The New York Time had an article today titled, Most Americans Support Government Action on Climate Change, Poll Finds. A recent study conducted by both the New York Times and Stanford University shed light on the changing mindset of the American people and perhaps more importantly American Voters. The republican party is notorious for its position of climate change, in fact I wrote a blog post last semester on what the republican domination of the last election meant for government action on climate change… it was not optimistic. So this research came as a happy surprise. Its opening line states, that “An overwhelming majority of the American public, including nearly half of Republicans, support government action to curb global warming… [and] two-thirds of Americans say they are more likely to vote for political candidates who campaign on fighting climate change.” The study also found that the majority of people (and about half of republican voters) would be turned off by a candidate who questioned the science of climate change or called it a hoax.
However, this study begs the question, why are republicans candidates not in line with the views of their consituents? Clearly half of republicans in office do not think government should take action on climate change. Of the 2012 republican presidential candiateds only one publicly acknowledged the science of climate changed and believed it to be “real,” and thought it would be beneficially to have some government policy for emissions reductions. The chair of the senate’s Environmental Committee is a republican by the of James Inhofe that literally wrote of book on climate change denial. Furthermore, the senate approved the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline, pushed by republican leadership despite its dire climate consequences.
Perhaps the answer lies in campaign finance. It is no big secret that big oil companies contribute hefty amounts of campaign funds to politicians with some expectations on how their candidates handle climate change. The article states that, “advocacy groups funded by the billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch have vowed to ensure that Republican candidates who advocate for climate change action will lose in primary elections.” Perhaps the divide between republicans and democrats is not actually as large as we often perceive, maybe the problem lies in a much broader issue of how we allow large corporations to influence American politics.
“I attended a United Nations Conference on Climate Change.” I have said this sentence many times over the weeks following COP20 in Lima, to friends, family, and random aquaintences that asked why I spent the three weeks following thanksgiving in Peru. “Afterwards, we traveled both as a group and individually; so I got to go to the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and then Lake Titicaca and Arequipa.” My response when asked what I did with the rest of my time in South America. All-in-all not a very causal conversation, but one I am fortunate enough to get to have.
However, I learned to use only this exchange after several failed attempts to explain the trip. Upon returning home I was frankly shocked at just how few people I talked to that had never heard of the conference, let alone knew that it was an anual event happening then. Initially I responded to the inevitable, “So what did you do in Peru?” with, “I was at COP20 doing research with my school.” Confused faces egged me to elaborate, “You know the UNFCCC conference?” (always said as “UNF triple C” because as Neil taught us, only dweebs would say C three times). This never worked so I would continue with something like, “Remember the Copenhangen Conference a few years ago? Or maybe the Kyoto Protocol? It was like that but this year’s conference in Peru.” Sometimes this would work, however, I have a suspicion that many of them who just smiled and nodded with some vaguely affirmative phrase, did so not in understanding but as a means to change the course of conversation to a more familiar topic.
After a full semester of nothing but talk of the climate change and the UNFCCC, I had forgotten that just a few short months ago I too would have been equally unaware of what happened in Lima. Finally, my family confronted me saying I needed to find a way to explain what I did in a way that would allow people to understand.
However, I was talking to people who know at least the basics of what is happening with climate change, have maybe even read an Inconvenient Truth or the Omnivore’s Dilemma, fully believe the science, and furthermore, enjoy following world news and current events. They were aware of China- US deal to curb emissions and yet, only a few had even heard of the UNFCCC, or COP, and were able to converse about what happened in Peru. If even the people who are well educated, generally aware and genuinely care about climate change are not well informed of a hugely important and impactful process, how are world leaders supposed to feel a great pressure to make real progress? In not throughly and consistently covering what happened in Lima at the larger news outlets and mainstream media there is an immense disservice to both the public and the UNFCCC process. I noticed a lack of conversation about Lima even from the many environmental organizations I receive emails from. I usually have an inbox full of updates, petitions, and information about how to get involved in important environmental battles. Yet, nowhere did I see this type of awareness raising or request from their constituents to press for international cooperation and action to come out of COP20.
Obviously the uphill battle of climate change cannot be won if we focus exclusively on the UNFCCC or the outcomes of a COP. The issue is complex and requires action on individual, local and domestic levels as well. However, we need to fight on every front possible, especially the international level, to stand a chance. I believe that by essentially ignoring it, we are all but surrendering.
