Time is running out to protect our miraculous planet. We must mobilize to reduce fossil fuel use now, or runaway climate change becomes much more likely. Yet current efforts, policies, and treaties do not meet the scope and scale of the challenge of stopping runaway climate change in time.
Ask these philanthropists to engage their peers in helping to fund a coordinated climate campaign to galvanize citizens and push government to act, which includes: (1) media saturation; (2) compelling personal education; and (3) grassroots outreach and engagement. The effort must be on the scale of a presidential campaign. History demonstrates that dramatic change can be achieved by a small percentage of committed people.
PHILANTHROPY HOLDS THE KEY
These philanthropists are outstanding for their level of concern about climate change and their influence in relation to other potential donors, such as those in The Giving Pledge, through which 129 billionaires have pledged to give at least half their fortunes away. Much of that wealth is still undesignated. Only The Giving Pledge donors have a funding pool deep enough, and can act quickly enough in order to avert climate catastrophe.
Bill and Melinda Gates
Peter and Jennifer Buffett
As carbon dioxide levels increase in our atmosphere, our oceans absorb almost a third of carbon emissions and about 80 percent of the heat generated by greenhouse gases. This mitigates much of the atmospheric temperature increases that would otherwise occur but comes at a great price. The excess CO2 changes the water’s chemistry through a process called acidification.
Baby Oysters: Early Victims
Over the past decade, rising seawater acidity on the Northwest coast has hit young oysters hard. This is an early warning signal of trouble. In turmoil over the losses, the coast’s $84 million oyster industry has worked closely with scientists to determine the causes.
PH levels have always varied seasonally in the coastal waters. But scientists found that human-caused increases in CO2 are shifting the overall pattern towards more acidity, sometimes causing the water to be more acidic than the tiny, delicate baby oysters can endure. Researchers looked at all the possible explanations for the oyster deaths other pollutants, local factors, sewage treatment, logging, lack of oxygen, or temperature shifts. They ruled out all other possibilities, finding that the shift in acidity—primarily from the burning of fossil fuels—is the culprit.
Oyster growers are finding ways to cope with the situation. But they realize these are stopgap measures that won’t last forever and have become early vocal advocates for addressing the pH issue at its source, by cutting carbon emissions.
Carbon dioxide combines with seawater to produce carbonic acid, which increases the acidity of the water, lowering its pH. The acidity of the ocean has increased by over 25 percent since before the Industrial Revolution when humanity started burning fossil fuels. Previously, the oceans were in relative balance with the atmosphere, absorbing about the same amount of CO2 each year as they released. If current trends continue, ocean CO2 levels could double by the end of this century, exceeding the levels of the past 20 million years.
A grave consequence of increasing ocean acidity is a reduction in the amount of calcium carbonate available for use by shell-forming marine animals including corals, oysters, shrimp, crab, lobster, and the shells of some marine plankton, severely impacting the ability of these creatures to create their protective structures. Furthermore, acidic water can become so corrosive that it will dissolve their shells and skeletons directly. Colder water absorbs higher levels of CO2 than warmer water, and West Coast seas are already so acidic that this is occurring (see photo below: Pteropods).
Coral reefs are already showing significant stress from acidification warming, and other factors, resulting in "coral bleaching,” an often fatal condition. Nearly 30 percent of the world's tropical corals have vanished since 1980. At the current rate of emissions increase, tropical corals could be gone by the middle to the end of this century. Coral reefs—the “rainforest of the sea”—provide habitat for at least a quarter of all marine species, many of which will face extinction if reefs disappear. The effects will ripple through ecosystems and food webs, ultimately affecting even the largest marine animals and commercial fisheries. This would cost society billions of dollars annually due to losses of fishing, tourism, and coastal protection. It would also jeopardize an estimated half billion people who depend on coral reefs for their daily food and income.
