Bill McKibben: The New Climate Math: The Numbers Keep Getting More Frightening

Scientists keep raising ever-louder alarms about the urgency of tackling climate change, but the world’s governments aren’t listening. Yet the latest numbers don’t lie: Nations now plan to keep producing more coal, oil, and gas than the planet can endure.


An oil field near McKittrick, California. DAVID MCNEW/GETTY IMAGES

limate change is many things — a moral issue, a question of intergenerational justice, an economic threat, and now a daily and terrifying reality.

But it’s also a math problem, a point I’ve been trying to make for awhile now. Let’s run some new numbers.

First: 11,000, as in the number of scientists who just signed a manifesto that declares the world’s people face “untold suffering due to the climate crisis” unless there are major transformations to global society. “We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” the manifesto, released earlier this month, states. “To secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live. [This] entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems.”

Is that straightforward enough?

These are not scientists warning about something that will happen — these are scientists rushing out of their labs in their white coats and waving their arms and trying to do what they can to bring us to our senses. “The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity.” Eleven thousand, by the way, is another way of saying essentially all scientists who study this field — the tiny cadre of deniers shrinks annually, and is not being replenished by young climatologists.

Sadly, governments have never made a serious attempt to restrict fossil fuel production – instead, they’ve offered endless subsidies.

Second number: 120 percent, as in the plans by the world’s governments to produce 120 percent more coal and gas and oil by 2030 than the planet can burn and have even half a hope of meeting the Paris climate targets. The new report, which emerged last week from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), is one of the most important pieces of research in years. What it means is, the world is producing endlessly more coal and oil and gas than safety allows.

Scientists have a fairly exact idea of how much carbon dioxide we can still emit and stay south of the red lines we’ve drawn (red lines, it should be pointed out, that we haven’t crossed yet even though we’ve already lost most of the sea ice in the Arctic, intensified the world’s patterns of drought and flood and fire, and turned the ocean 30 percent more acidic. We’re already in great trouble). That estimate of how much we can still sort of afford to burn represents our “carbon budget,” and it’s not very large (it’s not very large because when scientists issued their first dire warnings 30 years ago we paid no attention). Meeting that budget would require — well, it would require budgeting. That’s kind of what the world’s nations did in Paris, when they set out targets and made pledges. Sadly, the pledges didn’t meet the targets: no nation committed to cutting the use of fossil fuels fast enough to dramatically slow down the warming. If you want to use a dieting metaphor, we were unwilling to rein in our appetites in any significant way.

But of course there’s another way at this problem. Along with reducing demand, you could also work to reduce supply. If we didn’t have more coal and oil and gas than we could burn, we would, ipso facto, be more likely to stay on our diet. Sadly, the world’s governments have never made any serious attempt to restrict the production of coal and oil and gas — instead, they’ve offered endless subsidies to spur the endless overproduction of fossil fuels.

America has done this more effectively than anyone else — for the last few presidential administrations we’ve offered the industry pretty much carte blanche for drilling and fracking and mining. That’s why, during the Obama years, the United States surpassed Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s greatest supplier of hydrocarbons. And if you think Obama might be embarrassed about that, you’d be wrong. As the former president told a cheering Texas audience last year, “You wouldn’t always know it ,but it [oil and gas production] went up every year I was president,” he said. “That whole, ‘suddenly America’s like the biggest oil producer and the biggest gas,’ that was me, people.” Precisely the same scenario is playing out in the other big fossil fuel nations. In Australia last month, for instance, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that his government was planning to outlaw protests that seek to persuade banks to stop financing new coal mines. (He did this as one of the worst waves of bush fires in the nation’s history turned the Sydney skies gray — humans returning to the blackened forests reported being traumatized by the agonized howls of burned animals).

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explained the logic most succinctly a couple of years ago, speaking to another crowd in Texas. “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there,” he said, referring to the amount of recoverable crude in Alberta’s tar sands region. “The resource will be developed.” He’s been good to his word, literally using Canadian taxpayer money to buy a pipeline to increase the flow of oil. And his statement provides us a key piece of the math: If Canada pumps that 173 billion barrels of oil, it will use up nearly a third of the world’s remaining carbon budget. By itself. To benefit a country with one half of 1 percent of the planet’s population. That math … doesn’t work.

The SEI report is the most damning documentation of our plight yet, and it powerfully makes the case that we should be working at least as hard to cap supply as to depress demand. We have plenty of tools, from limiting subsidies to just outright banning new exploration and development. As Christiana Figueres, one of the heroes of the Paris climate talks, put it, “countries such as Costa Rica, Spain, and New Zealand are already showing the way forward, with policies to constrain exploration and extraction and ensure a just transition away from fossil fuels. Others must now follow their lead.” Which is true, but Costa Rica, Spain, and New Zealand are not exactly petrostates.

