“Young people, remember this day, and make sure you’re registered to vote. It’s your planet and your future.”

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For one brief, glorious moment, the world seemed to agree to curb carbon emissions. image via https://medium.com

Remember back in December of 2015, when the eyes of the world were fixed on Paris? During that historic month, the UN hosted world leaders who haggled, bargained, and were eventually successful at signing the Paris Climate Agreement, which set ambitious global limits for carbon emissions beginning in 2016 and continuing into the foreseeable future. (see the UNFCCC’s e-handbook for details of the agreement here.) For a bright, beautiful moment, world leaders came together in the spirit of hope that by diligently working to reduce carbon emissions, the world and everything (including us) in it might stand a chance of a sustainable future. High fives all around!

Enter the Trump administration. From the beginning of his presidency, Trump made it clear that doing the right thing and saving the planet from climate heating was the antithesis of their leadership model. And so, bit by bit, they demolished laws, rules, policies and federal agencies in their war on sustainability.

Today, November 4, 2019, President Trump’s office issued a statement officially bowing out of the Paris Climate Agreement. According to The New York Times,

The action, which came on the first day possible under the accord’s complex rules on withdrawal, begins a yearlong countdown to the United States exit and a concerted effort to preserve the Paris Agreement, under which nearly 200 nations have pledged to cut greenhouse emissions and to help poor countries cope with the worst effects of an already warming planet. 

Though American participation in the Paris Agreement will ultimately be determined by the outcome of the 2020 election, supporters of the pact say they have to plan for a future without American cooperation. And diplomats fear that Mr. Trump, who has mocked climate science as a hoax, will begin actively working against global efforts to move away from planet-warming fossil fuels, like coal, oil and natural gas.

Keeping up the pressure for the kinds of economic change necessary to stave off the worse effects of planetary warming will be much harder without the world’s superpower.

Negotiators spent the early months of the Trump presidency debating strategies for salvaging American support for the accord. Mr. Trump proved immovable.

While no other nation has followed Mr. Trump’s lead and left the Paris Agreement — indeed, more countries have joined — few are toughening their emissions-reduction targets. Analysts attributed that to the absence of pressure from the United States and they warned that the Trump administration’s antagonism toward climate action could dampen future ambitions.

The letter to the United Nations on Monday would allow Mr. Trump to officially pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement the day after the presidential election. The United States would still be allowed to attend negotiations and weigh in on proceedings but would be downgraded to observer status.

Analysts cautioned that even if the United States elects a Democrat in 2020, re-entry will not necessarily go smoothly. The Paris Agreement is the second global climate change pact that the United States joined under a Democrat and abandoned under a Republican. George W. Bush withdrew the United States from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Jonathan Pershing, who served during the Obama administration as the State Department’s special envoy for climate change, said a Democrat rejoining the Paris Agreement would likely be expected to deliver a specific suite of policies showing how the United States intended to move away from fossil fuels. Even then, he said, other countries would be rightly wary that the pendulum of support for climate action could swing back in another election cycle. The United States will have to live with that lingering mistrust, Mr. Pershing said.

“The United States has been written off in many cases as a partner,” he said. “You just can’t count on them.”

Story by Lisa Friedman, who reports on climate and environmental policy in Washington. A former editor at Climatewire, she has covered nine international climate talks. @LFFriedman

Once more, comments by readers to this news article ran the gamut from sad and frustrated to reactionary. I share some of their comments with you, Dear Readers, in hopes that you’ll take heart in the fact that many, many millions of people here in the United States and around the world support the Paris Climate Agreement, and are vehemently opposed to the actions coming from the current White House administration. I take comfort in this fact, and am glad that many articulate, intelligent and ecologically aware individuals cared enough to write their opinions to the NYTimes.

