Rise of renewables may see off oil firms decades earlier than they think

Pace of progress raises hope that fossil fuel companies could lose their domination


The Green Rigg windfarm in Northumberland. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian

The world’s rising reliance on fossil fuels may come to an end decades earlier than the most polluting companies predict, offering early signs of hope in the global battle to tackle the climate crisis.

The climate green shoots have emerged amid a renewable energy revolution that promises an end to the rising demand for oil and coal in the 2020s, before the fossil fuels face a terminal decline.

The looming fossil fuel peak is expected to emerge decades ahead of forecasts from oil and mining companies, which are betting that demand for polluting energy will rise until the 2040s.

But energy experts are adjusting their forecasts as clean energy technologies, including wind and solar power, emerge faster than predicted and at costs that pose a direct threat to coal-fired electricity and combustion-engine vehicles.

In the UK, renewable energy projects generated more electricity over the last quarter than fossil fuels for the first time since the country’s first public power plant fired up in 1882. It is a marked change from only 10 years ago, when gas and coal generated more than 70% of the UK’s electricity.

The pace of progress has raised hope that the global groundswell of climate protest could spark fresh political will to accelerate the energy transition in time to keep global temperatures from rising to levels that could trigger a climate catastrophe.

The UK Labour party has promised a Green Industrial Revolution to create almost 70,000 new jobs while working to create a carbon-neutral economy by 2030. In the US, the Green New Deal, spearheaded by the congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, aims to virtually eliminate the US’s greenhouse gas emissions within the next decade.

Within the energy industry, experts believe the rapid rise of renewable energy in recent years may soon seem glacial compared with the changes to come.

Michael Liebreich, the founder of the research group Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), says the substitution of old technology with new is always “like waiting for a sneeze”.

“The first 1% takes forever, 1% to 5% is like waiting for a sneeze – you know it’s inevitable but it takes longer than you think – then 5% to 50% happens incredibly fast,” he says. MORE

 

 

Klein pushes for Green New Deal in the face of climate crisis

Darren Calabrese / The Canadian Press files</p><p>Naomi Klein (centre) launched the Leap Manifesto in Toronto in 2015.</p>
Naomi Klein (centre) launched the Leap Manifesto in Toronto in 2015. Darren Calabrese / The Canadian Press files

There are few global or international challenges that have brought our species together in solidarity. One can think to D-Day or the Apollo moon landing as examples of western countries using, in the former case, our collective capacity to push back totalitarian hate, and in the latter, defying what we knew was possible in terms of space exploration.

But there has never been a time in human history, which is not very long, where we have stared collectively into the mirror of our own existence.

For the past six decades, we have known that we have been causing catastrophic damage to our home. If you dispute the history of our destruction, Sept. 27 of this year marked the 57th anniversary of the release of Rachel Carson’s environmental science book, Silent Spring. (It should be mandatory reading for all educators.)

Sept. 27 of this year also marked the largest student demonstration in human history, with millions of youth leaving their classrooms to fight for their future and wake the rest of us up. It is this existential struggle that has compelled Naomi Klein, Canadian journalist, activist, and progressive, to release her latest book, On Fire: The Burning Case for a New Green Deal.

The author of No Logo and This Changes Everything, among others, was also a critical player in the development of the Leap Manifesto and the Green New Deal, supported by none other than U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and championed by U.S. congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

In On Fire, Klein is inspired by the new voice of moral courage on our planet, Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, and the millions of youth turned activists who should be enjoying this time of adolescence but, owing to our greed and neglect, are forced to fight for the very thing that sustains life: planet Earth.

According to Klein, “learning has become a radicalizing act,” whereby in spite of adults, our children are participating in civil disobedience because “they are the first for whom climate disruption on a planetary scale is not a future threat, but a live reality.” They no longer have the idle pleasure of succumbing to what Aristotle calls akrasia, the human tendency to act against our better judgment.