The numbers, and the attitudes of leaders like Trudeau and Trump, are a kind of cryptic suicide note for the planet.

The SEI report was, I think, grounds for real dismay, even despair: the numbers, and the attitudes of leaders like Trudeau, not to mention Trump, not to mention Putin, are a kind of cryptic suicide note for the planet, one written in numerals and not letters. They are an admission that we simply can’t rein ourselves in — an immoral refusal to heed physics and chemistry. They should shame us, and they should govern our activism in the years ahead: We’ve simply got to try and stop the pipelines and LNG ports and coal mines that make this auto-da-fé our default future.

Having slogged through this sad analysis, you deserve one other set of new numbers that offer at least a little light in the hot and smoky tunnel. Ed Mazria, another hero of the climate fight, has devoted himself and his group, Architecture 2030, to solving one of the thorniest problems of the global warming era: how to rein in the emissions from the buildings that house our lives and industries. It can seem a daunting problem, with buildings accounting for about 40 percent of all U.S. energy consumption: Viewed from above, it sometimes seems there are simply too many structures to even begin to deal with in the time we have. Fly into Chicago or LA and just stare down: Man, there are a lot of buildings.

An oil sands mine near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. MARK RALSTON/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

But that’s why the third number in this lesson — 2 percent — is so hopeful. It’s the percentage of big buildings in New York, the ones over 50,000 square feet in size. And they produce 45 percent of the city’s emissions from buildings. Which means a manageable number of structures — skyscrapers, convention centers, warehouses, huge apartments — produce roughly half the carbon. Which means, you could fix it: Indeed, New York City has embarked on a remarkable program of retrofits for its big buildings, ordering landlords to get to work. When Mazria’s crew looked at LA and Long Beach and Seattle and Minneapolis they found the same basic ratios held; this part of the problem seems more manageable than we’d thought. At least we could give it a good shot.

As for the other half of the emissions, the ones that come from millions of homes and small buildings, it’s obviously politically difficult to regulate them in the same way. But as Mazria points out, it makes sense to order their repair when they turn over: sell an apartment house and part of the deal must be that the new owner take on the task of reducing energy use (an energy- and hence money-saving job that can be rolled into the new mortgage).

We could do this same exercise around cars or factories or farms — a great many of the solutions are shelf-ready and cost-effective. But we won’t move quickly enough to use them if we’re surrounded by a sea of cheap oil. Those 11,000 scientists? They’re telling us we have to actually do the climate math. It’s not optional. SOURCE

Trudeau vs. Scheer: The Great Unpopularity Contest

Most voters like neither, many feel scorned. Ask Hillary Clinton how that went.

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Cartoon by Greg Perry.

Whatever Election 2019 turns into (my guess is mudwrestling), it will never be a beauty contest.

What else can the conclusion be when the leaders of both mainstream parties are so disliked?

Which means this election may boil down to which leading candidate most confirms voters’ worst impressions of him.

Last week Andrew Scheer did just that, handing Justin Trudeau a gift by summoning Stephen Harper’s endorsement in a political ad. More, in a bit, about why that was so monumentally dumb.

First, ponder a recent Angus Reid poll, reported in the Globe and Mail, that indicates Trudeau and Scheer should probably be considering a new line of work.

Fifty-two per cent of respondents don’t believe Andy is dandy. A whopping 63 per cent have an unfavourable impression of Justin the Sock D

The Angus Reid Institute recently put the same information in a different way. Only one out of three respondents think Scheer would be the best PM. That should have the Conservatives biting their fingernails.

But the Liberals have zero reason to be smug. Even fewer, one in four, thought that Trudeau would be the best PM. It wasn’t that long ago that Trudeau could walk on water, with an approval rating in June 2016 of 65 per cent. Now he’s stumbling on terra firma.

One reason the Grits are still in the game is because a lot of people think under Scheer’s smiling, dimpled mask is one Stephen J. Harper.

Right on cue, in one of the party’s new ads, the starring role was given to Harper, or some Harper-like embalmed version of the former PM.

There is Harper telling people to elect Scheer and save the country. There is Harper dunning the audience for money like a televangelist newly converted to the Republican Party. And oh yes, there in the stock footage accompanying Harper’s pitch is a guy named Andrew Scheer. Apparently, he can’t make his own case for replacing Trudeau.

This was a monumental faceplant, no matter what the backroom smarty pants of the Conservative party may think about galvanizing the base. What Scheer has done by agreeing to this ad is to confirm what a lot of people have suspected all along: he is not his own man, but a creature of Stephen Harper, a grinning puppet.

Anyone paying attention would have noticed two things by now about Scheer.

First, as leader he never disavowed the ruinous policies of his predecessor, never declared that the party was striking out in a new direction, and never came up with an idea that would have put a frown on Harper’s face.

