Carl Pope, a veteran leader of the environmental movement, is the former executive director and chairman of the Sierra Club.
The joint announcement between the U.S. and China of ambitious national commitments they plan to lay on the table for the Paris climate summit in December 2015 could indeed generate momentum and reverse the climate tragedy—but only if governments and climate advocates shift their framing of the climate challenge.
The dominant story line remains that reducing emissions will be an economic burden, because fossil fuels are cheap, and clean replacements are expensive. This was true when the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997. Climate diplomacy therefore focused on who would bear the burden of a more costly low-carbon economy. Environmentalists' main climate solution was to raise the cost of fossil energy by pricing carbon—and that argument gave coal and oil interests all the ammunition they needed to block climate progress.
Poor countries argued, reasonably, that the rich had created the problem, and therefore should pay for any expensive solution. But the rich nations were unwilling to make the needed sacrifice, fearing higher energy prices would favor their economic rivals, China and India. So climate diplomacy stalled—the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009 failed to reach a meaningful deal, and things were not looking much brighter for Paris next year.
The U.S.-China announcement signals a potential thaw, and has rightly been hailed.
But if you look at the numbers that Presidents Obama and Xi laid on the table, a huge problem emerges.
Dirk DeTurck had a years-old rash that wouldn't go away, his wife's hair came out in chunks and any time they lingered outside their house for more than an hour, splitting headaches set in.
They were certain the cause was simply breathing the air in Greenbrier, Arkansas, the rural community to which they'd retired a decade ago. They blamed the gas wells all around them. But state officials didn't investigate.
So DeTurck leapt at the chance to help with research that posed a pressing question: What's in the air near oil and gas production sites?
The answer—in many of the areas monitored for the peer-reviewed study, published today in the journal Environmental Health—is "potentially dangerous compounds and chemical mixtures" that can make people feel ill and raise their risk of cancer.
"The implications for health effects are just enormous," said David O. Carpenter, the paper's senior author and director of the University at Albany's Institute for Health and the Environment.
BERLIN—In Germany debate is raging over whether to allow fracking, and America's example is serving as the cautionary tale for both supporters and critics.
Germany's biggest energy companies and some politicians are using the U.S. drilling boom to argue the country would benefit from tapping shale gas buried under two of its 16 states. Supporters say Germany must greenlight fracking—especially as calls intensify to end dependency on Russia, which supplies a third of Germany's oil and gas.
Meanwhile, environmentalists and others see the United States as a warning of what may be in store if Germany embraces fracking—but for them the lessons from America involve air, water and climate change pollution. The "negative effects connected" to U.S. fracking are "worth gold" to German activists, said Andy Gheorghiu, a member of the citizens' protest group Fracking Free Hesse.
Critics worry mainly that developing natural gas production would undercut the Energiewende, Germany's shift away from fossil fuels and nuclear to renewable energy. Environmentalism is deeply ingrained in German society and public protests helped prompt the law. Today solar panels and windmills form a distinctive part of the country's landscape. But this transformation came at a cost: In 2013, Germany's household electricity prices became the second highest in the European Union due to clean energy subsidies and high taxes. Despite that, the Energiewende remains widely popular.
As oil and gas drilling spreads across the United States, scant attention has been paid to air emissions from the waste the boom has created.
Jane Kleeb is the founder of Bold Nebraska, a grassroots group that opposes the Keystone XL pipeline.
Before I left for Climate Week in New York, I was with a room full of volunteers in Nebraska, painting buffalo hides. Our painting was part of an honoring that will take place with Willie Nelson and Neil Young at the Harvest the Hope concert Sept. 27. The ceremony and the concert will be held near Neligh, Neb., directly on the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline.
The next day, I stood with the Cowboy and Indian Alliance—a group of farmers, ranchers and tribes opposing Keystone XL—in New York to ask for permission to be on the land of the Shinnecock Nation, through a water ceremony and exchange of gifts.
We marched proudly in the streets, holding flags, banners and signs from pipeline fighters back home. I marched with a flag displaying my husband’s family cattle brand, to make it clear I was there standing with folks who have deep roots to the land and will not let TransCanada or anyone else think they can walk all over our families.
As I marched in the street, instead of looking up at the massive buildings in New York, I was looking down to see the shoes of all those people marching against climate change and tar sands. Cowboy boots, moccasins, sneakers, work boots and, yes, Birkenstocks. It will take all of us marching together, not only in the streets, but also straight to the voting booth on Nov. 4.
