The Paris Climate Change Deal Might Be The Start Of Something
There was a lot of excitement yesterday when the UN's climate deal document was released. My town's very environmentally-inclined mayor, Eric Garcetti, tweeted "Today's climate agreement vote is a hinge of history, when we stopped saying if and started moving to how. So glad LA is helping lead the way." And El Presidente made a speech about it-- the video above. Some excerpts:
Skeptics said these actions would kill jobs. Instead, we’ve seen the longest streak of private-sector job creation in our history. We’ve driven our economic output to all-time highs while driving our carbon pollution down to its lowest level in nearly two decades. And then, with our historic joint announcement with China last year, we showed it was possible to bridge the old divides between developed and developing nations that had stymied global progress for so long. That accomplishment encouraged dozens and dozens of other nations to set their own ambitious climate targets. And that was the foundation for success in Paris. Because no nation, not even one as powerful as ours, can solve this challenge alone. And no country, no matter how small, can sit on the sidelines. All of us had to solve it together.
Now, no agreement is perfect, including this one. Negotiations that involve nearly 200 nations are always challenging. Even if all the initial targets set in Paris are met, we’ll only be part of the way there when it comes to reducing carbon from the atmosphere. So we cannot be complacent because of today’s agreement. The problem is not solved because of this accord. But make no mistake, the Paris agreement establishes the enduring framework the world needs to solve the climate crisis. It creates the mechanism, the architecture, for us to continually tackle this problem in an effective way.
This agreement is ambitious, with every nation setting and committing to their own specific targets, even as we take into account differences among nations. We’ll have a strong system of transparency, including periodic reviews and independent assessments, to help hold every country accountable for meeting its commitments. As technology advances, this agreement allows progress to pave the way for even more ambitious targets over time. And we have secured a broader commitment to support the most vulnerable countries as they pursue cleaner economic growth.
In short, this agreement will mean less of the carbon pollution that threatens our planet, and more of the jobs and economic growth driven by low-carbon investment. Full implementation of this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change, and will pave the way for even more progress, in successive stages, over the coming years.
Moreover, this agreement sends a powerful signal that the world is firmly committed to a low-carbon future. And that has the potential to unleash investment and innovation in clean energy at a scale we have never seen before. The targets we’ve set are bold. And by empowering businesses, scientists, engineers, workers, and the private sector-- investors-- to work together, this agreement represents the best chance we’ve had to save the one planet that we’ve got.
So I believe this moment can be a turning point for the world. We’ve shown that the world has both the will and the ability to take on this challenge. It won’t be easy. Progress won’t always come quick. We cannot be complacent. While our generation will see some of the benefits of building a clean energy economy-- jobs created and money saved-- we may not live to see the full realization of our achievement. But that’s okay. What matters is that today we can be more confident that this planet is going to be in better shape for the next generation. And that’s what I care about. I imagine taking my grandkids, if I’m lucky enough to have some, to the park someday, and holding their hands, and hearing their laughter, and watching a quiet sunset, all the while knowing that our work today prevented an alternate future that could have been grim; that our work, here and now, gave future generations cleaner air, and cleaner water, and a more sustainable planet. And what could be more important than that?
Good question. I turned to Bill McKibben to find out and he pointed right to a paragraph in the preamble to the agreement: "Emphasizing with serious concern the urgent need to address the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C …" And then explains what it means and why it's the hinge, speaking hinges, on whether this will be a successul endeavor by mankind or not (despite the assholes like Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who is on the payroll of Big Oil to the tune of $1,825,677, to sabotage the agreement).
What it says is: The world is a doughy fellow who has promised to drop three suit sizes in time for his wedding, which is now only a month away. The world is an anxious student who has to ace the next morning’s test to pass the course but hasn’t yet started to study. The world has promised his kids a great raft of presents under the tree, but now it’s suddenly Christmas Eve and the shops have started closing.
The “significant gap” is the crucial thing. In the agreement, the world promises to hold the rise in the planet’s temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius. Heck, it promises to aim for 1.5 degrees, which is extraordinary. It’s what actually needs to be done; if we succeeded, it might just head off complete calamity. (We’re now at 1 degree above average pre-industrial temperatures, and considering what that’s already done in terms of melt, flood, and drought, 1.5 C will still be trouble, but maybe manageable trouble.)
But once you get past the promises part, the actual plans submitted by various governments commit the world to a temperature rise of 3.5 degrees, which is more or less the same as hell. It’s a broken planet. This is the difference between hoping and doing-- a common enough part of the human condition. I kind of hoped I wouldn’t buy the pain au chocolat at the boulangerie down the street this morning. I had good ambitions. But, you know.
So if you want to be cynical about the Paris agreement, there’s plenty of reason.
But if you want to be hopeful, here’s the thing: The world’s governments have now announced their intentions. And so the rest of us can hold them to those promises, or at least try. What, you want to build a pipeline? I thought you were going to go for 1.5 degrees. You want to frack? Are you fracking kidding me? You said you were going for 2 degrees at the absolute worst.
This is a little like that moment when Barack Obama, upon winning the Democratic nomination in 2008, said that his administration would mark the moment “when the rise of the oceans began to slow.” He soon forgot about it, but the rest of us didn’t, and those words appeared on a thousand placards in the course of the fight over Keystone. Which we won.
Now every world leader has said something similar. And even if we harbor suspicions that they didn’t quite mean those words, we will use them again and again. We’ll be the nagging parent/teacher/spouse. We’ll assume they really want action. And we’ll demand they provide it.
Plenty more specifics of the agreement can be found here but what can we do as American citizens to make this a meaningful moment in the history of mankind? I'm not going to urge you to defeat every Republican for every office; I'm sure you wouldn't be reading DWT if you didn't already believe that. Instead, let's look at the Democrats or putative Democrats in the House who have been on the wrong side of history and let's work to replace them with progressives. Democrats in the House with the worst records on Climate Change, records that are virtual death sentences for the planet belong to this dozen conservatives, all of whom should be replaced (the dollar amount is what they've taken from Big Oil and Gas since being elected to Congress):
• Patrick Murphy (New Dem-FL)- $32,950
• Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)- $87,200
• Kyrsten Sinema (Blue Dog-AZ)- $3,500
• Donald Norcross (NJ)- $8,000
• Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)- $458,577
• Jim Costa (Blue Dog-CA)- $353,699
• Jim Cooper (Blue Dog-TN)- $84,875
• Gwen Graham (Blue Dog-FL)- $4,000
• Gene Green (TX)- $654,613
• Ann Kirkpatrick (New Dem-AZ)- $20,250
• Bill Foster (New Dem-IL)- $34,550
• Sean Patrick Maloney (New Dem-NY)- $2,000