Pteropods are tiny delicate snails that use their feet as wings to “fly” through the sea. They are a “keystone species,”—a crucial food source for organisms ranging from small fish to whales. They comprise up to 60 percent of the diet for young pink salmon. West Coast pteropods are already affected by acidification. In a study conducted by NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center pteropods are shown after living in acidified surface (top) or normal water (bottom) for six days. The white lines depict shell dissolution and reflect why ocean acidification is referred to as "osteoporosis of the sea.“
While fish don't have shells, they still feel the effects of acidification. Fish are also sensitive to pH and must to put their bodies into overdrive
, to normalize their chemistry. They must burn extra energy to excrete excess acid from their blood through gills, kidneys, and intestines. This reduces their energy for taking care everything else digesting food, escaping predators, catching food, reproduction, and growth.
As another impact, acidification make it harder for phytoplankton to absorb nutrients, and without nutrients they are more likely to succumb to disease and toxins. These toxins then concentrate in the zooplankton, shellfish, and other marine species that graze on phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are a critical part of our planetary life support system, sitting at the bottom of the ocean’s food chain. They produce over half the oxygen we breathe! They also reduce atmospheric CO2, and ultimately support all fishes.
As the oceans continue to absorb CO2, their capacity as a carbon storehouse will diminish. More of the CO2 we emit will remain in the atmosphere and increase the climate crisis.
Important new research shows that if we continue to dump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the oceans will collapse, even if down the road we could sequester it from atmosphere. Research shows that CO2 would still remain in our oceans, poisoning marine living systems. Two examples here and here explain that sea life won't make it, supposing we could pull CO2 rabbits out of thin air in the future. Only dramatic emission reductions—starting now—will save the oceans.
While acidification alone could kill our ocean ecosystems—and dead oceans would mean no us—warming, deoxygenation, and pollution all put our oceans on a lethal pathway. We simply must change course if our oceans are to regenerate and stabilize.
Martha Baskin and Mary Bruno, “Acid seas threaten creatures that supply half the world's oxygen,” Crosscut, June 16, 2014, http://crosscut.com/2014/06/16/environment/120507/aboard-rv-melville-ocean-acidfication-baskin/
Bednarsek, N, et.al., “Limacina helicina shell dissolution as an indicator of declining habitat suitability owing to ocean acidification in the California Current Ecosystem,” Royal Society Publishing, April 30, 2014, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.0123, http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/281/1785/20140123.abstract?sid=a2b07728-4c93-4339-923e-38b11dc152de
Dissolve seashells in vinegar – Ocean Carbon & Biogeochemistry Program, October 2009: http://www.nrdc.org/oceans/acidification/files/labkit.pdf
KQED / QUEST, “Ocean Acidification,” http://science.kqed.org/quest/ed-collection/ocean-acidification-2/
Fred Moolton, “Ocean Acidification—The Other CO2 Problem,” Encyclopedia of Earth, December 17, 2011, http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbf26c7896bb431f6a93fd/
NOAA Ocean Acidification Program, “Sharing Ocean Acidification Resources for Communicators and Educators,” http://oceanacidification.noaa.gov/AreasofFocus/EducationOutreach/SOARCEWebinarSeries.aspx
NOAA, “Ocean Acidification Around the World: A story map,” http://noaa.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapTour/?appid=1c33c6304fb9466a9185adb0d12a4e7c
NOAA, PMEL Carbon Program, “Ocean Acidification: The Other Carbon Problem,” http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/Ocean+Acidification
NOAA, PMEL Carbon Program, “A primer on pH,” http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/A+primer+on+pH
International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, “Ocean Acidification,” http://ocean-acidification.net/
Craig Welch, “SEA CHANGE: Oysters dying as coast is hit hard,” Seattle Times, September 11, 2013, http://apps.seattletimes.com/reports/sea-change/2013/sep/11/oysters-hit-hard/ and Welch, “Expert: critique of Seattle Times “Sea Change” project ignores the science,” Seattle Times, October 12, 2013, http://blogs.seattletimes.com/seachange/2013/10/12/expert-critique-of-seattle-times-sea-change-project-ignores-the-science/.