On Fire provides a series of Klein’s essays written over the past decade, which not only chronicle the monumental and catastrophic canaries in the coal mine (the 2010 BP explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, the rise of fracking, the burning of the boreal forest, etc.), but also make the case for the need of a new understanding of how we live together. Of how we treat and share resources. Of how we become stewards of the Earth so that everyone has the means for a decent life.

And much of this work began in 2015, as Klein and other leaders began to develop the Leap Manifesto. Only four years ago, Canadians and the world were presented with a plan towards sustainability, equity and stability that was scoffed at by the likes of Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau and even Thomas Mulcair. Fast forward to 2019, and we’re still debating who will champion which pipeline.

Justin Tang / The Canadian Press</p><p>People rally near Parliament Hill in Ottawa as part of a climate rally, one of many held worldwide on Friday, Sept. 27.</p>
People rally near Parliament Hill in Ottawa as part of a climate rally, one of many held worldwide on Friday, Sept. 27.   Justin Tang / The Canadian PressAnd we wonder why our children are frustrated and afraid. “They understand that they are fighting for the fundamental right to live full lives,” Klein writes — lives that have been stolen from them.

Following the Leap Manifesto, in 2019 the Green New Deal arrived on Capitol Hill and has provided the basis for a global conversation about a positive pathway forward. Inspired by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Klein helped develop a framework that checks unbridled capitalism, addresses social inequity and fully realizes the planetary emergency that stares us in the face.

The Green New Deal calls for a fundamental shift in how we operate. It calls for us, Klein argues, to “swerve off our perilous trajectory” through “sweeping industrial and infrastructure overhaul.”

It calls for us to stop denying the future of our kids and to become their allies as they lead the way to a positive, inclusive and thriving future.

Justin Tang / The Canadian Press files</p><p>The global climate strike, held in cities in dozens of countries on Sept. 27, saw millions of youth leave their classrooms in one of the largest worldwide demonstrations in history.</p>
The global climate strike, held in cities in dozens of countries on Sept. 27, saw millions of youth leave their classrooms in one of the largest worldwide demonstrations in history.   Justin Tang / The Canadian Press files 

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The Sanders Climate Plan Can Work. Warren’s Can’t.

Bill McKibben: To Confront the Climate Crisis, We Need Human Solidarity, Not Walls & Cages

Image result for bill mckibben amy goodman

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Bill McKibben, the longtime journalist and co-founder of 350.org, talks about climate migration, the 2020 Democratic candidates, the Green New Deal and more. McKibben’s latest piece for The New Yorker is titled “Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns,” and his cover piece for Time magazine is headlined “Hello from the Year 2050. We Avoided the Worst of Climate Change — But Everything Is Different.”

BILL McKIBBEN: It was so much fun to get to back up Fridays for the Future and all the youth organizers here who were doing this, just to be able to watch how good they are at doing this and to really try and build a multigenerational climate movement, which is precisely what we need.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we are here, yes, right after the Climate Action Summit, though there are protests around climate that are happening all over in the next weeks, but also in a presidential primary season. Some eyes might glaze over. How is it possible that for more than a year now we’re going to go through this primary season with these candidates? But others might say, and I think you’re among them, who say, “No, no, no. This is an incredible opportunity.” Candidates are often senators or governors, politicians who are very insulated, in fact, in between times when they have to run. And now there’s this window where they have to respond to the public. And you are certainly using this moment. So I’d like to ask you, of the, what, 20 presidential Democratic presidential candidates that are still out there, the kind of work you’re doing, pressing these candidates to formulate their positions on the climate crisis.

BILL McKIBBEN: Sure. So, 350 Action, which is the (c)(4) political part of our operation, has been doing its best to turn them all into climate candidates. We set up the kind of original climate scoreboard for the various presidential candidates. And there have been young people out bird-dogging every event, every rope line, or making sure that these guys understand what the bottom line for the climate movement is.

