FAQs

Thirty years from now, the only thing that will appear important about this historical moment is the question of whether or not we did anything meaningful to confront climate change.[1]  The reason is simple: We are drastically altering the very life support system upon which we depend. And we have only a very narrow window of opportunity to avert catastrophic impacts to society. The time for action is now; each day we delay the required emission cuts become steeper. At this time, it is crucial that we generate an Emergency Climate Mobilization so that we can protect a livable planet. Even with the urgency needed now, non-binding international climate agreements continue to allow global greenhouse gas levels to soar.[2] 

The time to act—at scale—is now. The transformation of our carbon-intensive system can only succeed by producing a people’s climate campaign in our USA, getting support from the body politic. To be successful, the effort that must be funded by billions of philanthropic dollars and must be on the scale of a presidential campaign.

Issues and Questions 

Click on Issue to navigate down the page.

Issue 1:  I keep hearing that global warming is a major problem. 
Q1.1:  Why is that the case?

Issue 2:  I keep reading about carbon dioxide emissions, atmospheric carbon levels and carbon budgets, but I don’t understand what it means or what I can do about it. 
Q2.1:  I hear that time is running out, what does that mean?
Q2.2: So what does this mean we have to do?

Issue 3:  I’ve heard you don’t call this an environmental issue.
Q3.1:  Why not?

Issue 4:  Thus far, organizations have failed to substantially shift public consciousness and reduce emissions.
Q4.1:  Why have others failed?
Q4.2:  How and why is ATL unique?
Q4.3:  Isn’t there another organization that is doing pretty much the same thing?
Q4.4:  How is the effort you envision different from efforts led by existing organizations?
Q4.5:  How will ATL succeed when others haven’t?
Q4.6:  Why so much emphasis on philanthropy? Isn’t it then a top-down effort?

Issue 5: Your plan calls for a massive public awareness effort to basically alarm-educate-motivate. An Inconvenient Truth followed the same model, yet it failed to change the consciousness of working class voters, and its impact on college-educated voters faded after a few years.
Q5.1:  Since citing alarming scientific facts does NOT effectively stir the public, how will you elicit a significant response?
Q5.2:  And, how can people be motivated to take action and to change in the time and at the scale required?

Issue 6: ATL calls for a price on carbon, which requires an act of Congress. The US Congress can’t get much of anything done—even the seemingly easy stuff.
Q6.1:  How will you get something past Congress when recently about 90% of the American public supported strengthening of gun control laws, yet nothing happened?
Q6.2:  What is the plan for mustering a Congressional majority for a carbon tax?

Issue 7:  There are already hundreds or thousands of climate change organizations.
Q7.1:  Is it necessary to establish yet another organization with all the associated overhead and infrastructure? Why not just create a new program under the umbrella of an existing organization, to put donors’ dollars to maximum effect?
Q7.2:  How can you unite all these different groups?

Issue 8:  I’ve never heard of ATL. Tell me about yourselves.
Q8.1:  Who are you and how can you get this huge effort accomplished?

Issue 9:  You seem to have a plan and know-how, yet I find this crisis so threatening and depressing.
Q9.1:  What can you tell me before I go stick my head in the sand?
Q9.2:  Still, what if I cannot conceive of what the world will look like on the other side?
Q9.3:  OK, OK, what can I do?

 

Answers

 

CO2 and other gases trap heat in the atmosphere

 

The “Greenhouse Effect”

Carbon dioxide, water, methane and other atmospheric gases trap a certain amount of the Sun’s energy and warm the Earth, thus earning the title “greenhouse gases.” CO2 is a major greenhouse gas, even though only a trace is in our atmosphere. Water vapor and methane are also major greenhouse gases. At the proper levels, these gases create moderate temperatures for humanity and life to flourish. Without this warming blanket, Earth’s temperature would be about 60°F cooler, making it 0°F on average, a full 32°F colder than the freezing point of water.

It is the excessive buildup of greenhouse gases that poses a threat for humanity. Since the beginning of the Industrial Age in the mid-1700s, our burning of fossil fuels has increased atmospheric CO2 levels from 280 to 400 parts per million (ppm)—about a 40% increase. By increasing the abundance of these gases in the atmosphere, humankind is increasing the overall warming of the Earth’s surface and lower atmosphere, a process called global warming.

Image: Former Climate Commission, Australian Federal Government

Issue 1:  I keep hearing that global warming is a major problem. 

Q1.1:  Why is that the case?

A:  Climate change is one of the greatest challenges we have ever faced.  The burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and certain agricultural practices release greenhouse gases—especially carbon dioxide (CO2)—that trap heat in the atmosphere. 

Since we began burning fossil fuels and drastically altering forest cover 250 years ago, Earth’s average temperature has risen 1° Celsius (1.8° Fahrenheit). This seemingly small increase has already had an enormous effect. The trapped heat dramatically changes global weather patterns. Some regions are battered by more frequent and severe storms with heavier precipitation, flooding, and mudslides. Other areas are becoming drier, leading to more fires, water shortages, and crop damage.  Polar ice is melting, causing sea level to rise. This devastation will only increase as temperatures rise. As more carbon is dumped into the atmosphere, we increase the risk of triggering runaway, civilization-ending heating.

To maintain a livable climate, humanity must quickly alter its practices. We are currently deeply dependent on fossil fuels for transportation, food production, electricity, and other aspects of modern life. In addition, we are clearing vast swaths of forest. Trees store carbon, and when they are lost due to deforestation, this stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere as CO2, contributing to global warming.