COP20 was a whirlwind of activities, events, demonstrations and contacts. From the onset I felt like it was a race to be able to do as much as possible in the shortest amount of time. We began each day emailing our contacts from the day before (if the WiFi permitted), following up with meeting times, thanking them for their time and information or persisting with the plea for an interview. Then, what I found to be the most challenging, was planning the day. The apps we downloaded onto our phones were largely inaccurate when it came to times and locations for side events and press meetings (they were often changed last minute). Neither did they seem to include the full range different things going on. However, there were moniters that helped with that. From there the day was ours to explore and learn.
Each day involved some combination of side events, the Climate Action Network’s updates, and interviews. I personally loved attending side events. My research topic is about how agriculture is being discussed in negotiations. I chose this area of study because of a personal passion for the agricultural and food system. So, I was fascinated with the panelists, and experts that shed light onto the issue. Attending the events also made it easy to find excellent people to interview.
The Climate Action Network (CAN) had wonderful updates on the conference that synthesised what was happening behind closed doors and what we, as participants, should watch out for. The image on the left was taken at one of these updates. The image on the right is of our interview with Jeff, asking about his experience in Lima.
I was a member of the second group (lead by the fearless Jeff Niemitz) that attended Voces por el clima the first week and the real-deal COP20 the second week. I like to think as Voces as an excellent learning experience, and a great trial run before we got to the UNFCCC conference. The event was almost entirely dedicated to teaching climate change, because we spent the entire semester learning about climate change, personally, the biggest learning aspect of Voces came from learning to approach people, and improving my Spanish ability. That being said, Voces was filled with knowledgeable people and amazing art expressing the issue of climate change from a personal, abstract and human perspective. There were excellent photographs capturing sea level rise across the globe (they seemed to me to parallel James Balog’s work with glaciers), sculptures made from recycled material, and art lining the road to the main area.
Liz Plascencia and I teamed up, at first going around to the different booths (skipping the shameless Coca-Cola booth dedicated to green-washing and advertising) interviewing people from organizations that were relevant to our topics. However, once that tactic was exhausted we had to figure out a new method to find people that would be relevant to interview out of a seemingly random crowd. In the end we developed a scorched earth like tactic at Voces, we honed in on anyone we thought was a delegate and asked for an interview. The key was in the badges they wore: if it was pink (signifying delegate) we attacked. Initially we attempted small talk, trying to figure out what they did and specialized in specifically, before we asked for an interview. This proved less effective than just going straight for the gold and we transitioned to a more direct approach. In the end this method acquired us some lucrative interviews, with minimal complete busts. When we eventually arrived at COP, I felt very confident and comfortable talking to delegates.
Voces was certainly an informational place to be… especially if you spoke Spanish. Due to the fact Voces was largely centered on what Peru, and other Latin American countries are doing to combat climate change the majority of people there were exclusively Spanish speakers. While I have taken Spanish for many years and am proficient in the language, it certainly helped to team up with Liz (a native Spanish speaker) for interviews. After Voces por el clima my Spanish has never been better.
“You don’t have to worry about global warming anymore, because the Senate sure won’t” – Stephen Colbert
Regardless of your personal views, and political officiation, the outcome of the recent republican domination of this election will undoubtably have an some meaningful consequences on the America’s action on climate change. Especially considering that a man who wrote a book entitled “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future,”James Inhofeis about to replace Barbara Boxer as the chair of the senate’s Environmental Committee. The absurdity of this is downright comical.. and also terrifying.
Stephen Colbert, a master of political humor and sarcasm, had a clip in response to this entitled “The Repulicans’ Inspiring Message on Climate Change” that called out and summed up the ridiculousness of this as well as other climate change deniers; otherwise known as “not knowledge” by “not scientists.” In talking about Inhofe’s book he said, “its like harry potter for people who thought harry potter as too much science in it.”
In one of the most accurate and amusing metaphors on the way many in the republican party view climate change, Colbert pours water into a container with a topographic model of the United States. As he is pouring in the water he says,”now what apears to be happening is that the water is rising. Why? One theory is: I don’t know I’m not a scientist…Oh look there goes florida! And there’s no way of knowing why.”
As a kid I had many teddy bears, stuffed animals, and beanie babies; they were the objects of affection and play for myself and friends. Looking back I think fondly of the days drenched in imagination and games my sister, “Lamby” (my stuffed lamb, naturally), Arden (my sister’s stuffed kola bear), and I spent together. Yet, prior to watching Jon Mooallem’s TED talk, “How the teddy bear taught us compassion,” I was unaware of the origins of our favorite toys.
