less of an issue.

Additionally, earlier this year, a local nonprofit called Project Home installed new insulation in the attic of her building to help bring some relief from both hot and cold days. “How much worse would it have been if there hadn’t been as much insulation in the attic, I don’t know,” Wolf said.

When emergencies hit

In Dane County, where Madison is located, emergency managers are having to put more resources into heat-related planning. John McLellan works with the county’s department of emergency management as a population protection planner.

“In terms of the amount of staff time our office is doing to ensure we’re being vigilant and we can stay ahead of the curve, yeah we’re spending a lot more time doing that,” he said. “Whether you attribute it to climate change or not, we’re spending a lot more time doing these things than we were five, 10 years ago.”

During heatwaves, McLellan’s office coordinates with area service providers to ensure that there are available places people can go to get cool – libraries, for example, are cooling centers which Wolf has taken advantage of – and transportation to get people there.

The county primarily relies on broadcast news to provide notifications about risks and resources, but McLellan acknowledges that approach is not perfect – particularly, he noted, as many people leave traditional broadcast media sources, like local TV and radio stations, for streaming services. So his team is also active on social media, like Facebook and Twitter.

Additionally, McLellan said his office tries to reach particularly vulnerable populations through organizations that work within those communities like homeless shelters and libraries, and their listservs.

Wolf is pretty plugged in, but she still wasn’t totally sure what resources were available during that heatwave. “The disability resource center over there,” she said, while pointing down the street, “seems like that’s a really good outreach point, but I’ve never heard a word from them.”

Ghenis said it would be helpful for those providing risk warnings to do so specifically for the disability community, and to also provide advance information about when the power grid may be at risk of being overwhelmed, and information about accessible shelters. Tilt, the Oregon State professor, acknowledged that preparing for climate change requires dedicating more resources to emergency planning and managing.

“All those things take money. It can be a huge constraint, but I think we have to start thinking about it as an opportunity,” she said. “The cost of doing nothing is not zero, right, in terms of health, in terms of community well-being, and who’s suffering.”

The need to build resilience before an emergency

Tilt said that planning for climate change on a more long-term scale can ease some of the burden when an emergency does happen. For dangerous heat waves, that can mean planting more trees to reduce urban heat, ensuring that affordable housing is built to standards that keep some of the heat out, and installing air conditioning when necessary.

“These are larger systemic issues in terms of planning that have to be addressed or we’re always playing catch up,” she said. “That’s a really important thing that we have to start moving the needle forward with climate change and adaptation – that we’re really thinking about everything from our transportation planning, our housing policies, our land use policies.”

Tilt said that integrating community leaders into the planning process and leaning on their expertise is also important. She said it’s best to reach people where they already are – where they work, where they worship, and where their kids go to school. Ghenis echoed this point and said it’s critical that people with disabilities be involved in developing emergency plans.

Beyond official plans, individuals can also work to build connections to help their community withstand emergencies better. Ghenis said that establishing relationships with neighbors before someone needs to ask for help can be invaluable. “Any sort of people doing more to get to know their neighbors, to understand what needs are, to build networks of mutual support and communication,” Ghenis said. “I think people with disabilities being OK with asking for help and viewing that as a normal part of life, instead of admitting some excess level of vulnerability and feeling shame around that, is important. And then on the flip side, able-bodied folks that are helping out to just accept it as a neighbor who might need a hand, as opposed to a burden on them or some societal duty.”

In her community, Wolf works to build that neighbor-to-neighbor connection. She says hello to those who pass by – humans and animals alike – and just added two blueberry bushes she found on discount to the community garden she tends to.

“I don’t worry about me so much,” she said. “It’s other people.”

Why Next Monday’s UN Climate Action Summit Matters

This story originally appeared in The Nation. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

The media and climate activists must “name and shame” laggards, says the UN special envoy.

16 September, 2019 − As world leaders converge on New York City for the United Nations Climate Action Summit on September 23, they enter what may be the most consequential week in climate politics since Donald Trump’s surprise election as president of the United States in 2016. Trump, of course, announced soon after taking office that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, the landmark treaty signed at the last big UN climate summit in 2015. UN Secretary General António Guterres convened this week’s summit precisely because the United States and most other countries remain far from honoring their Paris pledges to reduce heat-trapping emissions enough to prevent catastrophic climate disruption. The events of the coming days − including a global climate strike on September 20 by the activists whose protests in the past year have pushed the term “climate emergency” into news reports around the world − may help answer a question that has loomed over humanity since Trump’s election: Can the rest of the world save itself from climate breakdown if the richest, most powerful nation on earth is pulling in the opposite direction?

Signed in December 2015 by every government on earth except North Korea and Costa Rica, the Paris Agreement stands as the strongest achievement of climate diplomacy since governments first debated the issue at the UN “Earth Summit” in 1992. In a shock to climate insiders, the agreement not only committed signatory governments to limit temperature rise to the relatively less dangerous level of 2 degrees Celsius. It also obliged governments to keep temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and, in a major victory for the most vulnerable countries, to strive for 1.5 degrees. That half-degree may not sound like much, but it spells the difference between life and death for low-lying coastal nations such as Bangladesh and island states such as the Maldives − two of many places that, science says, would literally disappear beneath the waves with more than 1.5 degrees of warming.

The announced US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement was big news, but also widely misunderstood. Despite Trump’s bluster, the US withdrawal still has not happened. Precisely to guard against such capriciousness, the negotiators in Paris stipulated that every signatory was legally bound to remain in the agreement until four years after the treaty took effect, which would only happen after countries responsible for 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions ratified it. Thus, the Paris Agreement did not take effect until November 4, 2016. That means the United States cannot leave until November 4, 2020 − which, not by accident, is one day after the US 2020 presidential election. If Trump loses that election, his successor almost certainly would move to remain in the Paris Agreement.

Trump is not expected to attend this week’s summit; the US delegation will instead be led by Andrew Wheeler, a former coal company lobbyist who is now the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. In keeping with Trump’s denial of climate science and his administration’s dismantling of environmental regulations and accelerating of fossil fuel development, Wheeler testified to the US Senate last January that he would not call climate change “the greatest crisis” facing humanity.

Which highlights a question that may shape whether this summit turns out to be a success, a failure, or something in between: What role will the United States play? Will it be a spoiler, actively seeking to disrupt progress? Will it be a braggart claiming to, as Wheeler boasted (inaccurately) in that testimony, represent “the gold standard for environmental progress”? Or will it be more like the addled uncle at the family reunion whose babblings provoke eye-rolls and are ignored?

“Don’t bring a speech, bring a plan!” For months now, that’s what Secretary General Guterres has been telling heads of state and government. Instead of the endless blah-blah-blah heard at most UN meetings, Guterres wants this summit to be more like “show-and-tell,” a meeting where governments share concrete and replicable examples of how they are cutting emissions and boosting resilience to the climate impacts already unfolding. As such, the summit aims to address a glaring deficiency of the Paris Agreement. In part, because the agreement made emissions cuts voluntary, global emissions have continued to increase since 2015. On current trends, the earth is heading towards 3 to 5 degrees C of temperature rise − enough, scientists warn, to destroy civilization as we know it.

“The secretary general has very clearly demanded that all participants identify very concrete measures that can be implemented immediately,” Luis Alfonso de Alba, Guterres’s special envoy for the summit, said in an interview with Covering Climate Now, a collaboration of 250 news outlets around the world to strengthen coverage of the climate story. “What we need is for all actors to put in practice their commitments [and to] recognize that whatever they had in mind before, they need to do much more − because climate change is running faster than we are, the situation is much more serious than we thought.”

Asked how the world can meet the “well below 2 degrees C” target when the current US government is doing all it can to increase global warming, Alba, a career diplomat from Mexico, steered clear of criticizing the Trump administration. “We need higher political will not only in one country but in a number of them,” he said, before pivoting to add, “We’re very much impressed by what states, cities, and businesses are doing in the US to move into renewables…. We are quite confident that the US will contribute to solutions, even if the decision to withdraw by the current administration is maintained.”

Indeed, then-Governor Jerry Brown announced at a climate summit last September that he signed an executive order committing California, the world’s fifth-biggest economy, to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2045. This summer, New York state, whose economic output is roughly equivalent to Russia’s, passed a law requiring the state to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040. The Under2 Coalition, a group of more than 220 state and local governments around the world representing 43 percent of the global economy, is likewise committed to keeping temperature rise well below 2 degrees.

The climb remains very steep, however. Scientists with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared last October in their landmark Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C  that humanity had to slash emissions by 45 percent by 2030, on the way to net-zero by 2050, to hit the 1.5 degree Celsius target. Failure to do so would condemn many millions of people, particularly in poor and vulnerable countries, to destitution and death and make irreversible global warming more likely. Such dramatic emissions reductions, the scientists added, would require the transformation of the global energy, agricultural, transportation, and other sectors at a speed and scale without precedent in human history.

