For a much better graphic (but fewer words) see the version at www.inequality.org
Percentage of Global Income, by Decile
Something has changed. I’ve been asking people in the climate movement what they think it is, and most everyone agrees. When did it happen? After the Paris Agreement, definitely. But also after Brexit, and after Trump’s election, which put “the emergency” on the map for all to see. There are lots of data points. In late 2017, David Wallace-Well’s piece in New York Magazine, The Uninhabitable Earth, landed like a bomb. In mid-2018 came the Deep Adaptation paper, which likewise was downloaded by the hundreds of thousands. In October of 2018, there came the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5°C, and afterwards the air was crisper, the view clearer. It was obvious that climate denialism, or at least classic climate denialism, had lost its legitimacy. Denialism was just a right-wing scam, and everyone knew it. And, of course, there were the storms, and the firestorms, and then the Green New Deal resolution, which was a watershed by any reckoning. To top it all off, there came the Extinction Rebellion, and its unforgettable new exhortations, protest signs that simply said “Tell the Truth!”
So something has changed. But what’s at stake, exactly, and what comes next? Wen Stephenson beat me to this (in a fine piece in The Nation) but I’ve reached exactly the same conclusion. If we had to choose one voice, one single slogan, to represent the pivot that we’re now passing though, it would be hard to beat Czech playwright and ex-president Vaclav Havel and his notion of “living in truth.”  It’s an option more people are exercising, people who are sick of the lies. Even the comforting lies.
So where are we? Three points are key.
First, despair is looming, and for good reason. Take a look at Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene, the so-called “Hothouse Earth” paper, or at least know its bottom line, that the “tipping points” are actually “tipping cascades,” and that these cascades, if they really get moving, will amplify each other in ways that are all but impossible to stop. Such that, by the time we arrive at 2°C, if indeed we do, we’ll probably overshoot it, and then face a real risk of runaway feedbacks.
Second, we have the technology, and the money, to save ourselves. This isn’t the place to talk about tech in detail, but take a look at the ongoing work of Project Drawdown, and skim Carbon Tracker’s 2020 Vision report. Then say something encouraging, something like “superconducting windmill generators and utility-scale flow batteries.” As for the money, suffice it to say that “we” have plenty of it, which is to say plenty of financial and institutional capacity, but that it’s the wrong hands, and lots of it is locked into tax havens as well.
Third, we have to prepare for the possibility of a proper awakening. Certainly it’s reasonable to hope that the more people understand the depth of the danger—the Earth will be fine, but many species will not make it, and our civilization may not either—the greater will grow their frustration and, better, their anger. And along with these their willingness to contemplate “unrealistic” actions and transformations that are actually scaled to the danger. Because, bottom line, large-scale transformations are actually possible.
I was in Katowice when a busload of NGO people went to Auschwitz. Alas, I could not go. I had a meeting I couldn’t skip. Seriously. But Tzeporah Berman went, and it seems that she can write as well.
The drama was high in Katowice when a rotten bloc of four countries — the Saudis, of course, and also the U.S., the Russians and the Kuwaitis — refused to welcome the IPCC report. But it wasn’t the drama that made the fight an important one. It was that the Saudi’s argument. . .
“Saudi Arabia’s lead negotiator Ayman Shasly said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report – released in October – ‘shows that [halting warming at 1.5C] is achievable, it’s doable, let’s all do it together, which is not fair. What is the equity in this? Where is history in this?’ ”
. . . has definitely passed its use by date. Read more here.
The folks at inequality.org recently released this nice brisk introduction to the climate inequality emergency. It’s a nice intro to the subject, which I cite because it takes inequality and climate crisis as two crises that can no longer be successfully addressed in isolation from each other. The strategy of the piece is to juxtapose the IPCC’s new special report on Global Warming of 1.5°C and Oxfam’s The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index 2018. The first of these, in particular, is a milestone document which has deservedly gotten a lot of attention, though few have noted that the IPCC itself has a lot to say about the equity challenge. See the discussion of this in After Paris: Inequality, Fair Shares, and the Climate Emergency, which was just published by the Civil Society Equity Review coalition.
Climate politics can be brutally difficult. You have to tell the truth, for one thing, but if that’s all you do, you lose. The real trick is telling the truth in a helpful manner, one that opens doors. So kudos to Jason Mark, the Editor-in-Chief of Sierra Magazine, who pulls this off nicely in The Case for Climate Reparations, the cover story of the current issue.