Smithsonian, “Ocean Acidification,” http://ocean.si.edu/ocean-acidification
Smithsonian, Lesson Plan, “Off Base,” http://ocean.si.edu/for-educators/lessons/base
Wikipedia, “Ocean Acidification,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_acidification
California Climate Breakthrough Initiative
Charles Eisenstein, author, Sacred Economics
Jon Cooksey, Director, How to Boil a Frog: The Movie
Fair Shares: A Civil Society Equity Review of INDCS
Hal Harvey, CEO, Energy Innovation
Susan Joy Hassol, Director, Climate Communication
Jeremy Leggett, Founder and Chairman, Solar Century
Dan Kammen, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Energy, UC Berkeley
MAHB: Millenium Alliance for Humanity & the Biosphere
Michael E. Mann, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Meteorology, Pennsylvania State University
Peer Support for Climate Activists
A Renewable Deal for the United States of America
Adam Rome, Ph.D., Professor, University of Delaware, author, The Genius of the First Earth Day
Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office - Climate Change Task Force
Op-EdS / LetterS to Editor
WRITING POINTS AND TIPS
Opinion pages are among the best-read pages of any publication—often on par with the front page itself. Some of the most attentive readers are decision makers and thought leaders. Op-eds and letters to the editor are among the best ways to place an issue in the public eye, and to share one’s perspective.
Citizens must understand that:
- We are in a climate emergency—temperatures and impacts are increasing far more than anticipated.
- We need an all-out mobilization to phase out fossil fuels, replacing them with clean energy.
- Most of the needed technology already exists for a major deployment and we have considerable results to draw upon.
- We can do this—it is just a question of will.
- The cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of action by orders of magnitude.
- Humanity’s very survival is at stake.
Call for actions to increase public understanding and involvement:
- A Declaration of Global Warming State of Emergency.
- A Climate Summit within the first 100 days of the next presidential administration to validate the scope, scale, and urgency of the climate emergency.
- Major philanthropic support for an awakening campaign to promulgate the results of that Summit.
To combat climate change, we must:
- Transition from fossil fuels to low carbon energy within a decade in the US, and within fifteen years globally.
- Begin reductions now in industrialized nations, and within a few years in developing nations.
- The US must lead the global low carbon mobilization.
Call for real breakthrough policies:
- Price greenhouse gas pollution. We must account for the true societal costs of fossil fuels.
- Remove fossil fuel subsidies.
- Create strong incentives for renewables.
OP-ED WRITING TIPS
Timeliness is important. Tie your op-ed in to current events.
Editors look for pieces that are well written, hard-hitting, and provocative. Focus on one idea. Create an opening “hook” and convey your viewpoint immediately. Back up your viewpoint with key facts in the following paragraphs. Near the end, clearly restate your position and issue a call to action.
Be concise. Many op-eds are in the 500-800 word range. Check your paper’s guidelines.
Keep sentences short. Make verbs active. A well written piece can include a strong voice, emotion, humor, personalization, and opinion. Metaphors or anecdotes can provide emotional impact and strengthen the piece. Don’t rant or sound dogmatic. The goal is to persuade a reasonable reader that your position is the intelligent, logical choice.
Avoid scientific or technical jargon—write in plain language.
Include a catchy title, however, the publication will often write its own headline. The editors may edit your piece.
Always submit op-eds or letters via email. Most papers refuse to open attachments, so paste the op-ed into the body of the email. Include a brief bio, phone number, email address and mailing address. If you know the opinion editor, or have a friend who knows that editor—that can help.
Most papers will respond within a few days. If one paper rejects the piece, try another paper. Other possibilities include online publications and blogs.
When you submit your op-ed, please bcc: info [at] tree-of-life.works . If you get published, please let us know! Include title of piece, publication, date published, and its link if online. We will create a gallery of published pieces.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR TIPS
- Letters to the editor are another option, but are far briefer, usually at 50-150 words.
- Make a single point, and leave it at that. Think of it as the beginning or end of an op-ed.
- As with an op-ed, include a good title.
Free e-book: "Climate and Ecological Delusions and Contradictions That Will Rapidly End Humanity…Unless...." ATL's e-book provides the basis for why we need to trigger a widespread alarm and how we can achieve it.
ATL's March 17, 2019 Letter to the Hewlett Foundation.