China, the other climate superpower along with the United States, will therefore have to do better as well. China won plaudits in the lead-up to the Paris summit in 2015 by closing many of its coal-fired power plants. But coal burning in China has recently crept back up, and Beijing has also financed construction of coal plants in other nations, particularly in support of its massive “Belt and Road” initiative to construct ports, railways, and other infrastructure across Asia to the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Alba commends China for promising to go beyond the emissions reductions it pledged in Paris, but he adds, “We are asking them to do much more and in particular to green the Belt and Road initiative. It’s quite important because of the scale of that initiative that they do not support coal plants but instead renewable energy.”

When Secretary General Guterres gavels the summit’s plenary session to order next Monday, the 12-year deadline outlined by the IPCC scientists will have shrunk closer to 11. Meanwhile, the burning of the Amazon, Hurricane Dorian’s devastation of the Bahamas, this summer’s heat waves across much of the Northern Hemisphere, and countless less-heralded disasters illustrate that climate disruption is no longer a worrisome future specter but a punishing current reality.

Alba nevertheless draws hope from the heightened public concern and activism against the climate threat. “Compared to 10 years ago, the level of public involvement is very different,” Alba said, “and that’s to a large extent because the news media is talking about it more and young activists are demanding action.”

In the United States, activists with the Sunrise Movement and other groups have protested against Democratic and Republican politicians alike and demanded that the government implement a Green New Deal. Championed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive rock star congresswoman from New York, and modeled on the New Deal jobs and investment programs President Franklin Roosevelt implemented to pull the country out of the Great Depression in the 1930s, the Green New Deal calls for the government to kick-start the transformations of energy and other sectors the IPCC says are needed. Such a massive investment program will also, the activists say, create millions of jobs and reduce economic inequality. Central to the plan is “climate justice,” the notion that poor and nonwhite individuals and communities have suffered the worst from climate change and therefore should get precedence for the jobs and opportunities flowing from a Green New Deal.

Activist pressure has helped make the Green New Deal the de facto position of the US Democratic Party, while also spreading the idea overseas. Each of the leading Democratic candidates in the race to replace Trump has endorsed one version or another of a Green New Deal. Bernie Sanders proposes a particularly robust program that will, he promises, “end unemployment” by creating 20 million new jobs and also help developing nations dump fossil fuels in favor of renewables.

Guterres has gone out of his way to boost the visibility of the climate youth, most notably Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who is the best-known face of the climate movement. Thunberg’s “School Strike for Climate,” begun a year ago in her hometown of Stockholm, spread like wildfire around the world, inspiring hundreds of thousands of students to skip classes and take to the streets to demand that governments, in Thunberg’s words, “act like the house is on fire − because it is.” Guterres has invited Thunberg to keynote a special one-day youth climate summit on September 21 and also to address world leaders at the plenary session on September 23.

Alba recognizes that the public is sometimes skeptical of UN conferences, and he acknowledges that the UN “does not have the means to enforce” the commitments made by governments in the Paris Agreement. Instead, he puts his faith, again, in the ability of public pressure to compel governments to do the right thing. “As in many other parts of international law,” he says, “the enforcement rests in the follow-up and the ‘name and shame’ role of civil society − to expose that a country is not complying with what they’ve committed to. The media plays an important role there, and so do activists.”

Meanwhile, Alba’s own teenage son has given him advice on how to make the case for action: Don’t talk so much about the future that youth will inherit but rather about the climate disasters happening now. “He had a point,” says Alba. “This is an emergency we need to deal with today, not tomorrow. Talking about 2030 and 2050 is important because science gives us those dates for achieving certain objectives, but there’s the danger that it tells people that we have time to make these changes. And that is a mistake.”

* * * * * * *

Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation’s environment correspondent, has covered climate change since 1989. His books include On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency, Earth Odyssey, and HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth.

This story originally appeared in The Nation. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

The media and climate activists must “name and shame” laggards, says the UN special envoy.

16 September, 2019 − As world leaders converge on New York City for the United Nations Climate Action Summit on September 23, they enter what may be the most consequential week in climate politics since Donald Trump’s surprise election as president of the United States in 2016. Trump, of course, announced soon after taking office that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, the landmark treaty signed at the last big UN climate summit in 2015. UN Secretary General António Guterres convened this week’s summit precisely because the United States and most other countries remain far from honoring their Paris pledges to reduce heat-trapping emissions enough to prevent catastrophic climate disruption. The events of the coming days − including a global climate strike on September 20 by the activists whose protests in the past year have pushed the term “climate emergency” into news reports around the world − may help answer a question that has loomed over humanity since Trump’s election: Can the rest of the world save itself from climate breakdown if the richest, most powerful nation on earth is pulling in the opposite direction?

Signed in December 2015 by every government on earth except North Korea and Costa Rica, the Paris Agreement stands as the strongest achievement of climate diplomacy since governments first debated the issue at the UN “Earth Summit” in 1992. In a shock to climate insiders, the agreement not only committed signatory governments to limit temperature rise to the relatively less dangerous level of 2 degrees Celsius. It also obliged governments to keep temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and, in a major victory for the most vulnerable countries, to strive for 1.5 degrees. That half-degree may not sound like much, but it spells the difference between life and death for low-lying coastal nations such as Bangladesh and island states such as the Maldives − two of many places that, science says, would literally disappear beneath the waves with more than 1.5 degrees of warming.

The announced US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement was big news, but also widely misunderstood. Despite Trump’s bluster, the US withdrawal still has not happened. Precisely to guard against such capriciousness, the negotiators in Paris stipulated that every signatory was legally bound to remain in the agreement until four years after the treaty took effect, which would only happen after countries responsible for 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions ratified it. Thus, the Paris Agreement did not take effect until November 4, 2016. That means the United States cannot leave until November 4, 2020 − which, not by accident, is one day after the US 2020 presidential election. If Trump loses that election, his successor almost certainly would move to remain in the Paris Agreement.

Trump is not expected to attend this week’s summit; the US delegation will instead be led by Andrew Wheeler, a former coal company lobbyist who is now the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. In keeping with Trump’s denial of climate science and his administration’s dismantling of environmental regulations and accelerating of fossil fuel development, Wheeler testified to the US Senate last January that he would not call climate change “the greatest crisis” facing humanity.

Which highlights a question that may shape whether this summit turns out to be a success, a failure, or something in between: What role will the United States play? Will it be a spoiler, actively seeking to disrupt progress? Will it be a braggart claiming to, as Wheeler boasted (inaccurately) in that testimony, represent “the gold standard for environmental progress”? Or will it be more like the addled uncle at the family reunion whose babblings provoke eye-rolls and are ignored?

“Don’t bring a speech, bring a plan!” For months now, that’s what Secretary General Guterres has been telling heads of state and government. Instead of the endless blah-blah-blah heard at most UN meetings, Guterres wants this summit to be more like “show-and-tell,” a meeting where governments share concrete and replicable examples of how they are cutting emissions and boosting resilience to the climate impacts already unfolding. As such, the summit aims to address a glaring deficiency of the Paris Agreement. In part, because the agreement made emissions cuts voluntary, global emissions have continued to increase since 2015. On current trends, the earth is heading towards 3 to 5 degrees C of temperature rise − enough, scientists warn, to destroy civilization as we know it.

“The secretary general has very clearly demanded that all participants identify very concrete measures that can be implemented immediately,” Luis Alfonso de Alba, Guterres’s special envoy for the summit, said in an interview with Covering Climate Now, a collaboration of 250 news outlets around the world to strengthen coverage of the climate story. “What we need is for all actors to put in practice their commitments [and to] recognize that whatever they had in mind before, they need to do much more − because climate change is running faster than we are, the situation is much more serious than we thought.”

Asked how the world can meet the “well below 2 degrees C” target when the current US government is doing all it can to increase global warming, Alba, a career diplomat from Mexico, steered clear of criticizing the Trump administration. “We need higher political will not only in one country but in a number of them,” he said, before pivoting to add, “We’re very much impressed by what states, cities, and businesses are doing in the US to move into renewables…. We are quite confident that the US will contribute to solutions, even if the decision to withdraw by the current administration is maintained.”

Indeed, then-Governor Jerry Brown announced at a climate summit last September that he signed an executive order committing California, the world’s fifth-biggest economy, to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2045. This summer, New York state, whose economic output is roughly equivalent to Russia’s, passed a law requiring the state to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040. The Under2 Coalition, a group of more than 220 state and local governments around the world representing 43 percent of the global economy, is likewise committed to keeping temperature rise well below 2 degrees.

