Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The final countdown

Among the end of year and decade countdowns -- richest people, best sports plays, worst crimes, funniest cat videos, ... -- let's include the climate crisis.

In 1959, Dr. Edward Teller warned the American Petroleum Institute (API), along with government officials attending his speech, that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels would cause temperatures to warm, polar ice to melt, and coastal cities to flood.

In 1969, a Stanford Research Institute report for the API, warned that carbon dioxide was a serious problem. “There seems to be no doubt that the potential damage to our environment could be severe.”

In 1988, Dr. James Hansen's U.S. Senate testimony warned of human-caused climate change.

In 2006, Vice President Al Gore's Oscar-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth, laid out the indisputable science behind “global warming.”

In 2008, climate activist Bill McKibben founded 350.org, the group's name a reminder that carbon in our atmosphere needed to remain below 350 parts per million to ensure a livable planet for future generations. (It's now more than 415 ppm.)

In 2015, world governments pledged carbon emissions reductions to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius. (Only a few countries are on target to meet their goals. The Supreme Court of the Netherlands recently ruled that the whole country must cut emissions by 25% by the end of 2020 to meet their emissions reduction goals.)

In 2017, David Wallace-Wells wrote The Uninhabitable Earth describing what will happen to our planet if we don't stop burning fossil fuels.

Last year, UN climate scientists said we have twelve years to make drastic changes or life as we know it will not survive. Other experts said greenhouse gas emissions must peak no later than 2020.

This month, the UN climate conference failed.

The Correspondent's climate reporter, Eric Holthaus, advises: grieve, revisit the science, and get political. Realize politicians will not save us. Understand climate science facts are not going away. Holthaus writes, “It's not constructive to continue to pretend that polite compromise and incremental changes will save us.”

We didn't start changing all those years ago when it would have been relatively easy. Now, drastic immediate changes are needed.

Most Wisconsin electricity still comes from burning coal and gas, so we have to stop wasting  electricity and go all in on renewables. Utilities must abandon plans for new fossil-fueled plants and we must end subsidies for fossil fuel infrastructure. We must switch to electric transportation. We must heat our homes and businesses without fossil fuels. And we must ensure the people affected by these changes are given support and new opportunities in a clean energy future.

I urge everyone to get political. Assess your carbon footprint, investments, habits, and spending. Demand that our cities, counties, schools and universities, businesses, and services create and follow strong community-wide plans to immediately reduce carbon emissions and switch to renewables. Expect that climate-saving is the top priority. Lobby state government to promote and support major changes. Insist that financial institutions divest from fossil fuel systems. 
Raise this issue with every person you know and meet. Vote for candidates who understand the dire threat and need for immediate action.

Passing resolutions and changing light bulbs is not enough. 

The countdown is over. 

We have to act now.

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