Recommended Global Warming & Ecology Educational Resources
Eco-theologian Michael Dowd's multi-media videos, a “crash course” in understanding our global predicament:
- Collapse 101: The Inevitable Fruit of Progress
- Post Gloom: Deeply Adapting to Reality
- Sustainability 101: Indigenuity Is Not Optional
Michael Dowd's interview series with 55 guests: "The Future Is Calling Us to Greatness."
Michael Dowd's interview series: "Post Doom Conversations."
Climate scientist Kevin Anderson's address to the Oxford Climate Society, January 24, 2019: "Climate's Holy Trinity."
William Ophul's short book: "Apologies to the Grandchldren: Reflections on Our Ecological Predicament, Its Deeper Causes, and Its Political Consequences."
E-book from Job One For Humanity: "Climageddon: The Global Warming Emergency & How To Survive It." Climageddon provides original analysis, detailed consequence timetables, the background on how our current global warming predictions have been so grossly miscalculated, and eleven critical global warming tipping points.
Climate Communication publicizes and illuminates the latest climate research in plain language, making the science more accessible to the public and policy makers. Climate Communication provides a primer on climate change.
Fourth National Climate Assessment assesses the science of climate change and variability and its impacts across the United States and its regions, now and throughout this century. The report was produced with the assistance of "1,000 people, including 300 leading scientists, roughly half from outside the government."
NASA - GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE: Vital Signs of the Planet includes well-presented data, visualizations, and resources for children, educators, and students.
AAAS - WHAT WE KNOW: THE REALITY, RISKS, AND RESPONSE TO CLIMATE CHANGE helps us understand the science behind the realities, risks and response to the climate challenge. The full report here.
CLEAN: CLIMATE LITERACY & ENERGY AWARENESS NETWORK is a collection of 600+ free, ready-to-use digital resources rigorously reviewed by educators and scientists, for teaching about climate's influence on you and society and your influence on climate.
Georgia Institute of Technology
Photo: George Guberman
One Step toward Carbon Sanity is to Price or Tax Carbon.
A price on carbon fuels commensurate with their threat level to the environment is one step to plausibly reduce fossil fuel consumption. However, the discussion about pricing, or “internalizing costs,” has been delayed so long that taxes on carbon would have to be extremely high to lead to a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels.
That phase-out is necessary for reasonable climate stability.
Unfortunately, in 2018 and beyond, carbon pricing would need to be in the area of $100-$200 per-ton of CO2, and even that price could not be managed within the confines of an economic-growth-at-all-costs policy approach. Effective carbon pricing as discussed by economists and climate stabilization advocates is not being even being proposed at anything like >$100/ton CO2, and nothing at all is even being considered at the national level.
Emissions reductions needed now to stabilize climate at levels where a livable future is likely, must be so deep and consistent that policies leading to direct reductions, rather than trying to lower emissions through taxation is a more sensible approach.
To be clear, ATL favored a Fee-and-Dividend approach when it was proposed at the very beginning of the Obama Administration, however it is too late to focus on that idea which has passed its effective date for implementation. Since that time some 400 billion tons of CO2e have been dumped into the atmosphere, almost half of the carbon budget remaining to hold to the Paris Agreement 2◦C warming ceiling.
No Remaining Carbon Budget
Zero US Carbon Within a Decade Is a Must!
There are no such things as ‘allowable carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.’ There are only ‘damaging CO2 emissions’ … The CO2 emissions budget framing is a recipe for delaying concrete action now.
—KEN CALDEIRA, email to Joe Romm, Climate Progress
The mission of the ill-fated voyage of Apollo 13 was aborted after an oxygen tank blew up, which allowed the buildup of carbon dioxide in the spacecraft. For their survival, the astronauts had very limited time to respond. Fortunately, an all-out emergency operation returned them safely to Earth.
Humanity is aboard Spaceship Earth, and its precious, vulnerable atmospheric balance must be maintained above all else. For humanity's survival, we now need an all-out emergency response to stop emitting greenhouse gases, and to restore the proper atmospheric balance.