The climb remains very steep, however. Scientists with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared last October in their landmark Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C  that humanity had to slash emissions by 45 percent by 2030, on the way to net-zero by 2050, to hit the 1.5 degree Celsius target. Failure to do so would condemn many millions of people, particularly in poor and vulnerable countries, to destitution and death and make irreversible global warming more likely. Such dramatic emissions reductions, the scientists added, would require the transformation of the global energy, agricultural, transportation, and other sectors at a speed and scale without precedent in human history.

China, the other climate superpower along with the United States, will therefore have to do better as well. China won plaudits in the lead-up to the Paris summit in 2015 by closing many of its coal-fired power plants. But coal burning in China has recently crept back up, and Beijing has also financed construction of coal plants in other nations, particularly in support of its massive “Belt and Road” initiative to construct ports, railways, and other infrastructure across Asia to the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Alba commends China for promising to go beyond the emissions reductions it pledged in Paris, but he adds, “We are asking them to do much more and in particular to green the Belt and Road initiative. It’s quite important because of the scale of that initiative that they do not support coal plants but instead renewable energy.”

When Secretary General Guterres gavels the summit’s plenary session to order next Monday, the 12-year deadline outlined by the IPCC scientists will have shrunk closer to 11. Meanwhile, the burning of the Amazon, Hurricane Dorian’s devastation of the Bahamas, this summer’s heat waves across much of the Northern Hemisphere, and countless less-heralded disasters illustrate that climate disruption is no longer a worrisome future specter but a punishing current reality.

Alba nevertheless draws hope from the heightened public concern and activism against the climate threat. “Compared to 10 years ago, the level of public involvement is very different,” Alba said, “and that’s to a large extent because the news media is talking about it more and young activists are demanding action.”

In the United States, activists with the Sunrise Movement and other groups have protested against Democratic and Republican politicians alike and demanded that the government implement a Green New Deal. Championed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive rock star congresswoman from New York, and modeled on the New Deal jobs and investment programs President Franklin Roosevelt implemented to pull the country out of the Great Depression in the 1930s, the Green New Deal calls for the government to kick-start the transformations of energy and other sectors the IPCC says are needed. Such a massive investment program will also, the activists say, create millions of jobs and reduce economic inequality. Central to the plan is “climate justice,” the notion that poor and nonwhite individuals and communities have suffered the worst from climate change and therefore should get precedence for the jobs and opportunities flowing from a Green New Deal.

Activist pressure has helped make the Green New Deal the de facto position of the US Democratic Party, while also spreading the idea overseas. Each of the leading Democratic candidates in the race to replace Trump has endorsed one version or another of a Green New Deal. Bernie Sanders proposes a particularly robust program that will, he promises, “end unemployment” by creating 20 million new jobs and also help developing nations dump fossil fuels in favor of renewables.

Guterres has gone out of his way to boost the visibility of the climate youth, most notably Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who is the best-known face of the climate movement. Thunberg’s “School Strike for Climate,” begun a year ago in her hometown of Stockholm, spread like wildfire around the world, inspiring hundreds of thousands of students to skip classes and take to the streets to demand that governments, in Thunberg’s words, “act like the house is on fire − because it is.” Guterres has invited Thunberg to keynote a special one-day youth climate summit on September 21 and also to address world leaders at the plenary session on September 23.

Alba recognizes that the public is sometimes skeptical of UN conferences, and he acknowledges that the UN “does not have the means to enforce” the commitments made by governments in the Paris Agreement. Instead, he puts his faith, again, in the ability of public pressure to compel governments to do the right thing. “As in many other parts of international law,” he says, “the enforcement rests in the follow-up and the ‘name and shame’ role of civil society − to expose that a country is not complying with what they’ve committed to. The media plays an important role there, and so do activists.”

Meanwhile, Alba’s own teenage son has given him advice on how to make the case for action: Don’t talk so much about the future that youth will inherit but rather about the climate disasters happening now. “He had a point,” says Alba. “This is an emergency we need to deal with today, not tomorrow. Talking about 2030 and 2050 is important because science gives us those dates for achieving certain objectives, but there’s the danger that it tells people that we have time to make these changes. And that is a mistake.”

* * * * * * *

Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation’s environment correspondent, has covered climate change since 1989. His books include On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency, Earth Odyssey, and HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth.

Naomi Klein: ‘We are seeing the beginnings of the era of climate barbarism’

This story originally appeared in The Guardian. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Read an extract from Naomi Klein’s new book, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal here.

The No Logo author talks to Natalie Hanman about solutions to the climate crisis, Greta Thunberg, birth strikes and how she finds hope.

Why are you publishing this book now?

I still feel that the way that we talk about climate change is too compartmentalised, too siloed from the other crises we face. A really strong theme running through the book is the links between it and the crisis of rising white supremacy, the various forms of nationalism and the fact that so many people are being forced from their homelands, and the war that is waged on our attention spans. These are intersecting and interconnecting crises and so the solutions have to be as well.

The book collects essays from the last decade, have you changed your mind about anything?

When I look back, I don’t think I placed enough emphasis on the challenge climate change poses to the left. It’s more obvious the way the climate crisis challenges a rightwing dominant worldview, and the cult of serious centrism that never wants to do anything big, that’s always looking to split the difference. But this is also a challenge to a left worldview that is essentially only interested in redistributing the spoils of extractivism [the process of extracting natural resources from the earth] and not reckoning with the limits of endless consumption.

What’s stopping the left doing this?

In a North American context, it’s the greatest taboo of all to actually admit that there are going to be limits. You see that in the way Fox News has gone after the Green New Deal – they are coming after your hamburgers! It cuts to the heart of the American dream – every generation gets more than the last, there is always a new frontier to expand to, the whole idea of settler colonial nations like ours. When somebody comes along and says, actually, there are limits, we’ve got some tough decisions, we need to figure out how to manage what’s left, we’ve got to share equitably – it is a psychic attack. And so the response [on the left] has been to avoid, and say no, no, we’re not coming to take away your stuff, there are going to be all kinds of benefits. And there aregoing to be benefits: we’ll have more livable cities, we’ll have less polluted air, we’ll spend less time stuck in traffic, we can design happier, richer lives in so many ways. But we are going to have to contract on the endless, disposable consumption side.

Do you feel encouraged by talk of the Green New Deal?

I feel a tremendous excitement and a sense of relief, that we are finally talking about solutions on the scale of the crisis we face. That we’re not talking about a little carbon tax or a cap and trade scheme as a silver bullet. We’re talking about transforming our economy. This system is failing the majority of people anyway, which is why we’re in this period of such profound political destabilisation – that is giving us the Trumps and the Brexits, and all of these strongman leaders – so why don’t we figure out how to change everything from bottom to top, and do it in a way that addresses all of these other crises at the same time? There is every chance we will miss the mark, but every fraction of a degree warming that we are able to hold off is a victory and every policy that we are able to win that makes our societies more humane, the more we will weather the inevitable shocks and storms to come without slipping into barbarism. Because what really terrifies me is what we are seeing at our borders in Europe and North America and Australia – I don’t think it’s coincidental that the settler colonial states and the countries that are the engines of that colonialism are at the forefront of this. We are seeing the beginnings of the era of climate barbarism. We saw it in Christchurch, we saw it in El Paso, where you have this marrying of white supremacist violence with vicious anti-immigrant racism.

That is one of the most chilling sections of your book: I think that’s a link a lot of people haven’t made.

This pattern has been clear for a while. White supremacy emerged not just because people felt like thinking up ideas that were going to get a lot of people killed but because it was useful to protect barbaric but highly profitable actions. The age of scientific racism begins alongside the transatlantic slave trade, it is a rationale for that brutality. If we are going to respond to climate change by fortressing our borders, then of course the theories that would justify that, that create these hierarchies of humanity, will come surging back. There have been signs of that for years, but it is getting harder to deny because you have killers who are screaming it from the rooftops.

One criticism you hear about the environment movement is that it is dominated by white people. How do you address that?

When you have a movement that is overwhelmingly representative of the most privileged sector of society then the approach is going to be much more fearful of change, because people who have a lot to lose tend to be more fearful of change, whereas people who have a lot to gain will tend to fight harder for it. That’s the big benefit of having an approach to climate change that links it to those so called bread and butter issues: how are we going to get better paid jobs, affordable housing, a way for people to take care of their families? I have had many conversations with environmentalists over the years where they seem really to believe that by linking fighting climate change with fighting poverty, or fighting for racial justice, it’s going to make the fight harder. We have to get out of this “my crisis is bigger than your crisis: first we save the planet and then we fight poverty and racism, and violence against women”. That doesn’t work. That alienates the people who would fight hardest for change. This debate has shifted a huge amount in the US because of the leadership of the climate justice movement and because it is congresswomen of colour who are championing the Green New Deal. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaibcome from communities that have gotten such a raw deal under the years of neoliberalism and longer, and are determined to represent, truly represent, the interests of those communities. They’re not afraid of deep change because their communities desperately need it.

