We Can No Longer Afford A Fossil Fuel Economy

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Above: #WeRiseForClimate protest in San Francisco, September 8, 2018 from 350.org flickr.

The Global #RiseForClimate actions are just one example of many that the climate justice movement is building the power needed to transform the economy and put in place policies to confront climate change.  The ingredients exist for the climate justice movement to rapidly succeed. A challenge is not knowing how much time we have. Scientists have been conservative in their estimates, and feedback loops could rapidly increase the impacts of climate change.

The costs of not acting are high. The benefits of investing in a clean energy economy would be widespread. We need to keep building the movement.

Source: New Climate Economy

The Climate Crisis Is Already Devastating

The urgency of the climate crisis is obvious and cannot be reasonably denied. ABC News reported about the horrific California wildfires, saying there is an “undeniable link to climate change.” They wrote, “Experts have said that rising temperatures linked to climate change are making the fires larger, more dangerous and more expensive to fight.” This year’s fires broke records set by last year’s fires, leading Governor Jerry Brown to describe them as the “new normal” caused by years of drought and rising temperatures. 

Researchers at Columbia University and the University of Idaho reported in 2017 that human-caused warming was drying out forests, causing peak fire seasons across the West to expand every year by an average of nine days since 2000. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the 2017 fire season cost more than $2 billion, making it the most expensive fire season on record.

Extreme heat is becoming more common because of climate change. Since 2001, 17 of the 18 warmest years on record have occurred. Records were broken all over the world this year. Record heat is also contributing to more ferocious stormsStorms with heavy rain and high winds are increasing, as the Union of Concerned Scientists warns.

Michael Mann, an atmospheric science professor at Penn State University, clarifies the science:

“What we can conclude with a great deal of confidence now is that climate change is making these events more extreme. And its not rocket science, you warm the atmosphere it’s going to hold more moisture, you get larger flooding events, you get more rainfall. You warm the planet, you’re going to get more frequent and intense heat waves. You warm the soils, you dry them out, you get worse drought. You bring all that together and those are all the ingredients for unprecedented wildfires.”

Our Lives Matter from #RiseOnClimate Flickr.

Economic Cost of Climate Impacts Is Rising

Global warming will hit the US economy hard, particularly in the South. The Richmond branch of the Federal Reserve Bank cites a study that finds refusing to combat climate change could utterly devastate the South’s entire economy. The Fed notes, “higher summer temperatures could reduce overall U.S. economic growth by as much as one-third over the next century, with Southern states accounting for a disproportionate share of that potential reduction.”

There is a correlation between higher temperatures and lower factory production, lower worker productivity and lower economic growth. An August 2018 report found: “The occurrence of six or more days with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit reduces the weekly production of U.S. automobile manufacturing plants by an average of 8 percent.”

Ironically, the oil and gas industry, which is accused of undermining climate science, is now asking government to protect it from the impacts of climate change. When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, swamping Houston, it caused an immediate 28 cents per gallon increase in the price of oil. After Harvey a Texas commission report sought $61 billion from Congress to protect Texas from future storms. Joel N. Myers, of AccuWeather, predicted in 2017 that the total losses from Harvey “would reach $190 billion or one percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.” The cost of a 60 mile seawall along the Texas coast is initially projected to be $12 billion.

Harvey broke the record set by Hurricane Katrina, which cost $160 billion.  The 10 most destructive hurricanes caused an estimated $442 billion in losses. Out of 27 extreme weather events in 2016, researchers for the American Meteorological Society have correlated 21 of them to human-caused climate change.

A 2018 Climate Change Assessment report for  California estimated climate change:

“could soon cost us $200 million a year in increased energy bills to keep homes air conditioned, $3 billion from the effects of a long drought and $18 billion to replace buildings inundated by rising seas, just to cite a few projections. Not to mention the loss of life from killer heat waves, which could add more than 11,000 heat-related deaths a year by 2050 in California, and carry an estimated $50 billion annual price tag.”

Impacts are seen throughout the United States. A report found that “since 2005, Virginia has lost $280 million in home values because of sea-level rise.” A 2018 study found coastal properties in five Southeastern states have lost $7.4 billion in potential value since 2005. The 2017 Hawaii Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report estimates the lost value of flooded structures and land at over $19 billion. Additionally, Hawaii’s roadways, bridges and infrastructure will cost $15 billion to repair and replace. The National Flood Insurance Program is losing $1.4 billion annually largely due to claims in 284 coastal counties. The Congressional Budget Office  finds the program is already $20.5 billion in the red even after the government forgave $16 billion in debt last fall.

