The climate is changing faster today than it ever has before in human memory. Hurricanes are bigger, stronger, and more frequent, the sea level is rising, and agriculture is increasingly affected by changing rainfall patterns. Even small changes in the climate can have major effects. Ice ages, which recur around every 50,000 to 100,000 years, tend to happen when the Earth’s average temperatures gradually decrease to about 5°C (9° F) cooler than temperature averages in modern times. If the most threatening effects of climate change are to be addressed, research suggests, global temperatures should not rise more than 2°C (3.6° F) above pre-industrial levels (Pachauri et al. 2014). That means leaving in the ground just over 30% of the earth’s oil reserves, 50% of the gas reserves and more than 80% of the coal reserves (McGlade and Ekins 2015). The Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) and Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), along with other US-based members of the social, environmental and climate justice communities and global alliances have platforms calling for leaving 80% of the current totality of fossil fuel reserves under the ground and ocean in order to avoid global temperatures rising to no more than 1.5°C. How will this transition away from fossil fuel extraction be organized within our respective communities? What will the consequences be for people, our communities, humanity, ecosystems, habitat and all life? Issues of climate and environmental injustice and equity cannot be avoided if such questions are to be addressed.
It is time to stop thinking we must protect nature and recognize that as much as every other life form on Earth, we are nature.
We cannot separate ourselves from the water we drink, the food we eat or the air we breathe any more than we can care for just a single leaf on a tree. And yet, human law almost everywhere defines “nature” as property to be owned, commodified and destroyed at will for human profit. Most of the destruction of the Earth is sanctioned by law—from blowing the tops of mountains for coal; to fracturing the earth for oil and natural gas; to clear cutting the Amazon and displacing Indigenous communities. In so doing we aredefying Natural Law that governs the planet’s life systems. Climate disruption is the direct result of human activities pushing beyond the limits of Natural Law.
Like no other time in human history, we are in a unique position to determine our fate. Recognizing the Earth as a living system of which humans are a part, rather than as human property to be owned and destroyed is a fundamental shift from the climate capitalism embedded in the DNA of trade deals, environmental policies and treaties around the world—including the Paris Agreement. If we are to find a solution to climate change, we must stop treating the Earth as a commodity and putting a price tag on the processes of the natural world.
Current country commitments of the United Nations Paris Agreement add up to a 3+ degree rise in global temperature by 2050, an outcome that will dwarf the ravages of recent global record-breaking hurricanes, fires and droughts. We must do better than the promises of Paris. Climate scientists tell us we need to keep global temperatures to a 1.5 degree rise, something that cannot be accomplished unless we leave 80% of fossil fuel reserves in the ground. The Paris Agreement lacks a plan to accomplish that, and as a non-binding agreement, provides the opportunity for countries like the U.S. to simply walk away.
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The California governor is currently touring Europe to talk about his pet cause: climate action. He’s representing multiple coalitions of state and local governments — the international Under2 Coalition and U.S. Climate Alliance — that are trying to push for the social reform and clean energy infrastructure that would achieve the climate goals put forward by the Paris Agreement.
Jerry Brown, ready to go home. pic.twitter.com/zZQQRuY7CX
— Christopher Cadelago (@ccadelago) November 14, 2017
Anyway! Brown’s tour — throughout which he’s taken a strong, critical stance against the type of lifestyle that’s put us in a climate crisis — culminated in the U.N. Climate Conference in Bonn, Germany. He sounds … in a bad way.
The Huffington Post reported that Brown insisted on some extreme soul-searching at the Vatican at the beginning of the month: “At the highest circles, people still don’t get it … We need a total, I might say ‘brain washing.’ We need to wash our brains out and see a very different kind of world.”