In the book, you write: “The hard truth is that the answer to the question ‘What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?’ is: nothing.” Do you still believe that?

In terms of the carbon, the individual decisions that we make are not going to add up to anything like the kind of scale of change that we need. And I do believe that the fact that for so many people it’s so much more comfortable to talk about our own personal consumption, than to talk about systemic change, is a product of neoliberalism, that we have been trained to see ourselves as consumers first. To me that’s the benefit of bringing up these historical analogies, like the New Deal or the Marshall Plan – it brings our minds back to a time when we were able to think of change on that scale. Because we’ve been trained to think very small. It is incredibly significant that Greta Thunberg has turned her life into a living emergency.

Yes, she set sail for the UN climate summit in New York on a zero carbon yacht …

Exactly. But this isn’t about what Greta is doing as an individual. It’s about what Greta is broadcasting in the choices that she makes as an activist, and I absolutely respect that. I think it’s magnificent. She is using the power that she has to broadcast that this is an emergency, and trying to inspire politicians to treat it as an emergency. I don’t think anybody is exempt from scrutinising their own decisions and behaviours but I think it is possible to overemphasise the individual choices. I have made a choice – and this has been true since I wrote No Logo, and I started getting these “what should I buy, where should I shop, what are the ethical clothes?” questions. My answer continues to be that I am not a lifestyle adviser, I am not anyone’s shopping guru, and I make these decisions in my own life but I’m under no illusion that these decisions are going to make the difference.

Some people are choosing to go on birth strikes. What do you think about that?

I’m happy these discussions are coming into the public domain as opposed to being furtive issues we’re afraid to talk about. It’s been very isolating for people. It certainly was for me. One of the reasons I waited as long as I did to try and get pregnant, and I would say this to my partner all the time – what, you want to have a Mad Max water warrior fighting with their friends for food and water? It wasn’t until I was part of the climate justice movement and I could see a path forward that I could even imagine having a kid. But I would never tell anybody how to answer this most intimate of questions. As a feminist who knows the brutal history of forced sterilisation and the ways in which women’s bodies become battle zones when policymakers decide that they are going to try and control population, I think that the idea that there are regulatory solutions when it comes to whether or not to have kids is catastrophically ahistorical. We need to be struggling with our climate grief together and our climate fears together, through whatever decision we decide to make, but the discussion we need to have is how do we build a world so that those kids can have thriving, zero-carbon lives?

Over the summer, you encouraged people to read Richard Powers’s novel, The Overstory. Why?

It’s been incredibly important to me and I’m happy that so many people have written to me since. What Powers is writing about trees: that trees live in communities and are in communication, and plan and react together, and we’ve been completely wrong in the way we conceptualise them. It’s the same conversation we’re having about whether we are going to solve this as individuals or whether we are going to save the collective organism. It’s also rare, in good fiction, to valorise activism, to treat it with real respect, failures and all, to acknowledge the heroism of the people who put their bodies on the line. I thought Powers did that in a really extraordinary way.

What are you views on what Extinction Rebellion has achieved?

One thing they have done so well is break us out of this classic campaign model we have been in for a long time, where you tell someone something scary, you ask them to click on something to do something about it, you skip out the whole phase where we need to grieve together and feel together and process what it is that we just saw. Because what I hear a lot from people is, ok, maybe those people back in the 1930s or 40s could organise neighbourhood by neighbourhood or workplace by workplace but we can’t. We believe we’ve been so downgraded as a species that we are incapable of that. The only thing that is going to change that belief is getting face to face, in community, having experiences, off our screens, with one another on the streets and in nature, and winning some things and feeling that power.

You talk about stamina in the book. How do you keep going? Do you feel hopeful?

I have complicated feelings about the hope question. Not a day goes by that I don’t have a moment of sheer panic, raw terror, complete conviction that we are doomed, and then I do pull myself out of it. I’m renewed by this new generation that is so determined, so forceful. I’m inspired by the willingness to engage in electoral politics, because my generation, when we were in our 20s and 30s, there was so much suspicion around getting our hands dirty with electoral politics that we lost a lot of opportunities. What gives me the most hope right now is that we’ve finally got the vision for what we want instead, or at least the first rough draft of it. This is the first time this has happened in my lifetime. And also, I did decide to have kids. I have a seven year old who is so completely obsessed and in love with the natural world. When I think about him, after we’ve spent an entire summer talking about the role of salmon in feeding the forests where he was born in British Columbia, and how they are linked to the health of the trees and the soil and the bears and the orcas and this entire magnificent ecosystem, and I think about what it would be like to have to tell him that there are no more salmon, it kills me. So that motivates me. And slays me.

This story originally appeared in The Guardian. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Read an extract from Naomi Klein’s new book, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal here.

The No Logo author talks to Natalie Hanman about solutions to the climate crisis, Greta Thunberg, birth strikes and how she finds hope.

Why are you publishing this book now?

I still feel that the way that we talk about climate change is too compartmentalised, too siloed from the other crises we face. A really strong theme running through the book is the links between it and the crisis of rising white supremacy, the various forms of nationalism and the fact that so many people are being forced from their homelands, and the war that is waged on our attention spans. These are intersecting and interconnecting crises and so the solutions have to be as well.

The book collects essays from the last decade, have you changed your mind about anything?

When I look back, I don’t think I placed enough emphasis on the challenge climate change poses to the left. It’s more obvious the way the climate crisis challenges a rightwing dominant worldview, and the cult of serious centrism that never wants to do anything big, that’s always looking to split the difference. But this is also a challenge to a left worldview that is essentially only interested in redistributing the spoils of extractivism [the process of extracting natural resources from the earth] and not reckoning with the limits of endless consumption.

What’s stopping the left doing this?

In a North American context, it’s the greatest taboo of all to actually admit that there are going to be limits. You see that in the way Fox News has gone after the Green New Deal – they are coming after your hamburgers! It cuts to the heart of the American dream – every generation gets more than the last, there is always a new frontier to expand to, the whole idea of settler colonial nations like ours. When somebody comes along and says, actually, there are limits, we’ve got some tough decisions, we need to figure out how to manage what’s left, we’ve got to share equitably – it is a psychic attack. And so the response [on the left] has been to avoid, and say no, no, we’re not coming to take away your stuff, there are going to be all kinds of benefits. And there aregoing to be benefits: we’ll have more livable cities, we’ll have less polluted air, we’ll spend less time stuck in traffic, we can design happier, richer lives in so many ways. But we are going to have to contract on the endless, disposable consumption side.

Do you feel encouraged by talk of the Green New Deal?

I feel a tremendous excitement and a sense of relief, that we are finally talking about solutions on the scale of the crisis we face. That we’re not talking about a little carbon tax or a cap and trade scheme as a silver bullet. We’re talking about transforming our economy. This system is failing the majority of people anyway, which is why we’re in this period of such profound political destabilisation – that is giving us the Trumps and the Brexits, and all of these strongman leaders – so why don’t we figure out how to change everything from bottom to top, and do it in a way that addresses all of these other crises at the same time? There is every chance we will miss the mark, but every fraction of a degree warming that we are able to hold off is a victory and every policy that we are able to win that makes our societies more humane, the more we will weather the inevitable shocks and storms to come without slipping into barbarism. Because what really terrifies me is what we are seeing at our borders in Europe and North America and Australia – I don’t think it’s coincidental that the settler colonial states and the countries that are the engines of that colonialism are at the forefront of this. We are seeing the beginnings of the era of climate barbarism. We saw it in Christchurch, we saw it in El Paso, where you have this marrying of white supremacist violence with vicious anti-immigrant racism.

That is one of the most chilling sections of your book: I think that’s a link a lot of people haven’t made.

This pattern has been clear for a while. White supremacy emerged not just because people felt like thinking up ideas that were going to get a lot of people killed but because it was useful to protect barbaric but highly profitable actions. The age of scientific racism begins alongside the transatlantic slave trade, it is a rationale for that brutality. If we are going to respond to climate change by fortressing our borders, then of course the theories that would justify that, that create these hierarchies of humanity, will come surging back. There have been signs of that for years, but it is getting harder to deny because you have killers who are screaming it from the rooftops.

One criticism you hear about the environment movement is that it is dominated by white people. How do you address that?