These are just some of the many costs — food, agriculture, fishing, oceans, storms, fires, droughts, heat, flooding and more are going to worsen significantly.

Climate change could be the cause of the next economic collapse due to the cost of climate damage, an insurance industry crisis, or stranded assets, as over-investing in carbon energy has caused a fragile carbon bubble.

Equity, Justice, #WeRiseForClimate from Flickr

The US Can Transform To A Climate Justice Economy Now

While there has been progress on clean energy, it is inadequate and sporadic compared to the urgent needs. We need dramatic escalation with clear goals — keep fossil fuels in the ground, use agriculture and wetlands to sequester carbon, deploy renewable energy, build climate justice infrastructure and transition to a new economy based on sustainability, democracy and equity.

This week, the world’s largest wind farm opened. It can power 590,000 homes in the UK. Another planned wind farm could provide the power for 2 million homes. The world is only scratching the surface of the potential of wind and solar.

We can no longer afford the old carbon energy economy. A new climate economy would add $26 trillion to the global economy by 2030, a conservative estimate. It will create 65 million new jobs and prevent 700,000 premature deaths. This transformation provides an opportunity to create the future we want based on economic, racial and environmental justice.

Just as we are underestimating the high costs of climate change, we have also “grossly underestimated the benefits and opportunities unlocked by smart, connected, distributed energy technologies,” David Roberts writes in Vox. We will look back after the transition and wonder why we waited as we will see “the benefit of quieter, safer, more livable cities and better respiratory health, we’ll wonder why we ever put up with anything else — why we nickel-and-dimed the transition to electric buses, long-haul trucks, and passenger vehicles; why we fought over every bike lane and rail line.” We can also implement Solutionary Rail – a network of electrified railroads that also serves as an energy grid serving rural areas and relieving roads of trucks.

The 2018 New Climate Economy Report reports time is running out; extreme damage from climate change is being locked in. We need a sustainable trajectory by 2030. The developing world needs infrastructure and much of the developed world’s infrastructure is failing. The report finds, “The world is expected to spend about US$90 trillion on infrastructure in the period up to 2030, more than the entire current stock today. Much of this investment will be programmed in the next few years.” We need to spend this on creating a new sustainable economy.

Adele Peters quotes Helen Mountford, lead author of the Global Commission project, “If we get that infrastructure right, we’re going to put ourselves on the right path. If we get it wrong, we’ll be very much stuck on that wrong pathway.”

The report examined five areas: cities, energy, food and land use, water, and industry. Building sustainable, efficient, clean energy infrastructure will reduce health costs, and increase productivity and innovation. This requires policy based on equity, cutting fossil fuel subsidies while increasing the price of carbon, and investing in sustainable infrastructure. 

The good news is we have the ability and technology to make the transition. We know what works. We lack the leadership, but this leadership void can be filled by the people. When we lead, the leaders will follow.

As the crisis hits and national consensus solidifies, people will need to demand a new economy based on equity, fairness, democratized energy and serving the necessities of the people and planet. This new democratized economy could include a federal buyout of the top US-based, publicly-traded fossil fuel companies. It could include the reversal of disastrous privatization with nationalization of key industries and public ownership of energy utilities to serve the public interest, rather than private interests.

Polling on risks of climate change. Yale Program on Climate Communication, 2018.

National Consensus Is Solidifying For Climate Action

Despite mis-leadership by power holders and lack of commercial media coverage, people know climate change is having major negative impacts and want to action taken to confront it. Yale reports that polls show 83% want research funded on alternative energy, 77% want CO2 regulated as a pollutant, 70% want strict limits on CO2 from coal-fired power plants, and 68% even favor a carbon tax on polluters.

Obama’s policies on climate were inadequate, and he led massive building of oil and gas infrastructure. The current administration denies climate change exists, hides research on climateis reversing Obama’s positive steps and opposes the national consensus. This is going to lead to a climate justice boomerang. More storms and the cost of climate change will cause people to rebel and demand the transformation political elites have refused.

