We must phase out fossil fuels as quickly as humanly possible for a livable climate.
ExxonMobile Refinery, Torrance, CA. Photo: Michael Light.
WE MUST PHASE OUT FOSSIL FUELS NOW!
Few people, even in the global warming movement, understand the scope, scale, and urgency with which we must now operate to protect our livable planet. A pervasive pluralistic ignorance keeps people from admitting we are in a crisis. We now need a compelling multi-faceted Climate & Ecological Emergency Campaign to inform and activate a critical mass of Americans, so we can: (1) achieve US leadership in an Emergency Climate Mobilization, (2) price carbon-based fuels and eliminate their subsidies, (3) incentivize for renewable energy, and (4) keep fossil fuels in the ground.
The gravity of our situation is clear and convincing. Our task ahead is clear: we either phase-out fossil fuels now or we end civilization and humanity. Here is the tough reality: we have an emergency and we must mobilize now. All hands on deck!
We must build a large Climate Emergency Coalition to demand an immediate emergency mobilization as an over-riding US priority. The aim is Zero Net Carbon within a decade in the United States, feasible with an all-out mobilization.
The Paris Agreement won't save us
It is important to realize that the Paris Climate Agreement itself makes the case for emergency response. The Agreement merely gives the impression that the crisis is being addressed. It is good that the nations agreed on a major target (1.5-2°C)—but the deal allows them to pollute for decades, leaving us on course of 3.5°C warming, threatening humanity and most life. There is no requirement to upgrade commitments before 2030.
So what gives? The Agreement is counting on miracles and magic to save us. Really. Rather than requiring dramatic reductions starting now, the Agreement assumes that unproven technologies (Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage) will down the road “suck carbon” from the atmosphere. Pollute now, clean up decades later. The idea: grow lots of trees and biomass to absorb carbon (every year, an area 1-3 times the size of India), burn it in special power plants that capture the carbon emissions, compress the CO2 and pipe it long distances to then bury it. Kevin Anderson describes the absurdity of these proposals.
Bottom line: Paris’s target can only be possibly met with an immediate carbon phase-out, with reality-based carbon drawdown methods of regenerative land practices, while understanding current drawdown limitations.
Carbon dioxide stays in our atmosphere for centuries, so it is a cumulative problem.
Chart: Scripps Institution of Oceanography
THE EMERGENCY CASE:
- First, warming from CO2 emissions is irreversible on any human timescale—it takes centuries for CO2 to be re-absorbed back into the earth. So CO2 is a cumulative problem. Each decade we keep emitting carbon at this rate adds another 0.25°C / 0.5°F, increasing our risk of runaway heating.
- We are already committed to further inevitable warming even if we quit all fossil fuels today. Two reasons: (1) Particulate pollution (another pollutant from fossil fuels) actually masks some warming—so when we DO eventually quit fossil fuels, an estimated 0.5°C more warming is coming. (2) Further warming will come from the oceans, called “thermal inertia,” when they finally give their absorbed heat to the atmosphere, adding an estimated 0.6°C. Added to the 1°C existing warming, we are already past Paris’s target.
Warming is already dangerous at 1°C increase above preindustrial levels, as described in David Spratt's report “Recount: It’s Time to do the Math Again.”
The 2016 off-the-charts temperature spike even alarmed climate scientists. Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research responded: "We are in a kind of climate emergency now."
Chart: Stephan Rahmstorf
Warming is in overdrive. Like a broken record, global heat records are being repeatedly shattered, year after year. 2016 was the hottest year, as were 2015 and 2014. 2017 comes in second. The El Nino weather pattern only partially explained this temperature surge.
Sea level rise will swamp coastal cities. New research on sea level rise portends complete catastrophe if we do not slash fossil fuels now. James Hansen has warned that without “emergency cooperation among nations,” Greenland and Antarctica could melt ten times faster than formerly known, “resulting in sea level rise of at least 10 feet in as little as 50 years.” Irreversible ice-melt thresholds are being crossed now. It looks likely that we face 3-6 feet of sea-level rise this century, so we will have to move inland. This interactive map, shows the effects on Miami, from 1-10 feet.
Oceanic threats await marine life. If we continue to dump CO2 into the atmosphere, the oceans will collapse. Recent research clearly shows that even if we could magically pull CO2 out of thin air in the future, it would still acidify our oceans, poisoning marine life (explained here and here). Ocean warming is causing two major threats to marine ecosystems: (1) coral bleaching and (2) deoxygenation. Only dramatic emission reductions starting now will save the oceans. No ocean life, no us—it’s that simple.
Methane “natural gas” use is a catastrophic bridge to climate tipping points. Its greenhouse gas impact is far stronger than previously realized: over 100-times more potent than CO2 when first released. In our climate emergency, what happens in the next decade that matters most. New research shows massive methane leakage across the US in recent years (coinciding with the fracking boom). So this methane increase matters a lot. All fossil fuels must be kept in the ground, methane included.
Clouds provide far less cooling than assumed. New research shows that clouds contain more water and less ice than previously thought. Watery clouds reflect less solar light than icy clouds, heating the planet more. This discovery suggests that temperatures will rise faster from greenhouse gas pollution than previously forecast.