When you have a movement that is overwhelmingly representative of the most privileged sector of society then the approach is going to be much more fearful of change, because people who have a lot to lose tend to be more fearful of change, whereas people who have a lot to gain will tend to fight harder for it. That’s the big benefit of having an approach to climate change that links it to those so called bread and butter issues: how are we going to get better paid jobs, affordable housing, a way for people to take care of their families? I have had many conversations with environmentalists over the years where they seem really to believe that by linking fighting climate change with fighting poverty, or fighting for racial justice, it’s going to make the fight harder. We have to get out of this “my crisis is bigger than your crisis: first we save the planet and then we fight poverty and racism, and violence against women”. That doesn’t work. That alienates the people who would fight hardest for change. This debate has shifted a huge amount in the US because of the leadership of the climate justice movement and because it is congresswomen of colour who are championing the Green New Deal. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaibcome from communities that have gotten such a raw deal under the years of neoliberalism and longer, and are determined to represent, truly represent, the interests of those communities. They’re not afraid of deep change because their communities desperately need it.

In the book, you write: “The hard truth is that the answer to the question ‘What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?’ is: nothing.” Do you still believe that?

In terms of the carbon, the individual decisions that we make are not going to add up to anything like the kind of scale of change that we need. And I do believe that the fact that for so many people it’s so much more comfortable to talk about our own personal consumption, than to talk about systemic change, is a product of neoliberalism, that we have been trained to see ourselves as consumers first. To me that’s the benefit of bringing up these historical analogies, like the New Deal or the Marshall Plan – it brings our minds back to a time when we were able to think of change on that scale. Because we’ve been trained to think very small. It is incredibly significant that Greta Thunberg has turned her life into a living emergency.

Yes, she set sail for the UN climate summit in New York on a zero carbon yacht …

Exactly. But this isn’t about what Greta is doing as an individual. It’s about what Greta is broadcasting in the choices that she makes as an activist, and I absolutely respect that. I think it’s magnificent. She is using the power that she has to broadcast that this is an emergency, and trying to inspire politicians to treat it as an emergency. I don’t think anybody is exempt from scrutinising their own decisions and behaviours but I think it is possible to overemphasise the individual choices. I have made a choice – and this has been true since I wrote No Logo, and I started getting these “what should I buy, where should I shop, what are the ethical clothes?” questions. My answer continues to be that I am not a lifestyle adviser, I am not anyone’s shopping guru, and I make these decisions in my own life but I’m under no illusion that these decisions are going to make the difference.

Some people are choosing to go on birth strikes. What do you think about that?

I’m happy these discussions are coming into the public domain as opposed to being furtive issues we’re afraid to talk about. It’s been very isolating for people. It certainly was for me. One of the reasons I waited as long as I did to try and get pregnant, and I would say this to my partner all the time – what, you want to have a Mad Max water warrior fighting with their friends for food and water? It wasn’t until I was part of the climate justice movement and I could see a path forward that I could even imagine having a kid. But I would never tell anybody how to answer this most intimate of questions. As a feminist who knows the brutal history of forced sterilisation and the ways in which women’s bodies become battle zones when policymakers decide that they are going to try and control population, I think that the idea that there are regulatory solutions when it comes to whether or not to have kids is catastrophically ahistorical. We need to be struggling with our climate grief together and our climate fears together, through whatever decision we decide to make, but the discussion we need to have is how do we build a world so that those kids can have thriving, zero-carbon lives?

Over the summer, you encouraged people to read Richard Powers’s novel, The Overstory. Why?

It’s been incredibly important to me and I’m happy that so many people have written to me since. What Powers is writing about trees: that trees live in communities and are in communication, and plan and react together, and we’ve been completely wrong in the way we conceptualise them. It’s the same conversation we’re having about whether we are going to solve this as individuals or whether we are going to save the collective organism. It’s also rare, in good fiction, to valorise activism, to treat it with real respect, failures and all, to acknowledge the heroism of the people who put their bodies on the line. I thought Powers did that in a really extraordinary way.

What are you views on what Extinction Rebellion has achieved?

One thing they have done so well is break us out of this classic campaign model we have been in for a long time, where you tell someone something scary, you ask them to click on something to do something about it, you skip out the whole phase where we need to grieve together and feel together and process what it is that we just saw. Because what I hear a lot from people is, ok, maybe those people back in the 1930s or 40s could organise neighbourhood by neighbourhood or workplace by workplace but we can’t. We believe we’ve been so downgraded as a species that we are incapable of that. The only thing that is going to change that belief is getting face to face, in community, having experiences, off our screens, with one another on the streets and in nature, and winning some things and feeling that power.

You talk about stamina in the book. How do you keep going? Do you feel hopeful?

I have complicated feelings about the hope question. Not a day goes by that I don’t have a moment of sheer panic, raw terror, complete conviction that we are doomed, and then I do pull myself out of it. I’m renewed by this new generation that is so determined, so forceful. I’m inspired by the willingness to engage in electoral politics, because my generation, when we were in our 20s and 30s, there was so much suspicion around getting our hands dirty with electoral politics that we lost a lot of opportunities. What gives me the most hope right now is that we’ve finally got the vision for what we want instead, or at least the first rough draft of it. This is the first time this has happened in my lifetime. And also, I did decide to have kids. I have a seven year old who is so completely obsessed and in love with the natural world. When I think about him, after we’ve spent an entire summer talking about the role of salmon in feeding the forests where he was born in British Columbia, and how they are linked to the health of the trees and the soil and the bears and the orcas and this entire magnificent ecosystem, and I think about what it would be like to have to tell him that there are no more salmon, it kills me. So that motivates me. And slays me.

Pursuit of profit won’t solve climate crisis

Every answer has a cost. Every choice exacts a penalty. A new book reminds readers there are no easy answers to the climate crisis.

LONDON, 24 June, 2019 − Resolving the climate crisis demands radical political change, a British author argues: the end of free market capitalism.

You could turn the entire United Kingdom into a giant wind farm and it still wouldn’t generate all of the UK’s current energy demand. That is because only 2% of the solar energy that slams into and powers the whole planet on a daily basis is converted into wind, and most of that is either high in the jet stream or far out to sea.

Hydropower could in theory supply most of or perhaps even all the energy needs of 7 billion humans, but only if every drop that falls as rain was saved to power the most perfectly efficient turbines.

And that too is wildly unrealistic, says Mike Berners-Lee in his thoughtful and stimulating new paperback There Is No Planet B. He adds: “Thank goodness, as it would mean totally doing away with mountain streams and even, if you really think about it, hillsides.”

This is a book for people who really want to think about the state of the world, and how to get to zero-carbon emissions as swiftly as possible, and in a way that preserves a decent life for the 11 billion or so who will people the planet by 2050. And, of course, everything boils down to energy

Enough for everyone.

The sun delivers around 16,300 kilowatts to the Earth’s surface for every person on the planet: enough, he says, to boil an Olympic-sized swimming pool of water for each and every one.

Solar panels that covered just 0.1% of the total land surface (think of a small country just 366 kilometres square) could meet all of today’s human energy needs. But human demand for energy is growing at 2.4% a year. If this goes on, then in 300 years, human demand would need solar panels over every square metre of land surface.

The message from every page of this book is that we need to think, and think again. We could of course think about using the energy we have more efficiently, but history suggests there might be a catch.

The catch is now called the Jevons Paradox, after William Stanley Jevons who in 1863 (he was thinking at the time about the exploitation of coal) pointed out that energy efficiency tends to lead to increases in demand, because that’s how humans respond to plenty: they want even more of it.

“Fit for purpose democracy entails not just voting but accurate information, and a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good”

So we don’t just have to think again, we have to rethink the whole basis of human behaviour. This means switching to vegetarian or vegan diets, abandoning plastic packaging, and cutting down on air travel (powered by biofuels, if we must, but the biofuel business is lunacy – he uses the word “bonkers” – in energy terms).

But these are small things. The big and not necessarily entirely popular message of the book is that we must change politically. Free market capitalism or neoliberalism or any pursuit entirely and only for profit cannot deliver answers to the coming climate crisis.

Professor Berners-Lee takes a lesson from simple physics: wealth is, or ought to be, shared the way kinetic energy is shared around the planet.

When molecules of a gas collide, they redistribute energy, just as when people catch a bus or buy a sandwich, they redistribute wealth. The Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution law says that you rarely get one atom or molecule with more than 10 times the average energy, and almost never with more than 20 times the average energy.

And if human wealth was distributed according to the same law the total wealth would not change, and some people would still be richer than others, but the median wealth – the income of the person right in the middle – would be a massive 79% of the mean or average. That’s better than the share of wealth in the fair nation of Iceland. So it would be a manifestly fairer world.