There is an impressive mobilized movement; not just the Global #RiseForClimate, but people putting their bodies on the line and risking arrest to stop carbon infrastructure. Activists are successfully delaying the approval of pipelines, often with Indigenous leadership as their rights are crucial for climate justice. Activists are arguing their resistance against polluters is being done out of climate necessity and are sometimes succeeding.

Oil companies are being sued for hiding the truth about climate change – former scientists are exposing them – and are now being forced to disclose climate change risks to shareholders. Activists are confronting investors of carbon infrastructure and insurance companies on coal. Workers are confronting unions on the issue. Youth are suing for a livable climate future.

The movement is building power. The path needed is clear, but escalation is urgent.

 

 

 

 

 

  • sejn

    It is greatly attributable to our ever-expanding car culture.

  • mwildfire

    “David Roberts writes in Vox. We
    will look back after the transition and wonder why we waited as we will
    see “the benefit of quieter, safer, more livable cities and better
    respiratory health, we’ll wonder why we ever put up with anything else —
    why we nickel-and-dimed the transition…”
    If, after the transition–IF the transition happens, that is–anyone wonders why we waited so long, they should search the archives of the major PR firms. There they will find the evidence of massive PR campaigns to keep the public quiescent while the fossil fuel companies squeezed the last profits from their assets. Thing is, if done competently, these campaigns WORK. The sociopaths discovered long ago that they didn’t need to persuade a majority of the public that their toxins were harmless–they just needed to keep them confused, unsure who to believe, so they wouldn’t demand action, and pay off lawmakers, and voila. Whatever they want to do is fine.

  • fjwhite

    The authors write –
    “We need dramatic escalation with clear goals — keep fossil fuels in the ground … deploy renewable energy … The world is only scratching the surface of the potential of wind and solar.”

    Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but an atmospheric scientist appears to have made a decisive case why renewables will NOT been our salvation. Tim Garrett, a tenured professor at the University of Utah, researches the complex interplay among the key inputs related to an understanding of climate change.

    Garrett sees two “really important” problems with a transition from fossil fuels to renewables solar and wind. He writes:

    “First, new sources of energy have historically added to past sources rather than replaced them. Second, any source of energy, whatever its source, enables civilization to further destroy its environment through the extraction of matter. … So, even if sunlight and wind is seemingly infinite, our planet Earth is not. Any short-term material gain of ours is a loss for the world around us. Renewables only accelerate this process.”

    When an expert on the complicated physics of climate science speaks, it would be advisable to listen – very carefully.

    To read a full account of Garrett’s excellently argued paper “Are renewables our salvation”, here is one source reposted on my website at ShortLink https://wp.me/pO0No-4tJ .

    Best of luck with the movement.

  • kevinzeese

    Thanks for the comment.

    There are always trade-offs in energy and economy decisions as to their impact on the environment and on climate. There are no totally clean solutions. Every choice has costs, some have more costs than others. Yes, solar and wind require extraction of materials, but their impact on climate, since in their use they do not produce Greenhouse Gases, is much lower.

    Garrett is a pessimist — and there is reason for pessimism. As we point out in our first paragraph, the timing of the impacts of climate change are not predictable and feedback loops could occur that hasten the speed of negative impacts.

    Garret “argues that rising carbon dioxide emissions — the major cause of global warming — cannot be stabilized unless the world’s economy collapses or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day.” That is a pessimistic view. And, it is strange he would be an advocate for nuclear — massive nuclear — despite the climate impacts and other environmental impacts of nuclear from extraction through building, operation, and dealing with the waste or closing nuclear plants. Nuclear is not a clean energy when it is examined from cradle to grave. His view would certainly make the nuclear industry very happy! See https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091123083704.htm

    He does not believe conservation if the solution either, so it is not just the impacts of actions, for him it is the futility of them. He sees complete economic collapse as the only way to slow climate change. This article, http://www.joboneforhumanity.org/_university_of_utah_professor_tim_garrett_says_conservation_is_futile , describes his pessimistic opinion:

    “Garrett believes current options to potentially avert climate change — increased energy efficiencies, reduced population growth and a switch to power sources that don’t emit carbon dioxide, as well as underground storage of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning — are “not meaningful.”
    He is definitely on the scale among the most pessimistic that anything can be beneficial. He might be right. I hope he isn’t because collapse of the human race is what we hope to avoid. We are not ready to give up on confronting the climate crisis and putting in place climate justice.