Yeb Saño is commissioner of the Philippines Climate Change Commission.
No one who was there–and survived–will ever forget Nov. 8, 2013. The strongest storm in the history of humanity devastated Tacloban and many other cities and towns in the Philippines. Three days after Super Typhoon Yolanda hit, I stood on behalf of the Philippines at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Warsaw. I appealed to the whole world to take urgent action to address climate change.
Yolanda devastated communities and claimed thousands of lives. My own brother A.G. Saño, whose environmental and peace murals have adorned many walls around the country, was in downtown Tacloban when the storm hit. He bravely helped gather the bodies of the dead for several days. He is truly my hero. Every single person who works tirelessly on the ground to make people’s lives better joins the true heroes of our times.
When we talk about heroes and about saving humanity, it means humanity needs saving.
Charles Komanoff directs the Carbon Tax Center in New York.
This story was updated at 1:15 PM EDT.
Which is mightier—the obstacles to enacting a U.S. carbon tax, or the tax’s unique capacity to drive down global-warming emissions quickly, massively and equitably?
At the Carbon Tax Center we’ve bet on the latter. And our bet will only get better if the climate movement coalesces its advocacy and organizing around a carbon tax.
Making polluters pay to emit carbon isn’t just textbook economics and basic fairness—though it is those things. A carbon tax is the only way for the climate damage caused by burning fossil fuels to be brought inside the arc of individual and societal decision-making that determines how much of those fuels society uses and, thus, how much carbon it emits.
These decisions range from the immediate and quotidian: take transit vs. car, refill at the tap vs. buy bottled water; to institutional and far-reaching: build airplane frames with ultralight composites vs. aluminum, locate in town vs. on the outskirts, contract with a wind farm vs. a coal generator.
Without a tax on carbon emissions, every choice like these―and billions are made daily―will remain so rigged that fossil fuels will never yield their central position in world energy supply—or at least not fast enough to keep climate change from spiraling out of control. But a tax gives us a fighting chance to keep climate tipping points at bay and stave off global warming’s most dire effects.
Mark Reynolds is executive director of Citizens Climate Lobby, a grassroots organization campaign that favors a federal tax on carbon.
On Sept. 21, two days before the UN Climate Summit, what's being billed as a historic demonstration of support for action on global warming will take place in the streets of New York. Organizers expect over 100,000 participants to turn out for the People's Climate March, elevating it to the level of events surrounding the civil rights and anti-war movements of an earlier era.
But will the "arc of the moral universe"–where climate change is concerned–eventually bend towards justice?
That depends on what happens after the march.
On Sunday, Sept. 21, demonstrators from more than 1,000 organizations representing millions of people plan to demand that world leaders take action against global warming. The People's Climate March through midtown Manhattan will be the "largest climate march in history," according to its organizers. And it will kick off the sixth annual Climate Week NYC—with about 80 events focused on climate change such as high-level meetings, conferences, lectures and debates.
A United Nations summit in New York City will also take place during Climate Week, which will help lay the groundwork for climate-change treaty talks next year in Paris.
Here's a look at 10 top places to be during Climate Week (some open to the public, some not) and their locations, including the People's Climate March route:
Four emaciated boys share a canteen of fresh water. They pass the stolen treasure around as they huddle on a raft made of broken furniture, drifting on toxic flood waters. The future has come to Chicago—or at least one future imagined by Abby Geni, a fiction writer in Illinois.
Geni's story, "World After Water," follows four brothers growing up in a world irrevocably altered by climate change. Drinkable water is scarce, the Great Lakes are polluted, and only the rich can afford purified water.
"World After Water" is one story in a series of podcasts produced by WBEZ, a public radio station in Chicago. The series, called After Water, seeks to blend science and storytelling to create new shades of understanding about what the Great Lakes region could look like in the future. To do this, WBEZ reporter and project producer Shannon Heffernan approached fiction writers in Chicago and across the country. She gave them research papers and connected them with scientists, advocates and policymakers who could answer their questions. She then issued the 12 writers one challenge: to take what they had learned and create a story that reflects the difficulties Chicago and the Great Lakes region may face in the decades to come.
"This project is terrifying—the idea of what the world would become," Geni (pronounced GEE-nie) told Heffernan. (Geni usually writes fiction about the connection between humans and the natural world and stages her work in the present.)