Fairer resource-sharing

If the world shared its wealth (and wealth is a proxy for energy resources) more fairly, then it might be a great deal easier to be sure of democratic assent and international co-operation for radical shifts in the way we manage our food, water, transport and our precarious natural wealth in the form of biodiversity: all the wild birds, mammals, fish amphibians, reptiles, plants, fungi and microbes on which humankind ultimately depends.

The above is just a small sample of a rich, thought-provoking and easy-to-enjoy text. Berners-Lee doesn’t have all the answers, and admits as much, but he does know how to frame a lot of questions in illuminating ways.

He has packed his book with explanatory notes, supporting evidence and definitions, one of them being the case for democracy in the world of the Anthropocene.

“Fit for purpose democracy”, he warns, “entails not just voting but accurate information, and a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good.” A book like this could help us get there. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years (Cambridge University Press £9.99)

Every answer has a cost. Every choice exacts a penalty. A new book reminds readers there are no easy answers to the climate crisis.

LONDON, 24 June, 2019 − Resolving the climate crisis demands radical political change, a British author argues: the end of free market capitalism.

You could turn the entire United Kingdom into a giant wind farm and it still wouldn’t generate all of the UK’s current energy demand. That is because only 2% of the solar energy that slams into and powers the whole planet on a daily basis is converted into wind, and most of that is either high in the jet stream or far out to sea.

Hydropower could in theory supply most of or perhaps even all the energy needs of 7 billion humans, but only if every drop that falls as rain was saved to power the most perfectly efficient turbines.

And that too is wildly unrealistic, says Mike Berners-Lee in his thoughtful and stimulating new paperback There Is No Planet B. He adds: “Thank goodness, as it would mean totally doing away with mountain streams and even, if you really think about it, hillsides.”

This is a book for people who really want to think about the state of the world, and how to get to zero-carbon emissions as swiftly as possible, and in a way that preserves a decent life for the 11 billion or so who will people the planet by 2050. And, of course, everything boils down to energy

Enough for everyone.

The sun delivers around 16,300 kilowatts to the Earth’s surface for every person on the planet: enough, he says, to boil an Olympic-sized swimming pool of water for each and every one.

Solar panels that covered just 0.1% of the total land surface (think of a small country just 366 kilometres square) could meet all of today’s human energy needs. But human demand for energy is growing at 2.4% a year. If this goes on, then in 300 years, human demand would need solar panels over every square metre of land surface.

The message from every page of this book is that we need to think, and think again. We could of course think about using the energy we have more efficiently, but history suggests there might be a catch.

The catch is now called the Jevons Paradox, after William Stanley Jevons who in 1863 (he was thinking at the time about the exploitation of coal) pointed out that energy efficiency tends to lead to increases in demand, because that’s how humans respond to plenty: they want even more of it.

“Fit for purpose democracy entails not just voting but accurate information, and a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good”

So we don’t just have to think again, we have to rethink the whole basis of human behaviour. This means switching to vegetarian or vegan diets, abandoning plastic packaging, and cutting down on air travel (powered by biofuels, if we must, but the biofuel business is lunacy – he uses the word “bonkers” – in energy terms).

But these are small things. The big and not necessarily entirely popular message of the book is that we must change politically. Free market capitalism or neoliberalism or any pursuit entirely and only for profit cannot deliver answers to the coming climate crisis.

Professor Berners-Lee takes a lesson from simple physics: wealth is, or ought to be, shared the way kinetic energy is shared around the planet.

When molecules of a gas collide, they redistribute energy, just as when people catch a bus or buy a sandwich, they redistribute wealth. The Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution law says that you rarely get one atom or molecule with more than 10 times the average energy, and almost never with more than 20 times the average energy.

And if human wealth was distributed according to the same law the total wealth would not change, and some people would still be richer than others, but the median wealth – the income of the person right in the middle – would be a massive 79% of the mean or average. That’s better than the share of wealth in the fair nation of Iceland. So it would be a manifestly fairer world.

Fairer resource-sharing

If the world shared its wealth (and wealth is a proxy for energy resources) more fairly, then it might be a great deal easier to be sure of democratic assent and international co-operation for radical shifts in the way we manage our food, water, transport and our precarious natural wealth in the form of biodiversity: all the wild birds, mammals, fish amphibians, reptiles, plants, fungi and microbes on which humankind ultimately depends.

The above is just a small sample of a rich, thought-provoking and easy-to-enjoy text. Berners-Lee doesn’t have all the answers, and admits as much, but he does know how to frame a lot of questions in illuminating ways.

He has packed his book with explanatory notes, supporting evidence and definitions, one of them being the case for democracy in the world of the Anthropocene.

“Fit for purpose democracy”, he warns, “entails not just voting but accurate information, and a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good.” A book like this could help us get there. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years (Cambridge University Press £9.99)

Political lobbying buys off climate law

When it comes to influence, big bucks are hard to beat. Climate campaigners can learn from a study of US political lobbying.

LONDON, 4 June, 2019 − Big money talks loudest. A decade ago Washington saw political lobbying spend $700 million to influence the political shape and progress of the American Clean Energy and Security Act – and significantly reduce its chances of success.

The reward for the investment was a 13% reduction in its chances of progress into law. The pay-off for the rest of humanity was, at a conservative estimate, an extra $60 billion worth of climate damages from future superstorms, droughts and heatwaves associated with global heating.

The political initiative was at the time the most prominent and promising US climate regulation legislation so far on the books. It failed.

“The popular media widely postulated at the time that oppositional political interests played a key role in the bill’s demise,” say two US scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“If valid, this points to lobbying as an explanation for why so few climate change regulations are enacted. It also provides an example in which lobbying had welfare consequences by reducing the likelihood of enacting a socially beneficial policy.”

“There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences”

That political persuaders, funded ultimately by the fossil fuel industries or think-tanks and associations that act for them, can affect the political process is not news. Research has at least twice linked the strident voice of climate denial with very big corporations or unexplained sources of funding.

And the lobby industry in Washington has been linked with systematic attempts to muddy or cast doubt upon the science that now comprehensively supports evidence of human-triggered and potentially catastrophic climate change.

Since then, President Trump has announced that the US will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, backed in 2015 by 195 nations, and the US Department of Energy has started to rebrand the potent greenhouse gas methane as the “freedom molecule” in a bid to give an exported fossil fuel a more wholesome reputation.

“There has been a striking disconnect between what is needed to avoid dangerous climate change and what has actually been done to date,” said Kyle Meng, of the University of Southern California at Santa Barbara, who led the study. “There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences.”

But all political decisions involve compromise and there are many reasons why legislation can fail. Dr Meng and his co-author played statistical games with the available evidence to make calculations of the chances of success for the so-called 2009-2010 Waxman-Markey Bill that would have become the American Clean Energy and Security Act had it been passed.

Reduced chances

They made judgements about how successful legislation would affect the stock prices of businesses that were involved in lobbying congress and senate. They calculated that the bill had about a 55% chance of adoption, and used available data to calculate that big business which might have been affected by the bill in various ways spent $700 million on trying to influence the politicians.

And they found that lobbying by corporations that might expect to lose was more effective than lobbying by those businesses that might gain from successful legislation, and in effect reduced the bill’s chances of success to 42%.

They then used the same statistical logic to set a total for the extra “social cost” of greenhouse gases in terms of damage to human health, agriculture, insurance costs and so on: a total, they calculate, of $60bn at 2018 prices.

There are always problems with this kind of “what if?” or counter-factual research, and the authors concede the need for caution. But they argue that lessons can be learned about the way such legislation should be drawn up in the first place.

“Our findings also provide a glimmer of hope by paving a path toward politically more robust climate policies,” Dr Meng said. “Subtle design changes to market-based climate policies can alleviate political opposition and increase chances of adoption.” − Climate News Network

When it comes to influence, big bucks are hard to beat. Climate campaigners can learn from a study of US political lobbying.

LONDON, 4 June, 2019 − Big money talks loudest. A decade ago Washington saw political lobbying spend $700 million to influence the political shape and progress of the American Clean Energy and Security Act – and significantly reduce its chances of success.

The reward for the investment was a 13% reduction in its chances of progress into law. The pay-off for the rest of humanity was, at a conservative estimate, an extra $60 billion worth of climate damages from future superstorms, droughts and heatwaves associated with global heating.

The political initiative was at the time the most prominent and promising US climate regulation legislation so far on the books. It failed.

“The popular media widely postulated at the time that oppositional political interests played a key role in the bill’s demise,” say two US scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“If valid, this points to lobbying as an explanation for why so few climate change regulations are enacted. It also provides an example in which lobbying had welfare consequences by reducing the likelihood of enacting a socially beneficial policy.”