Young people, remember this day, and make sure you’re registered to vote.  It’s your planet and your future.
11 Replies 782 Recommend

Preening and posturing, the president is taking obvious and obscene delight in unfastening yet another achievement that his predecessor labored to bring into being. President Obama, more responsible and mature than his successor—by any generous measure— enlisted the world’s leading (and following) nations to take heed of the damage to our planet caused by human behavior.
Realizing that our only home is not without a “sell by“ date, its permanence far from guaranteed, the 44th American president, demonstrating genuine international leadership, persuaded the leaders of the world to pool their resources so that generations yet unborn might find a breathable environment with potable water without which life is impossible.
In irresponsible answer, Donald Trump, stomping and screaming, throwing things as well as a tantrum, now takes a chain saw to the figurative (and, perhaps, literal) tree of life. Maybe what the rich really want is to wake up from their dreams and experience an earth that’s inhabited only by themselves. Think they’ll want fossil fuels, then? Believe in a super-heated planet? Or will it all be “Obama’s fault?”
8 Replies 478 Recommend

Anyone who has small children or grandchildren ought to be frightened and furious. Murder is to a parking violation as what he is doing to the environment is to his actions in Ukraine. What he did there is worthy of impeachment, as are a number of his other actions, but his disinformation campaign on the climate crisis and promotion of fossil fuels are of another order entirely. They are the highest of crimes.
6 Replies 416 Recommend

This decision is immoral, unwise, and unnecessarily destructive of our country’s reputation, alliances, and leadership. History will harshly judge Trump, Pence, and Pompeo.
Many millions more people will likely die as this planet’s atmosphere and oceans rapidly warm as a result of our GHG emissions than would have if this country had kept its Paris commitment. The severity and speed of the mass extinction now underway will be increased as a result of this decision. The cultural and economic devastation that will follow as cities are submerged, famine spreads, tropical disease invades new landmasses and regions, and drought becomes commonplace in many areas of the planet could have and would have been lessened with an enduring American commitment to the Paris compact.
The day will come when the names of Donald Trump, Michael Pence, and Michael Pompeo will be remembered only in infamy and disgust.
25 Replies 700 Recommend

When the catastrophic history of the Trump maladministration comes to be written, this decision, withdrawing the US from the Paris climate accord and failing to lead on the most pressing issue of our time, may well prove the most damaging act by Trump. Like so much of what Trump does, it is borne of ignorance and arrogance.
He is an unmitigated disgrace.
15 Replies 643 Recommend

Just to read those words, that leaders of other nations feel they just can’t count on the United States anymore, it breaks my heart. I don’t know what Trump thinks “making America great” means, but this isn’t it. The people of the world are already suffering the effects of climate change, as are the American people. I fear it will not matter what history says of the Trump presidency. Our world, our lives, will be devastated in ways no one can imagine. Selfishness, greed rule. The lives of real people do not.
5 Replies  437 Recommend

I am without words. I want to be angry right now, but I’m just sad. For everyone that’s still supportive of Trump and of this policy move in particular, I want you to cement this day in your head. The thought has to stay in your mind through the next 30 years, so when we have to start doing the actual work of moving the populations of entire cities that sit at or near sea level…you’ll remember what side of history you stood on. Those of us young enough to live through the consequences of this action certainly won’t forget. Shame or an apology at that point is going to be pretty meaningless.
4 Replies  426 Recommend

 

The real heroes in the hall

 

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Greta Thunberg and her colleagues at Monday’s UN Climate Summit. image via Deseret.com

The weekend of September 21 and this week of September 23-27 are biggies in our world. The United Nations holds its annual General Assembly and debate each year at this time, and this week is its 74th meeting. Most of the world’s leaders and national spokespeople come from all corners of the planet to this highest-level meeting to discuss what is important to them, and to hopefully make or strengthen commitments they’ve already made towards supporting the work of the United Nations in many directions.