And the bottom line is not having someone say, “I care about climate change. It represents an existential risk.” The bottom line is: Are you signing on to something that looks like the Green New Deal? Are you signing on because it’s within your power as president to do it to announce that there will be no mining and drilling on public lands? And are you saying we’re going to stop fracking around the country?

It’s been incredibly impressive to watch how far this field has moved. Look, four years ago, Bernie broke down this door, you know? He started talking in really serious terms about climate change. You’ll recall in the 2016 debates, in the primaries, at one point they asked, “What’s the most important issue facing the planet?” And Bernie just looked up and said, “Well, I mean, that’s obvious. It’s climate change.” That was something that no American politician really had enunciated before in quite that way.

As with many things, it’s spread across the field now, and so we’re getting remarkable commitments from everyone, pretty much everyone, down the line. Elizabeth Warren, the week before last, said she would stop fracking across America. That’s big deal. It’s all big deal. And it’s all because people are out there making this demand.

We’re not — I mean, assuming that a Democrat wins this time, an assumption on which my future mental health is entirely predicated, because I cannot — I don’t know about the planet, but I can’t take another four years of Trump, OK? Assuming a Democrat wins, we’re not really going to have an open primary next time, you know. There will be an incumbent and whatever. This is our chance in the political system for the next eight years to get these guys fully on the line and as committed as it’s possible to be.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you said making sure they sign on to the Green New Deal. Explain what that is?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, it’s not at this point a solid, fully fleshed-out piece of legislation, but everybody knows what it means now. It means a commitment to systemic change in order to cut in half the emissions that we’re producing over the course of the next decade. That requires things like a federal jobs guarantee, to allow anybody who wants to be part of this transition to do it. You know, it requires real commitments to environmental justice and climate justice in the most hard-hit communities. It requires a hell of a lot of work.

And so, the people who are saying, “Yeah, we’ll do it,” are, I think, signing up for that. At least they’re saying it in public, so we can hold them responsible once they’re in office. It’s worth remembering that politics doesn’t end on Election Day. In fact, that’s just the beginning. After that, it’s the job of — and you’ll recall, I mean, I worked hard for Barack Obama to get elected, and then we organized the largest demonstrations outside the White House during the whole Obama administration in order to make him live up to his words around things like the Keystone pipeline. MORE

Naomi Klein: To fight eco-fascism, Canada needs Green New Deal champions

Naomi Klein. Image: Adolfo Lujan/Flickr
Image: Adolfo Lujan/Flickr

“This is all wrong.”

Climate activist Greta Thunberg’s speech at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City on Monday, in which she condemned world leaders for their “empty words” and “fairytales of eternal economic growth,” went viral immediately.

If the international political establishment’s failure to treat the climate crisis as an emergency that requires a total, radical transformation of our economies and societies is, as Thunberg put it, “all wrong,” then the global scale and grassroots ambition of the mass mobilization for climate justice is exactly right.

Just a couple days prior, four million people took to the streets in 185 countries around the world to demand serious climate action from world leaders. Climate actions will continue throughout this week, culminating in a massive climate strike on Friday, September 27 in Canada.

We spoke with Naomi Klein about her new book, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal; the Global Climate Strike; what’s at stake in the upcoming Canadian federal election; and how the movement for a Green New Deal can counter a rising tide of eco-fascism. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Sophia Reuss: On Friday last week, we saw millions of people around the world join the Global Climate Strike. This upcoming Friday, people in communities across Canada are planning to strike. In past interviews, you’ve said that Canada owes the world a climate debt. How did we accumulate that debt, and what will it take for Canada to repay it?

Naomi Klein: Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Climate Convention, which says that all countries have a common responsibility to act on climate change, but that that responsibility is differentiated. It’s known as the “common but differentiated responsibility” clause. This is something that successive Canadian governments have agreed to throughout the 30 years since governments have been meeting to talk about lowering emissions. So it isn’t news that Canada has a responsibility as a large historical emitter of greenhouse gases. This is true of all of the major industrialized economies that have been burning carbon on an industrial scale for a couple hundred years.