The subtitle, “It’s Time the Carbon Barons Paid the Costs for our Unnatural Disasters,” signals the secret of Mark’s success. He’s asking for something real, but he’s not asking for the world. This is the Transitional Justice way. Reparations are just one tool in the toolkit, one device among many. The real challenge is to face history, and to do so in a meaningful way that makes it possible to then move forward.
That said, reparations are a very special device, for they go beyond the recognition of past wrongs to demand paybacks for historical debts. In South Africa, after Apartheid, these are the debts owed by colonizers to their former subjects. Today, in the United States, on the reparations for slavery front, they are the living legacy of the Confederacy, and of “reconstruction” and its cruelties, and of “the new Jim Crow.” (For more on these themes, see The Case for Reparations, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.)
But, again, Mark is making a measured case. He’s not even naming the great challenge of “differentiated responsibilities” a phrase from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that, overplayed in decades of often bitter negotiations, has left the realists terrified of equity in any form. Quiet conveniently terrified, actually. He’s just talking about the fossil corporates, his “carbon barons,” and suggesting that it’s their time on the block, their time to face history.
The Sierra Club should be congratulated for this piece. I hope they don’t have to put up with too much carping for running it. Because the truth is that, unlike the challenge of mitigation — which can to some degree be met with technology, and market mechanisms, and policy reforms — the challenges of adaptation and loss & damage are absolutely going to elude the devices of politics as usual. When the waters rise in earnest, and they will, when the deserts spread and intensify, and they will, the question of responsibility is going to hang heavy in the air.
In fact, it already does. And facing it in a helpful way is going to be hard. But, hey, we gotta start somewhere. Why not with the fact the Exxon lied?
Oil Change International, the very model of an activist climate think tank, has released an excellent critique of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) climate scenarios. It’s called Off Track: The IEA and Climate Change, and it’s well worth your time. Also note that the principle author of the report, Greg Muttitt, has recorded a concise webinar version of the report which is archived here.
This is pretty technical stuff, but if given that the IEA’s New Policy Scenario is one of the most influential climate / energy projections in all the world, and given that it is massively inconsistent with the Paris temperature goals, it’s also pretty important.
Just one specific point. The IEA not only has its New Policy Scenario, it also has its so-called Sustainable Development Scenario, and even this latter scenario is nowhere close to being consistent with the Paris temperature goals. Moreover, the IEA’s conception of this more stringent scenario is nowhere close to being equitable.
This graphic, from the Oil Change report, makes this clear. It shows that, in the IEA’s view, the bulk of the reductions that need to be made if we’re to increase ambition from the from the New Policy level to the Sustainable Development level, should be made in the developing countries.
If this is what passes for realism in the IEA, we’ve really got a problem.
And here is something new! A report that evaluates the current national pledges of action in the light of the IPCC’s bracing new report — Global Warming of 1.5°C — and in the context of an analysis that takes inequality within countries just as seriously as it takes inequality between countries.
The report is titled After Paris: Inequality, Fair Shares, and the Climate Emergency, and it has an extremely impressive list of organizational endorsers, from all over the world. Which is not surprising, as it was produced under the aegis of the Civil Society Equity Review coalition, which has built quite a bit of momentum at this point. EcoEquity, as one of the partners in the Climate Equity Reference Project, is one of the principle authors.
A 2 degrees C rise would be catastrophic, and avoiding it requires radical change and climate justice. Click here for Tom Athanasiou’s review of the IPCC’s Special Report Global Warming of 1.5ºC, as published in The Nation.
This is a quick notice of a brief “correspondence” piece, just published in Nature Climate Change.
Cascading biases against poorer countries (see the sharable link at https://rdcu.be/MMbA) was written by an ad-hoc group of analysts and philosophers who got together in 2017 to respond to Equitable mitigation to achieve the Paris Agreement goals (the sharable link is https://t.co/vXFWgLDBOV), which du Pont et. al. published in December of 2016 in Nature Climate Change.
Our published response to du Pont et. al., Cascading biases against poorer countries, is quite short, but we think it manages to make its core points. In a nutshell, our claim in that du Pont and his colleagues reach counter-intuitive conclusions (for example that the EU has made a more “equitable” pledge than either China or India) by way of a cascading series of decisions that, taken together, skew their approach towards various kinds of grandfathering, while, at the same time, appearing to be derived from a balanced and comprehensive set of high-level equity principles.
A bit more . . .