This year is an even more special one for the United Nations and world, due to the Global Youth Climate Strikes that were held the Friday before the General Assembly. On Saturday, Sept. 21, the UN hosted a Youth Climate Summit, and on Monday, a General Climate Summit for all interested parties to come together and give their practical ideas and action plans for how to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres invited youth activists to speak at Monday’s Climate Action Summit. (Watch here)

In his opening remarks, Guterres spoke enthusiastically of the young people who had come to the summit demanding accountability and action by world leaders and actors. He proclaimed, “they are right.” Guterres said his generation has failed in its responsibility to protect our planet, and that must change. He claimed we have the tools we need, including the knowledge of how to reduce emissions and achieve the goals of the Paris agreement. We have the roadmap, in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. And, he continued, we have the imperative, irrefutable science, according to the IPCC report of 2018, that confirms we must stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of global temperature rise, or face irreversible and terrible consequences for humanity in this century. He went on to say that the IPCC report also shows it is still possible to create a future world that is livable, but only if we make drastic and fundamental transformations away from a world based on burning fossil fuels for energy. It will entail transformation in all areas of life, including land use, agriculture, economics, and transportation. The transformation also requires changes that will create “less suffering, and more justice and harmony for people and planet.” Guterres reiterated that there is a cost to doing everything, but the biggest cost is doing nothing. The biggest cost is subsidizing a dying fossil fuel industry, continuing to build coal power plants, and in order to change, we must admit that “we are in a global climate hole, and to get out we must first stop digging.”

Three young people came on stage after the Secretary General spoke. One was a young activist and lawyer from Brazil, who is fighting for the rights of indigenous tribes and youth in the Amazon from the continued exploitation and destruction of their lands by foreign oil and gas interests. Another was a young entrepreneur from India, now living in Singapore and asking for world leaders’ help to back and support youth start ups for inventions and innovation platforms to help those in countries where the digital divide remains, such as African farmers. And the third young person on the stage that morning was the invincible Greta Thunberg of Sweden, who is the person mainly responsible for sparking and mobilizing the global youth #ClimateStrike movement.  When the MC asked Greta what was her message to the world leaders, this was her response.  (Watch here)

My message is that we’ll be watching you.

This is all wrong.

I shouldn’t be up here.

I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean.

Yet you all come to us young people for hope?

How dare you!

You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.

And yet I’m one of the lucky ones.

People are suffering.

People are dying.

Entire ecosystems are collapsing.

We are in the beginning of a mass extinction.

And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth.

How dare you!

For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear.

How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you are doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.

You say you “hear” us and that you understand the urgency.

But no matter how sad and angry I am, I don’t want to believe that.

Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil.

And that I refuse to believe.

The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C degrees, and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.

50% may be acceptable to you.

But those numbers do not include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of equity and climate justice.

They also rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tonnes of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist.

So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us –we who have to live with the consequences.

How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just business-as-usual and some technical solutions.

With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone within less than eight and a half years.

There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures today.

Because these numbers are too uncomfortable.

And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.

You are failing us.

But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal.

The eyes of all future generations are upon you.

And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you.

We will not let you get away with this.

Right here, right now is where we draw the line.

The world is waking up.

And change is coming, whether you like it or not.

After Greta delivered her powerful and emotional speech, for a moment it seemed the audience was stunned, then broke into enthusiastic applause. Secretary General Guterres then followed up with his own reaction to their speeches. He thanked the three young people for their eloquent testimony, and remarked that “it is amazing and fantastic that young people around the world are not only standing up and speaking truth to power to ensure the world becomes committed to climate action, but they themselves are taking action towards providing solutions to the enormous challenges we face.” Guterres said it’s the duty of decision-makers around the world “to not only listen to the voice of young people, and to do what they ask us to do, but also to support them in their own actions for climate action around the world.”

As I continue to watch the world’s youth waking up, standing up, and literally shouting to world leaders to finally listen to the scientists and Take Action Now, I am more convinced than ever that truly the ONLY thing that gives humanity a chance for a future that is not utterly catastrophic and unlivable is their energy, determination, creativity and will to change how we are collectively living on this beautiful, damaged planet we call Home. The real heroes in the hall of the United Nations Monday are these young people who are telling the truth about the imminent danger we face. Greta Thunberg’s passion, frustration and emotional appeal to them encapsulated what many millions of us feel every day. Simply put, there is no magic bullet or savior who will come to save us all from the changes all around us. It is up to us, especially the world’s political leaders and power elite, to make the urgent and necessary change of weaning ourselves off of dirty energy and the global economy derived from it. Not in twenty or thirty years, but NOW.