Second, Scheer is not a leader guy, rather a follow-the-leader guy. From tax cuts to family values, from foreign policy to the environment, from corporate handouts to barely disguised homophobia, the Scheer agenda is the Harper agenda.

Trouble with that? MORE

Trudeau’s Dumb Expulsions and Strange Compulsions

JWR and Philpott are gone. So are any illusions about the PM’s allegiance to corporate masters.

Jody Wilson-RaybouldNone of this needed to happen. Jody Wilson-Raybould was kicked out of the Liberal Party of Canada caucus on April 2. Photo by Sean Kilpatrick, Canadian Press.

They got Jody Wilson-Raybould, and Jane Philpott too, but this is just the beginning.

You know you are in trouble in politics when your damage control is more damaging than what made it necessary.

…What should bother Canadians about the PM’s …stand on SNC-Lavalin is not just a one-off. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was the first federal leader to argue that Trudeau is not the champion of the middle class he claims to be, but rather a consistent corporate cheerleader. He talks the talk for the environment, Indigenous rights, and human rights; but for Big Business, he walks the walk.

Canadians saw Trudeau the corporate cheerleader in Houston, where he told a group of Texas oilmen that no country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave it there.

They saw the same thing when the PM dismissed the solid opposition of coastal British Columbians to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, and instead paid the Texas oil company $4.3 billion for this leaky relic and vowed to get the expansion to tidewater.

They saw it again on Canada’s East Coast, where Trudeau denied that Ottawa had environmental jurisdiction over a project that plans to dump toxic pollutants from a kraft pulp mill owned by Northern Pulp into prime fishing grounds in the Northumberland Strait.

And now, they see it once more with the PM and his minions interfering in an active criminal case involving SNC-Lavalin. That violates the heart of the judicial system: the complete independence of the prosecution service under the law.

If, as Singh has argued, the SNC-Lavalin scandal outs the prime minister as a corporate enabler, and not the champion of the middle class he claims to be, it has also sunk the Liberal caucus to a new low. MORE

RELATED:

No regrets in SNC-Lavalin affair, Wilson-Raybould and Philpott say

Trudeau apologizes after telling First Nations mercury poisoning protester, ‘Thank you for your donation’

https://globalnews.ca/video/embed/5106095/WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is apologizing after critics accused him of making a smug response to protesters at a Liberal fundraising event in Toronto Wednesday night

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is apologizing for what critics called his “smug” response to protesters who hoped to draw his attention to mercury contamination in the First Nation communities of Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong during a Liberal fundraiser in Toronto on Wednesday night.

According to a video posted to Twitter that showed Trudeau delivering a speech during the Laurier Club event at the luxury Omni King Edward Hotel, Trudeau responded to protesters by saying repeatedly, “Thank you for your donation.” MORE

 

Judy Wilson’s Message for Canadians: ‘The Land Defenders Are Doing This for Everybody’

RCMP raids in Wet’suwet’en territory can’t bring justice, reconciliation or a better future, Neskonlith chief says.

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Chief Judy Wilson: ‘We have to change to ensure that our young people have a future. That’s what the Indigenous land defenders are talking about when they say we need to protect the land and the water.’ Photo by Zoë Ducklow.

What are your thoughts on how governments are responding to the RCMP action in the Wet’suwet’en territory?

I was just reading Premier [John] Horgan’s response to the Unist’ot’en, and I think he was trying to stay on the middle ground. He mentioned the bands who signed these agreements [to allow the pipeline], but to me, the issue is clearly about the hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs. They are the proper titleholders to their unceded territory, and they already made a decision. They said no pipelines in their territory.

Glavin: Pipeline protests – how politicians got it all wrong


Alex Spence, centre, who is originally from Haida Gwaii, beats a drum and sings during a march in support of pipeline protesters in northwestern British Columbia, in Vancouver, on Tuesday. DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS

There may be no right way to do fossil-fuel megaprojects at all anymore if we’re going to have a hope in hell of meeting our 2015 Paris Climate Accord commitments, but as far as the massive LNG Canada Kitimat plant and pipeline project goes – with the showdown this week on a remote British Columbia backroad that immediately escalated into protests and marches and sit-ins across the country – the politics, promises and planning seem to have gotten just about everything wrong.

It’s the aboriginal rights and title of the Wet’suewet’en people that are at stake here, and that’s the subject that the federal Liberal government, and B.C.’s NDP government, are trying to avoid.

You could start with the way Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cheered LNG Canada’s announcement last October that the green light LNG got from B.C’s NDP government meant full steam ahead for its long-planned $40 billion project, which is to include a new pipeline from Dawson Creek in the Peace River country to a liquifaction plant and export facility at Kitimat on the B.C. coast. MORE