[Canada has] more responsibility than countries that have a very small carbon footprint or have only started emitting large amounts of carbon relatively recently. What that means is that we need to move faster to lower our emissions in line with what scientists are telling us. They’re telling us that we need to have [reduced] global emissions in the next 11 years, which the IPCC report from last year told us we needed to do if we want to keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius. That means that countries like Canada have to do it even faster to make atmospheric space for countries that have smaller carbon footprints.

But also, part of that differentiated responsibility is that we need to pay into the UN Climate Fund, which is a flawed financial mechanism, but it’s the only one we’ve got right now. We need to provide financing for poorer countries to deal with the impacts of climate change, and to leapfrog over fossil fuels and go straight to green [technology], and also to help communities keep their carbon-sequestering forests intact. We need forests to stay intact. It’s to the benefit of the whole planet, so it shouldn’t only be the responsibility of relatively poor countries to give up revenue that they could be getting if they felled those forests […] and if we don’t want them to do it, we need to help.

What are the components of a Canadian response?

I think there’s a few components to this. One is ambition. Meaning, if global emissions need to be cut in half in 11 years, Canada needs to do more. We need to cut faster. We also need to pay. We need to provide climate financing, and there are also responsibilities to provide asylum. I don’t think that we can talk about our climate responsibilities without talking about migrant rights, and really questioning the legitimacy of our borders at this stage in history where so many millions of people are being displaced and have a right to seek asylum.

There are many drivers of migration right now. Climate is one of them. Climate is also a contributor to conflict. It’s an accelerant to conflict. It’s really hard to pry it apart from any of the other drivers to migration. But we currently don’t even recognize climate refugees under international law, so we don’t have the mechanisms really to address this. It’s unfortunate that a lot of the ways in which we’re talking about a Green New Deal right now are not making the links with migration, and then not making the links enough with international financing either. MORE

Ecocide Should Be Recognized As a Crime Against Humanity, But We Can’t Wait for The Hague to Judge

Image result for Darren Woods climate villan
People gather and march during the Global Climate Strike march in Washington, DC on September 20, 2019. – Crowds of children skipped school to join a global strike against climate change

THE IMAGE OF Darren Woods, CEO of Exxon Mobil, loomed over the climate strike in New York last Friday afternoon. Rendered in cardboard, 15 feet tall and clutching a bag of fake, bloodied money, the puppet of Woods wore the label “Climate Villain.” It bobbed among the 250,000-strong crowd, joined by cutout versions of BP CEO Bob Dudley and Shell CEO Ben Van Beurden. By the time the puppets were set down in Battery Park, the terminus of the New York protest, the faces of the fossil fuel executives had been daubed with marker-pen devil horns.

As millions of workers and students filled city streets around the world last week, there was no shortage of bold and inventive protest signs. While many expressed broad concerns about the burning planet and an imperiled future, a number, like the CEO puppets, were unambiguous in their antagonism towards the fossil fuel industry and its political enablers. With the stakes of global heating intolerable, and the fanglessness of international climate agreements undeniable, it is little wonder that activists are calling for the major perpetrators of environmental decimation to be seen as guilty parties in mass atrocity, on a par with war crimes and genocide. The demand that ecocide — the decimation of ecosystems, humanity and non-human life — be prosecutable by The International Criminal Court has found renewed force in a climate movement increasingly unafraid to name its enemies.

The push to establish ecocide as an international crime aims to create criminal liability for chief executives and government ministers, while creating a legal duty of care for life on earth. Its strength, however, lies not in the practical or likely ability of The Hague — a profoundly flawed judicial body — to deliver climate justice. The demand that ecocide be recognized as a crime against humanity and non-human life is most powerful as a heuristic: a framework for insisting that environmental destruction has nameable guilty parties, perpetrators of mass atrocity, against whom climate struggle must be waged on numerous fronts.

