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.
If opponents of incumbent Congressman Fred Upton (R-Mich) have their way, a natural gas pipeline leak that displaced 500 people earlier this week could take center stage in one of the nation's most heated Congressional races.
The contest for Michigan's 6th congressional district pins fossil fuel champion Upton, a 14-term U.S. Representative and chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, against Democratic newcomer Paul Clements, a political science professor at Western Michigan University and an advocate for climate action.
Early Tuesday morning, residents of Benton Charter Township, in southwestern Michigan, were evacuated from their homes after a natural gas pipeline operated by energy giant TransCanada ruptured. They were allowed to return within 12 hours of the leak, but there are still questions about how much natural gas escaped, and whether nearby soil and water were contaminated.
When thousands of activists descend on Manhattan this Sunday for the People's Climate March, faith-based groups will be among them. Dozens of religious organizations and churches have signed up to join in demanding action to fight global warming. But as the Rev. Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore, former president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, says, religious groups' road to the march has been slow and rocky.
A Canadian pipeline company's plan to bring more tar sands oil into the United States without waiting for a federal permit is drawing resistance from environmentalists who say it's skirting the law.
Last week, 18 green groups sent a letter to the U.S. State Department asking the agency to "take immediate action to halt this illegal increase in tar sands crude oil imports until it completes its ongoing environmental review." Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) expressed similar concerns in a separate letter to the agency.
The issue highlights uncertainties in the way international pipelines are regulated, and the growing opposition to tar sands oil, which releases 17 percent more greenhouse gases than conventional crude and is harder to clean up when it spills into water.
The stage has been set for an appeal of a high profile verdict against a Texas oil and gas company after a judge refused to grant a new trial in the case of a family sickened by noxious air emissions.
Judge Mark Greenberg has denied a motion by Aruba Petroleum for a new trial, letting stand the $2.9 million jury award to Lisa and Bob Parr who sued the company after gas and oil wells surrounded their once rural ranch south of Dallas.
Greenberg's one sentence order didn't offer a reason for his decision. It simply said: "Aruba Petroleum's motion for new trial is ... denied."
Osha Gray Davidson is the author of "Clean Break: The Story of Germany's Energy Transformation and What America Can Learn From It," an InsideClimate News e-book published in November 2012.
The German energy transition, or Energiewende, has been covered sporadically by the U.S. media, often with little regard for nuance, despite the fact that the German project to move from carbon and nuclear-based energy to renewables is the most ambitious undertaking of its kind on the planet. A front-page article in Sunday's New York Times is an example of the kind of quality reporting that has been all too rare. The longish piece (approximately 2,400 words) uses the construction of new wind farms in the North Sea as a point of departure to report on the Energiewende and the ripple effects being felt globally.
"It will be another milestone in Germany's costly attempt to remake its electricity system," writes the Times' reporter, Justin Gillis, "an ambitious project that has already produced striking results: Germans will soon be getting 30 percent of their power from renewable energy sources. Many smaller countries are beating that, but Germany is by far the largest industrial power to reach that level in the modern era. It is more than twice the percentage in the United States."
A two-year-old number is changing the way governments, companies and investors approach the fight against climate change: $1 trillion.
That is roughly the amount of additional investment needed worldwide each year for the next 36 years to stave off the worst effects of global warming and keep the Earth habitable, according to the International Energy Agency. The Paris-based organization of 29 developed countries calculated the cost in 2012 and raised its estimates this year. Ceres, a Boston-based nonprofit investor group that advocates environmental sustainability, framed it as the "Clean Trillion" in an investment campaign that has become a rallying cry.
While $1 trillion sounds like a lot, knowing the figure is good news, according to climate activists, investment experts and United Nations organizers of the next round of global climate talks. Worldwide, almost $4 trillion a year will need to be invested over that time anyway in electric grids, power plants and energy efficiency, the IEA says. In a global economy of $75 trillion, $1 trillion works out to 1.3 percent of the world's annual output of goods and services, or about $140 a person. The calculation also focuses the discussion on investment—suggesting the potential for returns and profits—rather than on costs for disaster response and losses to rising oceans.
A United Nations chief dismayed at the lack of resolve toward the climate crisis; a daunting deadline for negotiating a new treaty; 125 or so heads of state; a sprawling agenda of fossil fuels, food, forestry and finance; a train of think tanks hauling gigabytes of green data; countless teach-ins, press conferences, art shows—plus tens or even hundreds of thousands of activists marching through midtown Manhattan, demanding action now.
Are these Climate Week events the makings of a turning point in the world's effort to escape the risks of climate change, or a formula for futility?
There are ample grounds for pessimism as preparations begin for the September 23 UN summit on climate change, being held in New York City. But that doesn't make it any less urgent for negotiators trying to keep the world from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius, that elusive diplomatic grail.
Even before a prosecutor in Massachusetts dropped criminal and conspiracy charges against climate activists for blocking a coal shipment with a lobster boat, the judge in the case broke new ground in favor of the foes of fossil fuels. For the first time in the U.S. climate fight, he cleared the way to use "necessity" as a defense in the courtroom.
State District Judge Joseph Macy in Fall River, Massachusetts, found the defendants could call expert witnesses to justify the violation of the law in order to protect citizens from the impacts of global warming, and to argue they had no legal alternative. His findings carry legal implications for future acts of civil disobedience, climate activists and lawyers say, and may even have had a direct impact on the outcome of this case.
The litigation drew national attention earlier this week when C. Samuel Sutter, the district attorney in Bristol County, downgraded charges against two climate activists who blocked a 40,000-ton shipment of coal in 2013 with the lobster boat. He said he did so because climate change "is one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced."
As the state of Ohio freezes climate policy, the city of Cleveland and its surrounding area are taking a different approach. Northeast Ohio is charging ahead with plans to build green industries that could jumpstart the economy and reduce pollution at the same time.
In the past decade, 500 companies have been built in northeast Ohio on the promise of green technology, each handpicked by civic leaders to match the strengths of the region. Meanwhile, politicians–including the governor–are knocking back statewide renewable energy targets that benefited many of those companies, such as wind and solar farm operators. The conflict could stall—or even stifle—further development of businesses trying to create climate-friendly technologies and a new clean energy economy.