We must overhaul our policies, infrastructure, and activities in order to transition to a zero carbon, renewable energy economy and to maintain and restore forest cover.

Dangerous Climate Change: Uncertainty Is not Our Friend

With additional warming comes the increased likelihood that we exceed certain "tipping points", like the melting of large parts of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheet and the associated massive rise in sea level that would produce. Recent research suggests we may now have warmed the planet enough to insure at least 10 feet of sea level rise if not more. Some models suggest that that will take multiple centuries to happen. But maybe it will happen faster than the models predict.

Indeed, we have historically tended to underestimate the rate of climate change impacts. …Many aspects of climate change -- e.g. the melting of Arctic sea ice and the ice sheets, and the rise in sea level -- have proceeded faster than the models had predicted on average. Uncertainty is not our friend when it comes to the prospects for dangerous climate change.

So we have to ask ourselves, do we feel lucky? If not, than we would perhaps be wise to purchase a planetary insurance policy in the form of policies to dramatically reduce our collective carbon emissions. …The best reason for taking out a planetary insurance policy is the non-negligible likelihood of climate changes that are considerably greater, and risks that are more severe, that our average current predictions.

Excerpt from: Michael E. Mann, “The Fat Tail of Climate Risk,” Huffington Post, September 11, 2015 

SPRATT_PROBABILITY_OF_SUCCESS_edit.jpg

The carbon budget and probability of success. The budget (vertical axis) is related to risk of failure (overshooting the 2°C horizontal axis) along the blue curve. Emissions to date are indicated by grey box, leaving the available budget as the distance between the blue curve and grey box. As chance of not exceeding the target increases from 33% (green) to 50% (orange) to 66% (red), the budget decreases. At 90% chance of not exceeding the target (black), no carbon budget remains.

Source: Spratt, David and Dunlop, Ian, “Dangerous Warming: Myth, reality and risk management”, and Raupach (2013, unpublished), based on Raupach, M.R., I.N. Harman and J.G. Canadell (2011) “Global climate goals for temperature, concentrations, emissions and cumulative emissions”

Issue 2:  I keep reading about carbon dioxide emissions, atmospheric carbon levels and carbon budgets, but I don’t understand what it means or what I can do about it. 

Q2.1:  I hear that time is running out, what does that mean?

A:  Even though in 2015 the world agreed in Paris to stay well below 2°C, our current trajectory would deliver 4°C warming in the second half of this century, which is “incompatible with an organized global community,” as climate scientist Kevin Anderson puts it.

Yet even 2°C is unsafe. The world has warmed 1°C, and is already experiencing a host of dangerous impacts. For example, West Antarctic glaciers are now in “unstoppable” meltdown for 1-4 meters of sea level rise. Further warming is inevitable due to the lag time for the oceans to heat up.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent assessment points to a 33% risk of exceeding 2°C with a carbon budget of 1000 billion tons CO2. Yet if we really don’t want to exceed 2°C, we must adopt a budget with a low risk of exceeding the target, such as 10%. Would you take a flight with a 33% chance of crashing? From that angle, no carbon budget remains.

The Paris Climate Change Agreement

With the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the world political leadership  started to awaken to the enormous risks we face. The Agreement said that nations would stabilize climate  “well below 2°C, pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C.

Yet nations’ intentions —with reductions postponed and huge fossil fuel incentives still in place—mean a rise of 3.5°C this century, vastly inconsistent with the 1.5°C-2°C goal. A central assumption for meeting the target involves the massive deployment of undemonstrated, wished-for negative emission technologies. To deliver on Paris means instead an immediate, dramatic fossil fuel phase out. With its stated intent of 1.5°-2C, Paris actually proves the mobilization case.

    

 

Q2.2:  So what does this mean we have to do?

A:  With no remaining carbon budget, the case is overwhelming for an immediate Emergency Climate Mobilization, making it an over-riding national priority. The aim is Zero Net Carbon within a decade in the US, feasible with an all-out mobilization—that is, an emergency restructuring of our political economy at rapid speed—to singularly fight our common enemy, climate chaos.

We must quickly mobilize to phase-out fossil fuels and transition to a renewables-based energy economy, while also maintaining and restoring forest cover. A breakthrough in emissions reductions is necessary if we are to succeed. Importantly, it is not too late to avert the worst climate effects and runaway heat increases if we begin these reductions now. Citizens and policymakers must understand several principle actions now needed for climate stabilization under the 2°C heat threshold:

  • Starting now, reduce carbon emissions by about 10 percent each year, until fossil fuel phase-out is complete in the US within a decade,[3] by quickly transitioning from fossil fuels to low carbon energy.

  • Price carbon pollution and remove fossil fuel subsidies.[4] To drive broad-based emissions reductions, we must account for the true societal costs of fossil fuels.

  • Invest globally in the conversion to a clean, efficient, and resilient energy infrastructure. Transition from our carbon-intensive, inefficient, old system. Assist developing nations to bypass carbon energy systems.

  • Reduce carbon levels in the atmosphere. Invest globally in reforestation, biochar, land/soil restoration, and agroecology. Avoid technologies with risky outcomes.
  • The US must lead. The US must embrace the 1.5-2°C limit, and lead the global low carbon mobilization. Dramatic fossil fuel reductions must begin now in industrialized nations, and within a few years in developing nations.[5]  

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