    *@KBZeese*
    *Build power and resistance*
    *Popular Resistance*
    *www.PopularResistance.org *
    *Shift Wealth:** Economic Democracy*
    *Its Our Economy *
    *www.ItsOurEconomy.US *

    *Democratize the MediaClearing the FOG (Forces of Greed)
    Radio http://www.ClearingTheFOGRadio.org *

  • kevinzeese

    Don’t get me wrong, I think there is very good reason for pessimism. The science on climate is not good news and consistently scientists have underestimated the impacts, probably because they are reaching consensus among a group and seeking a common denominator. That is probably why individual scientists like the ones you mentioned put forward more pessimistic predictions. They are more free to do so than groups driven to reach some kind of consensus.

    Another reason for pessimism (sorry for using the word so often) is out political system has not shown itself to be responsive or able to act with long-term planning. Two year congressional cycles and four year presidential cycles set the timing for policy and planning. This may be one reason why China seems to be doing better than the US in a number of measures in recent decades. Why would a member of Congress vote for something that will impact us in ten years or a generation from now when it might mean short term pain when their election cycle is occurring? The same is true for presidents. They will not be in office when the benefits accrue but will be in office when the pain is being felt. That does not work well in a democracy set-up like the US election system.

    The same is true for the short-term profit business thinking that needs to increase their stock value, pay dividends to stock holders and keep attracting investors. These are all short term benefits but may lead to long term costs.

    These are all weaknesses in our political and economic systems.

    We face three big crisis areas that are coming to a head in the near future — (1) The environment which not only includes climate but the sixth great extinction (the last being dinosaurs), and environmental degradation on many levels. (2) The economy which has a horrendous and worsening inequality (even worse with a racial prism), mass debt of individuals, and businesses and a current generation that is entering adulthood with unprecedented debt compared to any previous generation, concentration of financial power in a small number of big banks, a falsely inflated stock market and phony job numbers that hide poverty, low pay under-employment and people who have given up looking for work. (3) A crisis in governance with a mirage democracy that limits people’s choices to two Wall Street parties, that has starved cities for multiple generations and is an oligarchy that is dominated by wealth. Those are three big crisis areas, each could get worse more quickly. The US is also a fading Empire which has implications for the domestic economy, politics and the potential for war. Are we, the people, prepared? We’re making progress but we are not prepared for a major crisis in any of these areas. The people who are prepared are those who have created and mismanaged these crisis areas, so it is hard to be optimistic. By the way, despite all these issues I am optimistic. I could write another long comment on why, but I have worked on issues with no chance of winning doing so. And, I have come to believe it is always darkest before the dawn and that out of crisis comes opportunity. We need to organize to be positioned to take advantage of opportunities. We see the 2020s as a decade of potential great positive transformation with high risks along the way.

    My educational background is political science and law but I got out of school in 1980 and most my education has been since that time. Lots I could point to in that history. I guess my PhD in public policy came when I was Ralph Nader’s press secretary and spokesperson and helped draft position statements when he ran for president in 2004. But, that is one of many things I have done over the years to develop my political education.

    *@KBZeese*
    *Build power and resistance*
    *Popular Resistance*
    *www.PopularResistance.org *
    *Shift Wealth:** Economic Democracy*
    *Its Our Economy *
    *www.ItsOurEconomy.US *

    *Democratize the MediaClearing the FOG (Forces of Greed)
    Radio http://www.ClearingTheFOGRadio.org *

  • paz_y_justicia

    It is highly unlikely that renewable technology can either provide the energy requirements of modern civilization or do it within a time frame to avoid the catastrophic effects of global warming. Aside from running into issues associated with finite resources, the amount of energy that needs to be replaced is hard to fathom:

    Hide Cubic mile of oil

    The global economy consumes approximately 30 billion barrels of oil (1.26 trillion U.S. gallons or 4.75 trillion litres) each year.[5] Numbers of this magnitude are difficult to conceive by most people.[4][6] The volume occupied by one trillion U.S. gallons is about one cubic mile. Crane felt that a cubic mile would be an easier concept for the general public than a trillion gallons.

    There is a fine line between pessimism and reality. I am of the belief that you can’t get out of a predicament of this magnitude without fully understanding the problem. A good resource to explore is Our Finite World . The community there can be pretty rough but Gail Tverberg is very knowledgeable and active on the boards.