In his brief but touching talk he reveled the little known history of how the iconic ‘Teddy Bear’ came to be: an act of mercy on a helpless black bear by President Theodor Roosevelt. This image was transformed by the toy industry into the snuggly bear we all know and love today. Yet, not long before this moment in history bears were seen as dangerous, mysterious creatures “parallel” to human existence… not exactly the image you want to tuck in to bed with your child at night. This change in consciousness came from the human ability to control the lives of these bears. Wild animals and the natural environment were no longer major threats to humanity, the situation reversed, and instead they were vulnerable to humanity. This story of vulnerability created compassion and romanticism in society’s collective consciousness, one of the reasons behind an emergence of environmentalism and the environmental protection movement.
The use of animals as allegories for acts of human compassion, as well as domination, Mooallem argues, has been seen time and again since the “Teddy Bear.” Society’s infatuation with the image of a helpless polar bear in the face of the consequences of anthropogenic climate change is just one example. Mooallem’s argues that nature can either be saved or destroyed based on the, “compassion or indifference of humans.” This compassion is based on the stories that elicit emotion and suddenly “imagination has become an ecological force.”
In thinking about climate this idea has been revolutionary. The image of a stranded polar bear, put there because of human actions, has elicited this compassion in society’s collective consciousness. For many, emotion and compassion drives their actions. We need collective action and a collective consciousness to effectively mitigate climate change.
Climate change is the largest challenge humanity has ever faced. The problem and solution in its essence are simple: humans are emitting too greenhouse gasses and need to stop these emissions. However, in reality it is exponentially more complicated. The ability to emit greenhouse gasses in unlimited qualities has been built into the fabric of modern society and the global economy, yet, these emissions also threaten to destroy both. The notion of ‘dangerous’ climate change can mean something completely different for each person trying to quantify it; it changes based on region, capacity to adapt, perceptions on the science and so on. For the purposes of this essay dangerous climate change is already happening, at a one-degree increase in global temperatures, and unacceptably dangerous climate change is anything beyond this. Incremental changes in policy and reforms are inherently unable to avoid dangerous circumstances because it is already happening; there is no time to wait for gradual shifts and transitions to a clean energy economy and society. Transformative and radical changes in the way and how much humans consume energy are necessary just to avoid even more dangerousclimate change.
Currently there has already been an observed increase of almost one degree in world temperatures, with roughly 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There has been relative international consensus, with an agreement to review decision later, that a temperature increase of two degrees Celsius is an acceptable amount of climate change to avoid “dangerous” effects. Thomas Lovejoy, a highly respected biologist, has said that based on what he has observed already in terms of ocean acidification, changes in annual cycles, temperature, precipitation and these effects of biology and biological diversity, the idea of two degrees is to much. He noted that anywhere one looks, “the finger prints of climate change” is visible. Just looking at the Burning Embers Graph, created by the IPCC, risk is created with any amount of temperature change. However, if we quantify dangerous change as beginning with the “high risk” category, that begins after one degree and the “very high” category begins right after two degrees. Climate change has already had measurable consequences such water availability, extreme weather events (such as hurricanes and typhoons) that have impacted human health and safety, and an increase in severity and number of wildfires as well as heat waves.[i] While these impacts have not affected each region and every community equally, clearly the world is already at a stage of dangerous climate change for many.
With the realization that the world is already experiencing ‘dangerous’ climate change, the most aggressively climate-resilient pathway must be chosen. A report by the Worldwatch Institute noted that a transformational, “transition is essential if we are to achieve emissions reductions on the scale that the IPCC says is required by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 2-degrees Celsius.”[ii] The report later specifies that a least eighty-percent below 2000 levels, is required. This signifies a truly revolutionary change in energy consumption for such a short time scale, particularly considering this is based off a goal of two degrees, not just one.
Yet, that does not mean it is not possible. According to the same report by the Worldwatch Institute necessary transformational change is viable in the coming two decades (to achieve the 2050 goal) if a combination of energy efficiency and renewable energy is used. In the “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability: Summary for Policymakers” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said with high confidence that, “Transformations in economic, social, technological, and political decisions and actions can enable climate-resilient pathways.”[iii] Transformational changes require mitigation actions on these four levels immediately, through a rapid growth in clean energy implementation and use, a drastically more energy efficient society and economy and the strong political force to promote and implement these changes.
An effective strategy of mitigation a few decades ago, before climate change was acutely visible, would have involved incremental changes and gradual policy reform to slowly create a low-carbon economy. However, humanity is no longer in this position. The future security of the world depends on avoiding any and all amounts of dangerous climate change. The ability to do this will directly rely on the collective ability to create rapid transformative change that drastically reduces current greenhouse gas emissions.