“There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences”

That political persuaders, funded ultimately by the fossil fuel industries or think-tanks and associations that act for them, can affect the political process is not news. Research has at least twice linked the strident voice of climate denial with very big corporations or unexplained sources of funding.

And the lobby industry in Washington has been linked with systematic attempts to muddy or cast doubt upon the science that now comprehensively supports evidence of human-triggered and potentially catastrophic climate change.

Since then, President Trump has announced that the US will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, backed in 2015 by 195 nations, and the US Department of Energy has started to rebrand the potent greenhouse gas methane as the “freedom molecule” in a bid to give an exported fossil fuel a more wholesome reputation.

“There has been a striking disconnect between what is needed to avoid dangerous climate change and what has actually been done to date,” said Kyle Meng, of the University of Southern California at Santa Barbara, who led the study. “There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences.”

But all political decisions involve compromise and there are many reasons why legislation can fail. Dr Meng and his co-author played statistical games with the available evidence to make calculations of the chances of success for the so-called 2009-2010 Waxman-Markey Bill that would have become the American Clean Energy and Security Act had it been passed.

Reduced chances

They made judgements about how successful legislation would affect the stock prices of businesses that were involved in lobbying congress and senate. They calculated that the bill had about a 55% chance of adoption, and used available data to calculate that big business which might have been affected by the bill in various ways spent $700 million on trying to influence the politicians.

And they found that lobbying by corporations that might expect to lose was more effective than lobbying by those businesses that might gain from successful legislation, and in effect reduced the bill’s chances of success to 42%.

They then used the same statistical logic to set a total for the extra “social cost” of greenhouse gases in terms of damage to human health, agriculture, insurance costs and so on: a total, they calculate, of $60bn at 2018 prices.

There are always problems with this kind of “what if?” or counter-factual research, and the authors concede the need for caution. But they argue that lessons can be learned about the way such legislation should be drawn up in the first place.

“Our findings also provide a glimmer of hope by paving a path toward politically more robust climate policies,” Dr Meng said. “Subtle design changes to market-based climate policies can alleviate political opposition and increase chances of adoption.” − Climate News Network

Life within The Wall keeps The Others at bay

What would it be like to live behind a barrier built to keep the world out? The Wall explores a post-climate change world.

LONDON, 25 April, 2019 − John Lanchester’s latest novel, The Wall, is pure fiction. Isn’t it?

It has haves and have-nots battling each other in the aftermath of dramatic alterations in climate. Right now, ignored for the most part by the outside world, thousands of people are being held in appalling conditions in camps in Libya.

Libya is a key setting-off point for migrants, mostly from countries in Africa, seeking a better life across the Mediterranean in Europe. Often they are fleeing from violence and persecution in their home countries. Many are escaping from hunger and the impact climate change is having on agricultural communities.

The European Union, anxious to secure its borders, has been sending millions of euros to military forces in Libya to control the migrant flow.

Now there is a growing threat of full-scale civil war in Libya, and the migrants are trapped – often going for days without provisions – as fighting goes on around them. It is a humanitarian disaster – and a terrible indictment of EU migration policy.

Frantic search

In Lanchester’s futuristic novel The Wall, people are roaming the world in ever greater numbers. We are not told when the book is set but, as with those migrants captive in Libya today, they are desperately searching for some sort of safe haven.

To prevent incursions, a massive concrete wall has been built around the entire coast of Britain.

Kavanagh, the book’s main character, is what’s called a Defender, part of an army of guards which patrols the wall to prevent it being breached by the seaborne forces of those known as the Others − in today’s parlance, migrants or refugees.

Slowly, as in the best kind of mystery writing, we accumulate some background. There has been a momentous event which, in Defender terminology, is referred to as the Change but in the language of one of the Others is called kuishia, a Swahili word that means “the ending”.

“In living memory the sea floor below us was dry land. All drowned now. Part of the old drowned world”

We are not told directly about the Change but can surmise it refers to a profound shift in the global climate leading to, among other things, a sudden rise in sea levels.

It is a harsh, amoral, world. For Kavanagh and his fellow Defenders, all Others are the enemy and have to be killed. The only Others allowed to exist within the wall are what are called Help – virtual slaves who assist in doing menial jobs or who can be called upon to act as carers.

Lanchester might be writing of an imagined future, but there are striking parallels with today’s labour market in the UK and elsewhere. And of course the book appears at a time when countries seem to be increasingly turning in on themselves: walls and other barriers are not going up just in the US.

In the book the Change is described as happening over a relatively short time span, in the space of a single generation.

Kavanagh goes home on leave. He doesn’t like his parents and they feel uncomfortable round their son.

Culpable generation

“It’s guilt: mass guilt, generational guilt”, Kavanagh tells us. “The olds feel they irretrievably fucked up the world, then allowed us to be born into it. You know what? It’s true. That’s exactly what they did. They know it, we know it. Everybody knows it.”

The world’s beaches have disappeared, along with the old riverscapes. Kavanagh leaves his parents as they watch images of the past on TV – an old documentary showing golden beaches and surfers cavorting in the waves.

An elite constantly warns that as the Change continues and intensifies, the numbers of Others attempting to scale the wall will grow. There are traitors within who might even try to assist these invaders.

We are drawn into Kavanagh’s world. He is bored, he yearns to be away from the wall, yet it becomes a part of him.

Kavanagh falls in love. He gets drunk. He is hungry. (Britain has became self-sufficient in food, though this seems limited to berries and root crops, with turnips a staple).

Fierce fighters

There are dramatic, deadly, fights. Lanchester is a master at letting the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks. Only once are we given some hint of the Others’ identities.

“They were trained and competent. They were from sub-Saharan Africa. It was quite likely that they had been professional soldiers in their previous lives.”

For failing to stop a group of Others from vaulting the wall, Kavanagh and his fellow guards have their all-important identity microchips removed from their bodies and are left to fend for themselves on a boat at sea. They come across an outcrop.

“We stood for a moment and looked at the island and I imagined what it had once been like – beaches, gentle slopes, maybe a few houses down near the water.

“In living memory the sea floor below us was dry land. All drowned now. Part of the old drowned world.”

Some might view Lanchester’s book as pure fiction, a rattling good yarn set in a future that will never come about. Let’s hope, for all our sakes and for the sake of future generations, they are right. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Wall, Faber & Faber, £14.99 in the UK.

What would it be like to live behind a barrier built to keep the world out? The Wall explores a post-climate change world.

LONDON, 25 April, 2019 − John Lanchester’s latest novel, The Wall, is pure fiction. Isn’t it?

It has haves and have-nots battling each other in the aftermath of dramatic alterations in climate. Right now, ignored for the most part by the outside world, thousands of people are being held in appalling conditions in camps in Libya.

Libya is a key setting-off point for migrants, mostly from countries in Africa, seeking a better life across the Mediterranean in Europe. Often they are fleeing from violence and persecution in their home countries. Many are escaping from hunger and the impact climate change is having on agricultural communities.

The European Union, anxious to secure its borders, has been sending millions of euros to military forces in Libya to control the migrant flow.

Now there is a growing threat of full-scale civil war in Libya, and the migrants are trapped – often going for days without provisions – as fighting goes on around them. It is a humanitarian disaster – and a terrible indictment of EU migration policy.

Frantic search

In Lanchester’s futuristic novel The Wall, people are roaming the world in ever greater numbers. We are not told when the book is set but, as with those migrants captive in Libya today, they are desperately searching for some sort of safe haven.

To prevent incursions, a massive concrete wall has been built around the entire coast of Britain.

Kavanagh, the book’s main character, is what’s called a Defender, part of an army of guards which patrols the wall to prevent it being breached by the seaborne forces of those known as the Others − in today’s parlance, migrants or refugees.

Slowly, as in the best kind of mystery writing, we accumulate some background. There has been a momentous event which, in Defender terminology, is referred to as the Change but in the language of one of the Others is called kuishia, a Swahili word that means “the ending”.

“In living memory the sea floor below us was dry land. All drowned now. Part of the old drowned world”

We are not told directly about the Change but can surmise it refers to a profound shift in the global climate leading to, among other things, a sudden rise in sea levels.

It is a harsh, amoral, world. For Kavanagh and his fellow Defenders, all Others are the enemy and have to be killed. The only Others allowed to exist within the wall are what are called Help – virtual slaves who assist in doing menial jobs or who can be called upon to act as carers.

Lanchester might be writing of an imagined future, but there are striking parallels with today’s labour market in the UK and elsewhere. And of course the book appears at a time when countries seem to be increasingly turning in on themselves: walls and other barriers are not going up just in the US.

In the book the Change is described as happening over a relatively short time span, in the space of a single generation.

Kavanagh goes home on leave. He doesn’t like his parents and they feel uncomfortable round their son.