- Large impacts pose high risk. Michael E. Mann’s “'Fat Tail' of Climate Change Risk" article makes it obvious that the risk of runaway greenhouse warming is so high that any able person would be motivated to help with an Emergency Climate Mobilization.
The over-determined conclusion one would have to draw from these best-expert sources would be that YES!, we must dedicate ourselves to completely phase out fossil fuels in the US within ten years, and realize that the route toward such a radical transformation of our culture is an Emergency Climate Mobilization.
For a more in-depth examination of the emergency case, see David Spratt’s “Climate Reality Check” report.
No Carbon Budget Left
The stated function of carbon budgets are to provide an amount of "burnable" carbon, while maintaining a likelihood of staying under the 2°C heat ceiling.
Yet the carbon budget concept is a dangerous illusion:
- Major impacts are becoming apparent at just 1°C warming.
- There is an unacceptable risk that feedbacks will be triggered before 2°C.
- Budgets assume unacceptably high risks of failure.
For more details: No Remaining Carbon Budget: Zero Carbon In a Decade Is a Must!
Image: Jos Hagelaars, adapted by Breakthrough - David Spratt / further adapted by Climate Emergency Coalition
For climate stabilization well under 2°C, we must start now to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by about 10 percent each year, until fossil fuel phase-out is complete in a decade, and globally in fifteen years, quickly transitioning from fossil fuels to low carbon energy.
The time for energy democracy has come: wherever possible communities should collectively control the conversion to clean energy.
Photo: Black Rock Solar / Rainshadow Charter School.
To achieve this, several essential actions are now needed:
- Price carbon pollution and remove fossil fuel subsidies. To drive broad-based emissions reductions, we must account for the true societal costs of fossil fuels.
- Keep fossil fuels in the ground. Oppose their exploration, development, new infrastructure, and export through collective action. There is no remaining carbon budget.
- Incentivize renewable energy. Create policies that support their development, production, and roll-out as quickly as possible.
- Assist developing nations with clean energy so that they “leap-frog” fossil fuel development.
- Reduce carbon levels in the atmosphere. Invest globally in reforestation, biochar, land/soil restoration, and agroecology.
- The US must lead. The US must embrace the 1.5-2°C limit, and lead the global low carbon mobilization. Fossil fuel reductions must begin now in industrialized nations, and within a few years in developing nations.
Enacting effective policies to facilitate this transition within a decade will, in effect, catalyze a culture-wide mobilization effort. The first step is to get the emergency situation into the cultural conversation, so the emergency is perceived, declared, and acted upon with an Emergency Climate Mobilization. This is aim of the Climate Emergency Coalition.
RESPONDING IN EMERGENCY MODE
Importantly, humans can and do rise above fear and respond. The climate movement has mistakenly believed that people would panic, become paralyzed, or fall into resignation if they understood the looming climate threat. The widespread notion that people panic in emergencies is not corroborated by evidence, research, or human behavior.
Research shows that we behave cooperatively and rapidly—even with extraordinary teamwork and collaboration—when trained or given accurate information about disasters and constructive response options. Emergency mode involves an intense focus of attention and resources on responding effectively to address the emergency.
So awakening citizens to the danger and providing responses that deal with the scope, scale and urgency of the crisis is necessary. If that is done effectively, we can expect constructive cooperation and mobilization to avert climate catastrophe.
Knowing what to do and preparing facilitates “eustress” (a positive form of stress) in emergencies. The seemingly impossible can be accomplished in extreme situations when emotion, purpose, and enthusiasm are combined.
Some emergencies last years, and we are in such a “long emergency” now. Examples have included: wars, the Great Depression, nations under occupation, and collapsing empires. In long emergencies, a combination of purpose, pacing, and persistence is needed. Human societies have often exhibited heroic persistence in very long emergencies, even when situations were very dire.
Humans evolved in tribes, and group success was vital to the survival of each individual. Very importantly, it’s within our nature to work together in groups.
MOBILIZING FOR RAPID TRANSITION
The type of emergency response needed in our situation is called mobilization.
What is mobilization? Mobilization is a coming together as a people with a common cause—an emergency restructuring of a modern industrial economy. It involves everyone and impacts all areas of society—a comprehensive societal and industrial metamorphosis.
Mobilization summons a sense of collective destiny and moral purpose. Importantly, mobilization is not a blind use of government control. Rather, this is a particular strategy that guides the economy away from petro-consumerism towards a complete fossil fuels phase-out and transformation to a zero carbon society.
We are calling for a society-wide Emergency Climate Mobilization aiming to achieve zero carbon emissions in the US within a decade and globally in fifteen years. We see this as the fastest possible phase-out of fossil fuels in a “long emergency” mobilization mode, in which we can achieve far more than what is now commonly thought as possible.
 As Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester notes, this fundamentally rewrites the chronology of climate change from long-term gradual to urgent and radical, "Reframing Climate Change: How recent emission trends & the latest science change the debate." David Roberts notes the “brutal logic” of climate change .
 Emissions reductions must occur sooner in developed nations, given our historical contribution to the problem and our capacity to innovate and remediate.