Sawin, Janet, and William Moomaw. “Renewable Revolution: Low-Carbon Energy by 2030.” Worldwatch Report (2009): 5-39. Print.
“Summary for Policymakers.” Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (2014): 3-30. Print.
[i] “Summary for Policymakers.” Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (2014): 3-30. Print.
Anyone who has interacted with me enough to discover where I am from, knows I am proud to be from the Golden State. I love the landscapes, the access to the outdoors, the food, the people.. in short I love my state. Part of this love comes from the role California has as a leader of environmental sustainability. It is currently the nations top producer of solar energy (in 2013, 18% of our power came from solar), and is rated number one in clean technology (Bennett). None of this is to say that don’t have annoyance and anger towards the egregious environmental short comings of my state (don’t get me started on fracking, or almond production) but AB 32 reminds me of the environmental promise in California.
The the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) is one of the most comprehensive actions to mitigate climate change while living up to its promises of co-benefits. It takes a multitrack approach with, “Reductions in GHG emissions [that] will come from virtually all sectors of the economy and will be accomplished from a combination of policies, planning, direct regulations, market approaches, incentives and voluntary efforts” (“Assembly Bill 32 Overview.”). It will improve energy efficiency, expand renewable energy, improve public transportation, reduce emissions, waste and increase technology all while saving consumers money, and improving community health (“Assembly Bill 32 Overview.” and Alvord). According to the Union of Conserned Scientists, “A recent study found that California’s low carbon fuel standard and cap-and-trade programs will save $8.3 billion in health costs between now and 2025 by reducing asthma attacks, hospitalizations, and other health impacts associated with poor air quality” (Alvord). AB 32’s ultimate aim is to return California’s net emissions by to 1990 levels by 2020 and the more ambitious aim of reducing emission 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 (“Assembly Bill 32 Overview.”).
Three cheers for my home state!
Alvord, Adrienne. “Big Oil, Climate Change, and California’s AB32.” The Equation: Union of Concerned Scientists . N.p., 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 16 Oct. 2014. <http://blog.ucsusa.org/big-oil-climate-change-and-californias-ab32-669>.
“Assembly Bill 32 Overview.” California Environmental Protection Agency. Ca.gov, n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2014. <http://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/ab32/ab32.htm
Bennett, Lisa. “Rays of Hope in California.”The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 2 Oct. 2014. Web. 16 Oct. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-bennett/rays-of-hope-in-californi_b_5916096.html>.
According to the Guardian’s article, “World’s to PR companies rule out working with climate deniers,” there has been a recent shift in the role PR companies have in creating climate change doubt. After reading Merchants of Doubt we all know the importance PR companies, along with several other actors, have had in making action on climate change difficult. The level of certainty within the scientific community has been high enough, in my opinion, to warrant wide-scale public fear and pressure to demand immediate and strong action to mitigate climate change for decades now. However, this level of certainty is still not reflected in the mainstream media or consciousness. This is in large part because of misinformation campaigns, driven by savvy PR firms, that slam real facts, and misinterpret reasonable amounts of uncertainty about the various aspects of climate change from the science to the economics of it.
Yet, we are perhaps witnessing a change in the willingness of these companies to partake in merchandizing doubt, even if marginal. The Guardian and the Climate Investigations Center (an organization that monitors and researches misinformation campaigns surrounding climate change) acquired data through surveys sent to these companies. According to the authors of the article, Suzanne Goldenberg and Nishad Karim, “Now a number of the top 25 global PR firms have told the Guardian they will not represent clients who deny man-made climate change, or take campaigns seeking to block regulations limiting carbon pollution. Companies include WPP, Waggener Edstrom (WE) Worldwide, Weber Shandwick, Text100, and Finn Partners” (Goldenberg). This moral and political switch is very exciting and hopeful to a certain extent.
However, the research collected should be taken with a fair amount of skepticism and a watchful eye of potential green washing by these companies. To begin the Guardian and Climate Investigations Center (CIC) did not appear to get the full picture of the “top PR Companies” as the title suggests; less than half responded to them including companies with a history of both environmental and climate change disinformation campaigns. Furthermore, it was a survey, not necessarily research into each individual firm’s internal policies, client list and current and past campaigns. This means the firms only offered what information they want the media and watchdogs to know. These are PR firms, they are experts in creating the appearance they want, while masking what they don’t want known or focused on. Kert Davies, the founder of CIC acknowledges this saying, “They pretend they are above the fray and they are not involved, and yet they are the ones designing ad campaigns, designing lobbying campaigns, and designing the messages their clients want to convey around climate change ” (Goldenberg).