Photo: Movie still, "Apollo 13"
The notion of a “carbon budget”—the amount of fossil fuels we can safely “spend” or burn without exceeding the 1.5-2°C heat limit—has gained nearly complete endorsement within the climate world. Bill McKibben’s 2012 article, “Global warming’s terrifying new math,” popularized the concept, stating there are five times more fossil fuel deposits than can ever be burned.
“Burnable carbon” budgets that state what can typically be "safely burned" range between one-fifth and one-third of the remaining proven fossil fuel reserves, and assume we have several decades to phase out fossil fuels.
But what if the carbon budget concept is actually a dangerous illusion? Consider this:
- Climate change is already dangerous at just 1°C warming. Major impacts are becoming apparent now (such as polar ice melt and extreme weather) that are severely underestimated in the IPCC’s modeling and are not accounted for in the Paris Agreement.
- We are already committed to further warming, even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases today.
- Budgets assume unacceptably high risks of failure, of going past 2°C.
- The budgets state that we have lots of carbon left to spend. So we continue spending literally “as if there were no tomorrow.”
1.5-2°C is not a safe target to begin with. At just 1°C warming, impacts are occurring faster and more extensively than expected. While “high impact events” (such as rapid Arctic sea ice loss, accelerating melting of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, and extreme weather) were thought to have low probability, they are already starting to happen. The IPCC reports, which take 5-6 years to produce, are at odds with the quickly unfolding reality. Leading climate scientist Kevin Anderson states that 2°C is actually the threshold between dangerous and extremely dangerous climate change.
We are already committed to additional heat increase "in the pipeline"—due to the lag in ocean heating—even if we cut all emissions today. So today’s greenhouse gases levels are already catastrophic.
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”
Right Level of Risk
Catastrophic climate risk must be approached very differently from current thinking. The buildup of CO2 in our air and water poses many possibilities of civilization-ending calamities, such as sea level rise, death of the oceans, and extreme drought. Why not take a risk-averse approach for staying under 1.5-2°C, when the possible outcome is so dire?
Even the “safest” IPCC budget (RPC 2.6) assumes an unacceptably high-risk of exceeding 2°C, at 33%. No one would board a plane with a 33% chance of crashing.
Even a 10 percent chance far exceeds modern safety standards. We know we would not take these levels of risks with our lives. Rather, we must consider risk differently and adopt a low-risk pathway, such as less than 10% of exceeding the 2°C target.
What isn’t being discussed is this: given the carbon fuels we have already burned, even if we stopped right now, we’d have less than a 90 percent chance of staying below 2°C, without net negative emissions. Planet Earth is our “spaceship-home.” We must stop taking the increasing risk that we will make its near future both “hell and high water” for our children.
There is an unacceptable risk that feedbacks will be triggered before 2°C, such as releasing major stores of carbon and methane. Some feedbacks are already starting. If we trigger unstoppable tipping points of runaway warming, we are in for hell and high water. Given these potentially dire consequences, we need a strong risk-management, low-risk approach.
Taking all these issues into account, with a risk-averse approach for staying under 2°C we have no carbon budget left for burning oil, coal, and gas. We need to heed what Caldeira is saying, that there are only damaging CO2 emissions.
Syncrude tar sands operation, Alberta, Canada. The vast Albertan tar sand deposit is a major carbon bomb that must remain buried for climate stability.
Photo: David Dodge, Pembina Institute
Time to Mobilize
To save our Spaceship Earth, humanity must quickly turn away from hydrocarbon fuels. The US must mobilize to stop fossil fuel use as soon as possible, adopting a mandate of US zero carbon within a decade. This requires an all-out mobilization, involving all of society to radically change our economy, energy policy, and energy systems. The rest of the world needs to quickly follow with global zero carbon within fifteen years.
Emergency Climate Mobilization and US zero carbon in a decade is inevitable because it is what must be done. It is time to declare a global emergency and mobilize all available resources, political will, and ingenuity towards the task of confronting climate chaos.