“There are situations in which framing a specific enemy is not useful and obscures more than it reveals — for example, when the systematic violence of policing is blamed on ‘bad apple’ cops,” said political scientist Thea Riofrancos, co-author of the forthcoming book “A Planet to Win.” “Here, we seem to have the opposite. Fossil fuel companies have sown confusion, and we need clarity about who our opponents and our allies are.” While warning about the “judicialization of politics” potentially wasting activists and lawyers’ time and resources on legal proceedings, Riofrancos noted that she has observed powerful examples of communities deploying the language of legal rights as a tactic outside courtrooms and state houses.

“Fossil fuel companies have sown confusion, and we need clarity about who our opponents and our allies are.”

Image result for Thea RiofrancosIn another forthcoming book, Riofrancos explores the case of indigenous communities in Ecuador who have invoked legal rights established in the country’s progressive 2008 constitution as a tool and weapon to use in and out of court. These groups enacted legal norms in Ecuador through various creative, interpretative strategies, which “took place in a wide variety of venues, consisting not only, or even primarily, of courtrooms, but also of ministry offices in the capital and in the provinces, state and corporate information centers in affected communities, social movement organization headquarters, anti-mining and anti-oil demonstrations, popular assemblies in repurposed auditoriums and soccer fields, and texts of various genres.”

Other terrains of social justice struggle, such as #MeToo, have also shown the potential uses of criminal justice lexicon and narrative, necessarily deployed outside of a problematic criminal justice apparatus. Those of us who believe that no lasting justice can come from carceral solutions (given the inherent violence of that system) see the intolerable risks of relying on, or bolstering, criminal justice as a path to social justice. The strength of #MeToo revelations lay not in their ability to convince a judge, but to build consensus around the need to unseat powerful perpetrators of sexual violence.

Legal norms and rights can and do take on political life through direct action, community consultation and protest…. Collective action — like last week’s mass climate strike, like voting for leaders pushing a Green New Deal, like fighting for our lives against capitalism — must be pursued with vigor. This is how we take the fight against ecocide to its perpetrators. MORE

 

Why Detroit Could Be the Engine for the Green New Deal

The city exhibits all of the problems the framework is meant to heal.

frontline-detroit-rally-1.jpgThousands of people took to the streets of Detroit at the Frontline Detroit March and Rally on July 30, ahead of the Democratic presidential debate. Photo from The Aadizookaan

In Detroit, more than 8,000 residents live in what has been called one of the most polluted ZIP codes in the state. Located in the city’s southwest corner, 48217 is known for its persistently poor air quality, where hundreds suffer from asthma, cancer, and other related health issues. The surrounding area has 26 industrial sites whose greenhouse gas emissions are being monitored by Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. And one of the largest polluters, Marathon Petroleum Corporation, whose processing plant is headquartered in 48217, has received several violations from the state’s environmental regulatory agency over the years.

Just last week, two contract workers were hospitalized after an oil vapor leak at Marathon. The leak, which produced a pungent smell, residents said, led to temporary road closures. And during a congressional field hearing this week on air and water quality issues and their adverse effects on communities of color, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), who grew up in Southwest Detroit, rebuked Marathon for its polluting history.

Calling them “corporate polluters,” Tlaib said the big oil company is unlikely to face any meaningful consequences. “They’ve just written off these leaks as a cost of doing business,” she said, while residents are “still searching for answers. “What was released? Is it safe to breathe the air?”

Other nearby communities also continue to be harmed by air pollution. In the Delray neighborhood, the construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge will increase air and noise pollution, experts say. The city’s housing swap program has offered to relocate the residents because of the construction. Also, Fiat Chrysler’s assembly plant expansion on the east side of the city is raising alarms that it will exacerbate the current air pollution.