So while this article can, and perhaps should, be taken with a healthy dose of cynicism it got me thinking about some hopeful outcomes. As we have learned in class one of the key roles of transnational networks is regulation. This is often taken in the form of an organization or network creating a certifiable standards, benchmarks or rules that encourage voluntary participation of companies. These certifications can be highly credible and a good way to motivate companies to take action and become accountable for their current actions. I think that if a transnational network of PR firms set a standard that committed them to only represent climate positive companies it has the potential to increase the momentum founding this article. While the CIC is a good start, from what I can tell, a more legitimate actor with similar goals, would be necessary for this type of regulation to succeed.
Goldenberg, Suzanne , and Nishad Karim. “Environment Climate change World’s top PR companies rule out working with climate deniers.” The Guardian. N.p., 4 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/aug/04/worlds-top-pr-companies-rule-out-working-with-climate-deniers>.
Time is running out to create meaningful international climate change action. The parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere is still on a steady increase, it is well past the internationally agreed upon safe limit, 350ppm. The agreement created by the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) might be the last chance for a meaningful agreement that would prevent catastrophic increase in global temperatures, over two degrees. In the past twenty years of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) the negotiations have been largely ineffective in succeeding in their goals to plateau or decrease global emissions despite a range of tactics. They have tried a “top-down” approach through the Kyoto Protocol that had “contractual” emissions reductions, a “bottom-up” approach that “facilitated” voluntary emissions reductions (Bodansky). Both approaches have had positive and negative results, some of which are still unknown in the grand scheme of events, however, both have on the whole failed to produce the level and breadth of cooperation and action necessary to realistically mitigate climate change. Going forward a new approach is required that builds of the previous structures of negotiations to create the best agreement possible. If done correctly, a multi-track approach would combine the reciprocity and flexibility needed to get a high level of participation while producing the most comprehensive, ambitious and feasible climate agreement possible.
Due to the fact that essentially all aspects of society and economy perpetuate climate change, and that each nation has unique societal, economic and political backgrounds, an equally dynamic approach is required to successfully tackle mitigation. This means creating an international agreement that has the capacity to be successfully encourage and enforce nations to collectively and individually attack the issue by any and all means necessary. In discussing the failures of COP19 Joseph Zammit-Lucia noted that, “It’s not a lack of will that is the problem; it’s a lack of politically and practically achievable ways to achieve these results” (Zammit-Lucia). If each country gets to choose the manner with which they will reduce emissions, so long as “The different tracks [are] tied together by a core agreement addressing matters such as institutional arrangements, metrics and methodologies for comparing commitments under different tracks, reporting, and compliance,” then the possibility of follow through is much higher (Bodansky 10). Some form of legal requirements are needed for each nation to trust that their actions are reciprocated and to avoid a problem of potential free-riding, however, this could potentially also take the form of legislation at a nation level in addition to legal commitments at an international level (Bernauer).
In describing the form that a multi-track agreement would take Daniel Bodansky discussed including obligations for countries based specific parameters, “for example, countries with per capita GDPs above an agreed threshold might be expected to assume economy-wide emission targets” (Bodansky 10). However, other nations might be legally obligated to mitigation action through sectoral agreements or national policy making, based on the capacity of the nation. This type of system would create dynamic, “configurations of countries,” involving multiple, layering commitments based on the most effective strategy (Bodansky 9). However, because the negotiations would be based on reciprocity the potential for ambition is much higher.
For the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action to be successful it must consider using the multi-tack approach in order to accomplish the post 2020 goals of less than or equal to two degree global temperature increase. Due to the various circumstances within each nation there is no single answer for reducing emissions across the board, and this agreement should reflect that. The ADP has the potential to ensure the flexibility necessary for each nation to achieve the highest level of emissions reduction, attract a broad participation due to this flexibility, while also promoting the most aggressive reductions through the dynamic system of reciprocity.
Bernauer, Thomas , Robert Gampfer, and Florian Landis . “Burden Sharing in Global Climate Governance.” Centre for European Economic ResearchCentre for European EconomicResearch Unknown (2014): 1-9. Print.
Bodansky, Daniel. “The Durban Platform: Issues and Options for a 2015 Agreement.” Center for Climate and Energy solutions Unknown (2012): 1-10. Print.