Really Keeping It In the Ground
In spite of all this, governments, corporations, and global markets are currently treating remaining reserves as assets to be burned in the coming decades. Numerous massive hydrocarbon projects, in some phase of planning or development, could significantly push emissions well above 2°C and bring on complete climate destabilization, thus ending humanity. In North America, these include the Alberta tar sands, shale gas reserves, deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and exports from the massive coal deposits in the Powder River Basin, Wyoming.
With so much momentum towards complete self-destruction, the only way to keep these massive carbon stores in the ground is through a massive people’s campaign, which includes personal, face-to-face education and moral conversations, demanding an Emergency Climate Mobilization.
 IPCC’s most stringent budget, RPC 2.6, is 1000 billion tons CO2, or 800 billion tons CO2 when non-CO2 greenhouse emissions are also included. See: IPCC Summary for Policymakers, AR5 Working Group 1, p27.
Mountaintop removal for coal has turned regions of Appalachia into devastation zones.
Photo: Kent Kessinger
We must now turn away from our costly, dirty, and deadly energy path. We are entering the era of "extreme energy" in which operators go to great lengths and risks to extract the remaining fossil fuels. As conventional reserves of cheap, easy-to-extract coal, oil and gas dwindle, fossil fuel extractors are turning to costlier, dirtier, harder-to-extract "unconventional" reserves, and to high-impact drilling on farmland and within towns and cities. On our present course, the impacts and devastation will only increase over time, as more localities become sacrifice zones.
Fracking operation near a bank in Fort Worth, Texas. 15 million Americans—that’s 5%—now live within one mile of an oil or gas drilling operation. Ever increasing numbers of wells are required in the US to maintain output.
Photo: Jeremy Buckingham
The quality—the energy density—of these reserves is lower, so their footprint becomes ever larger. For example, gas fracking wells run dry faster, so far more wells must be dug to extract the same amount of fuel. As easily pumped liquid oil is depleted, heavier oils must be mined or heated underground for extraction. As underground coal mines thin out, new mining operations destroy mountains and ecosystems. Typically, vast amounts of water are required for unconventional production. (For more impacts, see box below.)
Unconventional extraction processes release much higher levels of greenhouse gases, so as extreme fuels comprise more of the total fossil fuel production, the climate impact proportionally becomes even greater. But even though remaining reserves are becoming more problematic to extract, they are more than sufficient to roast the planet. This is the hidden reality behind the promise of America's bright new abundant oil and "clean" gas future that the fossil fuel industry portrays.
The Current Course
The US and the world have embarked on a course of dependency on poor quality fossil fuels. The industry itself is still pursuing new fossil-fuel projects. Investment in unconventional fuel extraction and distribution is expected to be three times greater than spending on renewables, according to the International Energy Agency. Michael Klare, an expert on natural resource issues, predicts "an increasingly entrenched institutional bias among energy firms, banks, lending agencies and governments toward next-generation fossil-fuel production, only increasing the difficulty of establishing national and international curbs on carbon emissions."
Any further investment in fossil fuel projects and infrastructure further commits us to "locked in" carbon emissions and to our planet laid waste. Increasing reliance on these destructive resources is not a sign of technological innovation; it is a sign of desperation.
A Course-Changing Response
This dangerous trajectory can only be reversed by a culture-wide acceptance of the dangers posed by unconventional fuels. The current resistance campaigns by local citizen's groups are important, but must be supplemented by a large public call for a society-wide mobilization, to drive a comprehensive shift in fossil fuels reduction.
The future of humanity and all of life depends on keeping most remaining fossil fuels in the ground. Americans must be called to rise and meet the challenges facing us.
Oil tar sands production in Alberta, Canada has turned a Florida-sized stretch of boreal forest into a toxic wasteland. The production of tar sands “syncrude” pollutes vast quantities of water and releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases. Climate scientist James Hansen says that if we develop tar sands, it will be "game over" for the climate. Activists have opposed the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada to the US Gulf Coast, which would facilitate the exploitation of the tar sands. Yet already over a million barrels per day of tar sands bitumen flows into the US through the existing network of pipelines.
