Here are the cold, hard facts:
* The increase in average temperature (almost one degree Celsius) has already produced droughts, stronger storms, melting glaciers, extreme cold, and acidifying oceans.
* Most scientists agree that to avoid catastrophe, we must limit the increase to two degrees.
* To do that, we must start cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 8 to 10 percent a year, starting right now.
* If we continue stalling for another two years, the 2-degree limit will be unachievable.
* Global emissions were up by 5.9 percent in 2010, the biggest increase ever.
* Fossil fuel companies already have plans to burn five times the carbon that would result in a 2-degree increase.
* In the 1970s, there were 660 weather disasters worldwide; in the 2000s, there were 3,322.
Naomi Klein’s new book, “The Changes Everything,” lays it all on the table. She has studied climate change for several years and written a readable book that is scary but not without hope. Reading it changed everything in my perception of the problem.
Klein says the task facing humankind can’t be accomplished just with hybrid vehicles, gas taxes, cleaner coal, carbon offsets and cap-and-trade. The task is incompatible with economic growth, free trade, and even capitalism itself. Klein says that when right-wingers say that climate action is a plot to redistribute wealth, they’re right!
Our society is so enmeshed with fossil fuels that it’s difficult to envision such a rapid reversal of direction. Fossil fuel companies get between $775 billion and $1 trillion in subsidies, plus the right to dump their waste in the sky at no cost, and spend $400,000 a day lobbying. The number of train cars carrying oil in the U.S. increased from 9,500 in 2008 to 400,000 in 2013, Klein says.
The value of the carbon reserves that should be left in the ground is estimated at $10 trillion, Klein says. That’s about the equivalent value as all the slaves in the U.S. before the Civil War. Look what we had to go through to change that.
Klein’s book has a chapter called “Dimming the Sun,” about scientists probing technological fixes. One would involve putting sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere (with pumps suspended on helium balloons?) to diminish solar radiation. But its effects would be unpredictable and uneven, it would generate a haze that would lower the effectiveness of solar energy, it wouldn’t stop ocean acidification, and we’d have to keep it up indefinitely.
Klein’s book finds some reason for hope.Though it seems daunting, we tackled similar challenges through government intervention in the 1930s and ’40s. Humanity dealt with the problems of ozone depletion and nuclear proliferation. And we don’t need to return to the Stone Age — the lifestyle of the 1970s would do, she says. Germany has shown how incentives for solar can work, and the price of solar panels keeps coming down.
Meanwhile, a poll indicated that only 4 percent of respondents thought oil companies are “honest and trustworthy.” And when presented in terms of jobs, clean power and refunds, the public supports a carbon tax. As many as 15 million Americans live within a mile of a fracked well, and awareness of the damage they cause to the nearby environment is becoming more widespread.