And still, throughout the city, thousands of residents continue to battle water shutoffs, an ongoing process that five years ago left about 50,000 residents without running water. And this past school year, some schools had to restrict water use because of lead. About 70 miles north, the city of Flint, with a similar demographic of Detroit, has made national headlines over the past several years for the water crisis created when the state switched its water source to the toxic Flint River.

So when it was announced that the second round of the 2020 presidential debates would be held in Detroit, residents from Indigenous, Black, and Brown communities, environmental activists, union workers and lawmakers across the state came together to form Frontline Detroit Coalition. Their goal is to bring radical transformation to how the city functions, pivoting from reliance on fossil fuels, creating jobs rooted in a green, sustainable economy, and advocating for an equitable distribution of resources so that all Detroiters may thrive. The coalition is led by dozens of organizations, including the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, the Sunrise Movement, Sierra Club, the Climate Justice Alliance, Soulardarity, We the People Michigan, and several others.

National media outlets covering the two-night event spotlighted one of the ground zeroes of the climate crisis in the United States, Detroit, whose urban infrastructure and economic development was based on auto-manufacturing and fossil fuel industry jobs. Thousands descended on downtown Detroit in July on the eve of both nights of the debates to bring attention to Detroit’s problems—environmental and otherwise. Frontline Detroit’s call was to Make Detroit the Engine of the Green New Deal, referencing the policy resolution introduced by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), which seeks to address climate change and economic inequality. MORE

 

 

Naomi Klein: The Green New Deal: A Fight for Our Lives

Sunrise Movement protesters inside the office of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Capitol, Washington, D.C., December 10, 2018.

One month before the young Sunrise Movement activists first occupied the office of then-soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in November 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report that had a greater impact than any publication in the thirty-one-year history of the organization. The report examined the implications of keeping the increase in planetary warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7°F). Given the worsening disasters we are already seeing with about 1°C of warming, it found that keeping temperatures below the 1.5°C threshold is humanity’s best chance of avoiding truly catastrophic unraveling.

Doing that would be extremely difficult. According to the UN World Meteorological Organization, we are on a path to warming the world by 3–5°C by the end of the century. To keep the warming below 1.5°C would require, the IPCC authors found, cutting global emissions approximately in half in a mere twelve years and getting to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Not just in one country but in every major economy. And because carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has already dramatically surpassed safe levels, it would also require drawing a great deal of that down, whether through unproven and expensive carbon-capture technologies or the old-fashioned ways: by planting billions of trees and other carbon-sequestering vegetation.

Pulling off this high-speed pollution phaseout, the report establishes, is not possible with singular technocratic approaches like carbon taxes, though those tools must play a part. Rather, it requires deliberately and immediately changing how our societies produce energy, how we grow our food, how we move around, and how our buildings are constructed. What is needed, the report’s summary states in its first sentence, is “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”

It was against this backdrop that 2019’s cascade of large and militant climate mobilizations unfolded. Again and again at the strikes and protests, we heard the words “We have only twelve years.” Thanks to the IPCC’s unequivocal clarity, as well as direct and repeated experience with unprecedented weather, our conceptualization of this crisis is shifting. Many more people are beginning to grasp that the fight is not for some abstraction called “the Earth.” We are fighting for our lives. And we don’t have twelve years anymore; now we have only eleven. Soon, it will be just ten.

As powerful a motivator as the IPCC report is, perhaps even more important are the calls from many different quarters in the United States and around the world for governments to respond to the climate crisis with a sweeping Green New Deal. The idea is a simple one: in the process of transforming the infrastructure of our societies at the speed and scale that scientists have called for, humanity has a once-in-a-century chance to fix an economic model that is failing the majority of people on multiple fronts. In tackling the climate crisis, we can create hundreds of millions of good jobs around the world, invest in the most systematically excluded communities and nations, guarantee health care and child care, and much more: a Green New Deal could instill a sense of collective, higher purpose—a set of concrete goals that we are all working toward together. MORE