Gas and oil "fracking" has been especially ruinous. Across the nation, gas and oil extractors increasingly use hydrofracturing techniques, injecting a brew of toxic chemicals underground, polluting groundwater, and leaking more methane into the atmosphere than do conventional processes. Many complaints of foul water, severe illness, and livestock poisoning had been filed. The industry and government approach has largely been to “frack now, worry later,” while proceeding at full speed without assessing the impacts.
Fracked shale gas also poses a clear and present danger to climate stability through substantial venting of methane. Methane is 84 times more potent in greenhouse capacity than CO2 for the first 20 years. The industry's own research shows there is no practical way to create a leak-proof fracking well due to failures in cement casings. Essentially, fracked gas is no better for the climate than coal and is likely far worse. Shale gas now accounts for about 40 percent of overall US gas production.
 International Energy Agency, "World Energy Outlook 2012." The agency forecasts that cumulative worldwide investment in new fossil-fuel extraction and processing will total an estimated $22.87 trillion between 2012 and 2035, while investment in renewables, hydropower, and nuclear energy will amount to only $7.32 trillion.
 Michael Klare, "The Third Carbon Age: Don't for a Second Imagine We're Heading for an Era of Renewable Energy," Tom Dispatch, August 8, 2013.
 Sharon Guynup, "The Fracking Industry Buys Congress," Environment News Service, February 16, 2012.
 Jeff Tollafson, "Air sampling reveals high emissions from gas field," Nature, February 7, 2012. This study revealed that gas production in the Denver-Juhlsberg Basin, Colorado, lost about 4 percent of gas into the atmosphere. Jeff Tollafson, "Methane leaks erode green credentials of natural gas," Nature, January 2, 2013. The preliminary findings of a field study in the Uintah Basin, Utah, found that methane releases were 9 percent of total production.
 Josh Fox, "The Sky Is Pink," June 2012; Josh Fox, "Gasland Part II," HBO, July 2013.
The True Cost of Fossil Fuels
Climate change is already creating more frequent heat waves, droughts, fires, and floods.
Map: USDA Farm Services Agency
Cheap fossil fuels historically have assured continuing growth to our economy, but now their negative impacts are mounting. Nonetheless, our nation's policies, subsidies and tax codes still heavily favor hydrocarbon energy. Oil, gas, and coal remain undeservedly cheap, and their wastes are dumped into our common atmosphere for free, as if it were an open sewer. All of us, and the living systems that support us, bear enormous costs associated with their use.
There are different ways to measure these costs and assess their impact upon society and the environment. A recent report, "Climate Vulnerability Monitor: A Guide to the Cold Calculus of A Hot Planet," finds the impacts cost the world more than $1.2 trillion, a whopping 1.6 percent of global GDP. It was written by more than 50 scientists, economists and policy experts, and was commissioned by 20 governments.
Social Cost of Carbon
The Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) is the US government's estimate of how much carbon emissions harm the economy. This is a measure of climate change impacts. US government's 2013 mid-range estimation of the SCC is $35 per ton, revised from 2010 at $26 per ton.
However, the E3 Network (Economics for Equity & Environment), a national group of economists, estimates that CO2 actually costs far more than federal current estimates, contending that the government analysis omits many of the biggest risks of climate change, and downplays the impacts of climate change on future generations. E3 points out that if the SCC were higher, it would bring much more urgency to the value of reducing emissions.
A higher SCC incentivizes efficiencies in appliances and autos; it is not the same as a carbon tax, as it is narrower in effect.
The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) estimates the true cost of a gallon of gasoline is upwards of $15.00 per gallon, by factoring in externalities, such as climate disruption, oil spills, and health impacts from air pollution. Other hidden costs include military defense of oil supply lines, subsidies, and maintaining the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Paul Epstein, with the Harvard School of Public Health, found that coal's hidden costs—climate disruption, public health impacts, pollution, toxic waste—were $345 billion per year (median estimate). The costs are higher than the electricity provided by coal is worth. The public bears the costs of increased asthma, heart attacks, and pulmonary issues. Coal burning releases radiation, heavy metals, and other toxins. It is the largest source of airborne mercury, now seeping into every habitat. Coal ash is our second-largest source of toxic waste.