Culpable generation

“It’s guilt: mass guilt, generational guilt”, Kavanagh tells us. “The olds feel they irretrievably fucked up the world, then allowed us to be born into it. You know what? It’s true. That’s exactly what they did. They know it, we know it. Everybody knows it.”

The world’s beaches have disappeared, along with the old riverscapes. Kavanagh leaves his parents as they watch images of the past on TV – an old documentary showing golden beaches and surfers cavorting in the waves.

An elite constantly warns that as the Change continues and intensifies, the numbers of Others attempting to scale the wall will grow. There are traitors within who might even try to assist these invaders.

We are drawn into Kavanagh’s world. He is bored, he yearns to be away from the wall, yet it becomes a part of him.

Kavanagh falls in love. He gets drunk. He is hungry. (Britain has became self-sufficient in food, though this seems limited to berries and root crops, with turnips a staple).

Fierce fighters

There are dramatic, deadly, fights. Lanchester is a master at letting the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks. Only once are we given some hint of the Others’ identities.

“They were trained and competent. They were from sub-Saharan Africa. It was quite likely that they had been professional soldiers in their previous lives.”

For failing to stop a group of Others from vaulting the wall, Kavanagh and his fellow guards have their all-important identity microchips removed from their bodies and are left to fend for themselves on a boat at sea. They come across an outcrop.

“We stood for a moment and looked at the island and I imagined what it had once been like – beaches, gentle slopes, maybe a few houses down near the water.

“In living memory the sea floor below us was dry land. All drowned now. Part of the old drowned world.”

Some might view Lanchester’s book as pure fiction, a rattling good yarn set in a future that will never come about. Let’s hope, for all our sakes and for the sake of future generations, they are right. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Wall, Faber & Faber, £14.99 in the UK.

Climate science supports youth protests

The youth protests urging political action on climate change have won strong global backing from climatologists, as over 6,000 scientists express their support.

LONDON, 19 April, 2019 – The global youth protests demanding action on climate change are having a marked effect.

In their thousands, concerned climate scientists, backed by colleagues from other disciplines, are voicing support for the school students and other young people who are staying away from lessons to urge more resolute political action to protect the climate.

The campaign to support the protesters has been launched by an international group of 22 scientists spanning a range of disciplines; several of them are renowned climate specialists.

They include Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, US, Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester, UK, and Stefan Rahmstorf.

Reasons to protest

Climate News Network asked Stefan Rahmstorf, professor of physics of the oceans at the University of Potsdam, Germany, what he would tell a hesitant potential protester in order to allay his or her doubts.

He replied: “Politicians are already starting to move in response to the school strikes around the world. Fridays for Future is perhaps our last chance to get meaningful climate policies that can still achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Time is running out fast.”

By mid-April the scientists who had signed the declaration numbered almost 6,300. The 22 original signatories  explained why they backed the protests in a letter to the journal Science headed Concerns of young protesters are justified.

Known as Scientists for Future International, they are linked to the website which co-ordinates the protests worldwide, Fridays for Future (the protests are held on Fridays).

Justified concerns

The letter starts with a ringing declaration: “The world’s youth have begun to persistently demonstrate for the protection of the climate and other foundations of human well-being … Their concerns are justified and supported by the best available science. The current measures for protecting the climate and biosphere are deeply inadequate.”

It includes a clear call to move from protest to action to tackle the multiple environmental threats now confronting the next generation: limiting global warming, halting the mass extinction of other species and safeguarding food supplies.

“This is what the young people want to achieve. They deserve our respect and full support.”

In March the estimated worldwide number of protesters was around 1.5 million.

“Politicians are already starting to move in response to the school strikes around the world. Fridays for Future is perhaps our last chance to get meaningful climate policies

In support of its declaration of backing for the protesters, Scientists for Future International says almost every country has signed and ratified the Paris Agreement of 2015, agreeing to keep global warming well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and aiming to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.

“The scientific community has clearly concluded that a global warming of 2°C instead of 1.5°C would substantially increase climate-related impacts and the risk of some becoming irreversible.

“It is critical to immediately begin a rapid reduction in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. The degree of climate crisis that humanity will experience in the future will be determined by our cumulative emissions; rapid reduction now will limit the damage.

“For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently assessed that halving CO2 emissions by 2030 (relative to 2010 levels) and globally achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 (as well as strong reductions in other greenhouse gases) would allow a 50% chance of staying below 1.5°C of warming.”

Time is short

It says many solutions to the climate crisis already exist, and only bold action can avert the critical danger that threatens the protesters’ future. It adds: “There is no time to wait until they are in power.”

The statement ends: “The enormous grassroots mobilisation of the youth climate movement … shows that young people understand the situation. We approve and support their demand for rapid and forceful action. We see it as our social, ethical, and scholarly responsibility to state [this] in no uncertain terms.

“Only if humanity acts quickly and resolutely can we limit global warming, halt the ongoing mass extinction of animal and plant species, and preserve the natural basis for the food supply and well-being of present and future generations.

“This is what the young people want to achieve. They deserve our respect and full support.” –  Climate News Network

* * * * *

Anyone wanting to add their names to the Scientists for Future International declaration – and who meets its eligibility requirements – will find it here. It is published under a Creative Commons licence (CC BY-SA 4.0) and can be freely shared.

The youth protests urging political action on climate change have won strong global backing from climatologists, as over 6,000 scientists express their support.

LONDON, 19 April, 2019 – The global youth protests demanding action on climate change are having a marked effect.

In their thousands, concerned climate scientists, backed by colleagues from other disciplines, are voicing support for the school students and other young people who are staying away from lessons to urge more resolute political action to protect the climate.

The campaign to support the protesters has been launched by an international group of 22 scientists spanning a range of disciplines; several of them are renowned climate specialists.

They include Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, US, Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester, UK, and Stefan Rahmstorf.

Reasons to protest

Climate News Network asked Stefan Rahmstorf, professor of physics of the oceans at the University of Potsdam, Germany, what he would tell a hesitant potential protester in order to allay his or her doubts.

He replied: “Politicians are already starting to move in response to the school strikes around the world. Fridays for Future is perhaps our last chance to get meaningful climate policies that can still achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Time is running out fast.”

By mid-April the scientists who had signed the declaration numbered almost 6,300. The 22 original signatories  explained why they backed the protests in a letter to the journal Science headed Concerns of young protesters are justified.

Known as Scientists for Future International, they are linked to the website which co-ordinates the protests worldwide, Fridays for Future (the protests are held on Fridays).

Justified concerns

The letter starts with a ringing declaration: “The world’s youth have begun to persistently demonstrate for the protection of the climate and other foundations of human well-being … Their concerns are justified and supported by the best available science. The current measures for protecting the climate and biosphere are deeply inadequate.”

It includes a clear call to move from protest to action to tackle the multiple environmental threats now confronting the next generation: limiting global warming, halting the mass extinction of other species and safeguarding food supplies.

“This is what the young people want to achieve. They deserve our respect and full support.”

In March the estimated worldwide number of protesters was around 1.5 million.

“Politicians are already starting to move in response to the school strikes around the world. Fridays for Future is perhaps our last chance to get meaningful climate policies

In support of its declaration of backing for the protesters, Scientists for Future International says almost every country has signed and ratified the Paris Agreement of 2015, agreeing to keep global warming well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and aiming to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.

“The scientific community has clearly concluded that a global warming of 2°C instead of 1.5°C would substantially increase climate-related impacts and the risk of some becoming irreversible.

“It is critical to immediately begin a rapid reduction in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. The degree of climate crisis that humanity will experience in the future will be determined by our cumulative emissions; rapid reduction now will limit the damage.

“For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently assessed that halving CO2 emissions by 2030 (relative to 2010 levels) and globally achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 (as well as strong reductions in other greenhouse gases) would allow a 50% chance of staying below 1.5°C of warming.”

Time is short

It says many solutions to the climate crisis already exist, and only bold action can avert the critical danger that threatens the protesters’ future. It adds: “There is no time to wait until they are in power.”

The statement ends: “The enormous grassroots mobilisation of the youth climate movement … shows that young people understand the situation. We approve and support their demand for rapid and forceful action. We see it as our social, ethical, and scholarly responsibility to state [this] in no uncertain terms.

“Only if humanity acts quickly and resolutely can we limit global warming, halt the ongoing mass extinction of animal and plant species, and preserve the natural basis for the food supply and well-being of present and future generations.

“This is what the young people want to achieve. They deserve our respect and full support.” –  Climate News Network

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Anyone wanting to add their names to the Scientists for Future International declaration – and who meets its eligibility requirements – will find it here. It is published under a Creative Commons licence (CC BY-SA 4.0) and can be freely shared.