Greta is absolutely right: Change is coming. The world is waking up, and the changes will continue. The flooding, fires, volcanoes, ice caps melting, and animals going extinct will continue. Those feedback loops are baked in our common cake at this point. Yet, as was so clearly repeated during the past days, weeks, and months, there is still time for us to get onto a less catastrophic trajectory if we make radical, and immediate changes to our mode of living. From the looks of things on YouTube, (millions of views of her speech since Monday, Sept. 23), and all the news stories generated from her speech, it seems she has hit a raw nerve with the collective. If Donald Trump is taking the time to mock her for her speech, it’s clear she is a threat to the global status quo, and that is a very good thing.

The science is solid, but where is global ambition?

WMO climate report 2018 cover
State of the Global Climate report

With all the drama over the Mueller Report and Brexit in the news right now, it isn’t difficult to put aside the work that tens of thousands of dedicated people continue to do towards solving Earth’s climate crisis. And it clearly IS a crisis now.

This week there was a High-level meeting on Climate and Sustainable Development for All, hosted by the UN in New York. Fresh from the two-day long meeting, Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres, Maria Fernanda Espinoza, President of the current UN General Assembly, and WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas held a briefing for the media. Taalas gave a presentation of the latest report on Climate for 2018, followed by statements by Fernanda Espinosa and Gutteres. (https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/03/1035681)

Ms. Fernanda Espinosa urged everyone listening towards action. She stated,

“We need to connect political times to the times of Nature. We need to act, and to act now. The numbers and data are extremely worrisome…We are capable, we have the science, we have the knowledge, we have the tools in hand to push back on global warming,”

Secretary-General Guterres was equally emphatic in his statement to the press. Concerning the upcoming Global Climate Summit to be held in New York in September, he said,

“It is important that we tackle climate change with much greater ambition. I’m telling leaders, Don’t come with a speech, come with a plan.”

“New technologies are already delivering energy at a lower cost than the fossil fuel-driven economy. Solar and onshore wind are now the cheapest sources of new power in virtually all measured economies. This means ending subsidies for fossil fuels, and high-emitting, unsustainable agriculture, and shifting towards renewable energy, electric vehicles and climate-smart practices.”

Of course, none of the stern warnings and emphatic urgings of these high-level diplomats and scientists are new to anyone who seriously cares about the state of our planet. We have been hearing similar warnings and dire reports of climate warming and its effects for the better part of the past decade. It’s feeling more and more like the boiling frog cartoon, made infamous by Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth film in 2006—where the frog is sitting in a bathtub that’s slowly filling with boiling water, as it is boiling to death without really noticing. Except that some of us are finally noticing.

The signs of collapse are everywhere, all around us now.  Yet we continue to sit in the boiling tub, apparently unaware that all we need do is to GET OUT OF THE TUB and turn off the hot water!!   Humans are a strange bunch. One look at the stories abounding in the New York Times or The Guardian, especially in the Culture and Arts sections, show where people’s minds, hearts and souls are focused in these times. And it’s not pretty. People are telling stories and creating theatre, music and art exhibits about seriously frightening, dark, and horrific stuff. The stuff of one’s worst nightmares. And people are paying good money to view, listen to, or otherwise experience them. This is happening in major urban centers throughout the planet, if the artists have the freedom to express what’s inside them without censorship, which is another matter for another blog post.

Living in the world at this point in human history is, in a word, exhausting. The sheer amount and degree of human suffering across our globe is truly beyond comprehension. From the largest, sweeping issues, such as those the UN leaders are working so diligently to somehow manage, to the smallest events that an individual experiences in the course of a day on Earth, there is anguish everywhere.

And yet, the chaos and intense suffering is not the whole story. Simultaneously, there are also incredible moments of courage, daring, skill, intelligence, astounding beauty and grace occurring all across the world. The best of times, the worst of times, to borrow from Dickens.  We’ve got to hold onto HOPE. Moments of grace are such a blessing in the middle of all the sorrow. Here’s a song by Michael Franti and his band, that pretty much sums it all up for me right about now. I offer it as a small balm for those of you who feel similarly.