Fossil fuel extraction impacts (such as CO2 emissions and groundwater pollution) are particularly growing, as producers are increasingly using lower-grade reserves (see Extreme Extraction). Our oceans and marine life are threatened by fossil fuels in several ways: ocean acidification, dead zones, and the plastics crisis.
Including the Costs
If these damages were factored into the actual prices for carbon fuels, fossil fuels would become unaffordable. We must now find ways to cooperatively and quickly reduce our fossil fuel use, and to downscale the human enterprise.
 DARA and Climate Vulnerable Forum, "Climate Vulnerability Monitor: A Guide to the Cold Calculus of A Hot Planet," Also see: Fiona Harvey, "Climate change is already damaging world economy, report finds," The Guardian, September 25, 2012.
 "The Price of Gas," Center for Investigative Reporting, June 13, 2011.
 Paul Epstein, "Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal," Harvard School of Public Health, February 2011.
OUR EMERGENCY SITUATION
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) set standards to reduce carbon-based fuels and eliminate their subsidies, (3) keep fossil fuels in the ground, and (4) correctly assess the viability of renewable energy.
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
Importantly, the Paris Climate Agreement itself makes the case for emergency response. With its 1.5-2.0°C target, the Agreement merely gives the impression that the crisis is being addressed. But the deal allows nations to pollute for decades, leaving us on a course of over 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 (an area 1-3 times the size of India annually), burn it in special power plants that capture the carbon emissions, compress the CO2, and pipe it long distances to then bury it. Read more about the absurdity of these proposals.
Bottom line: Paris’s target can only be possibly met with an immediate carbon phase-out, and with reality-based carbon reduction methods of regenerative land practices, while understanding current drawdown limitations.
THE EMERGENCY CASE:
- We are exploding past Earth’s Planetary Boundaries (the nine boundaries within which humanity has a viable future). Crossing boundaries risks abrupt and irreversible system change for the whole of Earth-Life.
- Warming is already dangerous at 1.2°C increase above preindustrial levels, as seen with escalating fires, droughts, floods, and hurricanes.
- CO2 is a more powerful greenhouse gas than previously understood. Better climate models have revealed that we are in for a greater heat increase than we realized (in looking at “climate sensitivity”, the heat produced by a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere).
- Clouds provide far less cooling than assumed. New research shows that clouds contain more water and less ice than previously thought. This discovery suggests that temperatures will rise faster from greenhouse gas pollution than previously forecast.
Carbon dioxide stays in our atmosphere for centuries, so it is a cumulative problem.
Chart: Scripps Institution of Oceanography
- CO2 emissions are irreversible on any human timescale—it takes centuries for CO2 to be re-absorbed back into the earth. So CO2 is a cumulative problem. At current emissions rates, each decade 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 may already be past Paris’s target.
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, and 2019 comes in second.
- 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.
- 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. Massive methane leakage across the US in recent years coincides with the fracking boom. So this methane increase matters a lot. All fossil fuels must be kept in the ground, methane included.
- Oceanic threats await marine life. If we continue to dump CO2 into the atmosphere, the oceans will collapse. 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 causes 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.
- The fossil fuel industry is on life support, and there is no viable energy replacement. The COVID economic crisis has burst the debt-driven fracking bubble, and net energy from fossil fuels is in serious decline.
- Renewable energy cannot power our growth-based Industrial Civilization. We face a reckoning, in terms of what renewable energy can and cannot do. A massive buildout of renewables will trigger a CO2 burp, which our climate cannot afford.
- Plastic pandemonium is filling our oceans and soil with waste.
- Accumulating toxins are interfering with life. Insects and amphibians are disappearing. Diminished sperm counts are slashing birth rates.
- We have eliminated nearly all mammals (except for humans, our pets, and livestock).
- Infringement on the natural world has unleashed the COVID-19 pandemic.
All of these systemic crises are interrelated; and all are symptoms of human overshoot. In essence, overshoot means too many of us taking too much. These crises will interact and multiply their overall effects.
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 climate 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