  • fjwhite

    Kevin, thanks for your thoughtful reply, including your outline of the 3 big crisis areas as you see them. But I want to respond to two other interesting comments you made.

    In response to your comment: “it is always darkest before the dawn and that out of crisis comes opportunity. We need to organize to be positioned to take advantage of opportunities.” The problem, as I see it, is that, in the context of the climate crisis, these dark times are without precedence. As Jay Rosen wrote in his 2012 essay titled “Wicked Problems”:

    “Probably the best example in our time [of a wicked problem] is climate change. … we would be better off if we knew when we were dealing with a wicked problem, as opposed to the regular kind. If we could designate some problems as wicked we might realize that “normal” approaches to problem-solving don’t work. We can’t define the problem, evaluate possible solutions, pick the best one, hire the experts and implement. No matter how much we may want to follow a routine like that, it won’t succeed. Institutions may require it, habit may favor it, the boss may order it, but wicked problems don’t care.” (Source: ShortLink: https://wp.me/pO0No-1gp )

    And your comment: — “despite all these issues I am optimistic. I could write another long comment on why, but I have worked on issues with no chance of winning doing so” – immediately brought to mind the words of a highly respected British climate scientist, Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. In a November 2017 sparring discussion with a fellow scientist, Anderson, who was being pressed to say he was an optimist, replied:

    “I think there’s a 95% chance that we’ll go to hell in a handcart with about 4°C or something like that. But there’s a 5% chance we will succeed. And that 5% chance isn’t random. That 5% chance is a choice. So we can choose to fail, or we can choose to succeed. I work in this area because I think we can still choose to succeed. Of course the signs are not looking particularly good.” (Source: ShortLink: https://wp.me/pO0No-48X )

    I believe, with Anderson, that situations, and the level of our knowledge of them, determine our place along an optimistic — pessimistic continuum. Given my current level of understanding about the climate crisis situation, I’m definitely with Anderson — far along towards the pessimistic end of the spectrum – which, again like Anderson, motivates me to choose to succeed and do what little I can to move us in that direction, despite his odds of 95% failure, 5% success.

    Enough said by me on this interesting discussion. Always a pleasure.

  • fjwhite

    Kevin, Thanks for your thoughtful reply, including your outline of the 3 big crisis areas as you see them. But I want to respond to two other interesting comments you made.

    In response to your comment: “it is always darkest before the dawn and that out of crisis comes opportunity. We need to organize to be positioned to take advantage of opportunities.” The problem as I see it is that, in the context of the climate crisis, these dark times are without precedence. As Jay Rosen wrote in his 2012 essay titled “Wicked Problems”: “Probably the best example in our time [of a wicked problem] is climate change. … we would be better off if we knew when we were dealing with a wicked problem, as opposed to the regular kind. If we could designate some problems as wicked we might realize that “normal” approaches to problem-solving don’t work. We can’t define the problem, evaluate possible solutions, pick the best one, hire the experts and implement. No matter how much we may want to follow a routine like that, it won’t succeed. Institutions may require it, habit may favor it, the boss may order it, but wicked problems don’t care.” (Source: ShortLink: https://wp.me/pO0No-1gp )

    And your comment: — “despite all these issues I am optimistic. I could write another long comment on why, but I have worked on issues with no chance of winning doing so” – immediately brought to mind the words of a highly respected British climate scientist, Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. In a November 2017 sparring discussion with a fellow scientist, Anderson, who was being pressed to say he was an optimist, replied:

    “I think there’s a 95% chance that we’ll go to hell in a handcart with about 4°C or something like that. But there’s a 5% chance we will succeed. And that 5% chance isn’t random. That 5% chance is a choice. So we can choose to fail, or we can choose to succeed. I work in this area because I think we can still choose to succeed. Of course the signs are not looking particularly good.” (Source: ShortLink: https://wp.me/pO0No-48X )

    I believe, with Anderson, that situations, and the level of our knowledge of them, determine our place along an optimistic — pessimistic continuum. Given my current level of understanding about the climate crisis situation, I’m definitely with Anderson — far along towards the pessimistic end of the spectrum – which, again like Anderson, motivates me to choose to succeed and do what little I can to move us in that direction, despite the odds of 95% failure to 5% success.

    Enough said by me on this interesting discussion. Always a pleasure.