Carbon Levels Could Hit Pre-Human, ‘Palms in the Arctic’ State by Mid-Century

Published on Tuesday, April 04, 2017 by Common Dreams

Current carbon dioxide levels are unprecedented in human history and could reach a level unseen in millennia if their rates continue at this pace, a new report out Tuesday warns.

Research published in Nature Communications finds that if fossil fuel use continues unabated, the atmosphere could revert “to values of CO2 not seen since the early Eocene (50 million years ago),” a time when humans did not exist, by the middle of the 21st century.

Dana L. Royer, a paleoclimate researcher at Wesleyan University and co-author of the study, told Climate Central, “The early Eocene was much warmer than today: global mean surface temperature was at least 10°C (18°F) warmer than today. There was little-to-no permanent ice. Palms and crocodiles inhabited the Canadian Arctic.”

Because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for centuries, climate change would continue to impact the planet even if humans miraculously dropped emissions to zero after hitting that mid-century peak, Royer said.

Indeed, global warming may have already locked in the Antarctic ice sheet for unstoppable melting—driving sea level rise and threatening coastal communities worldwide.

The authors continue, “If CO2 continues to rise further into the twenty-third century, then the associated large increase in radiative forcing, and how the Earth system would respond, would likely be without geological precedent in the last half a billion years.”

The report comes as the Trump administration turns its back on climate regulations, issuing an executive order last week that aims to undo Obama-era policies keeping a lid on greenhouse gas emissions.

“Aside from provoking a large-scale nuclear war, it is hard to imagine an American president taking an action more harmful to the U.S. than [President Donald] Trump’s effort to accelerate greenhouse gas emissions,” David J. Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen’s Climate Program, said at the time.

“This day may be remembered as a low point in human history—a time when the world’s preeminent power could have led the world to a better future but instead moved decisively toward catastrophe,” Arkush added.




In This Passionate Anti-Fracking Town, Civil Disobedience Just Became Protected Civic Duty

Published on Wednesday, May 04, 2016 by Common Dreams

For one community attempting to stop fracking wastewater injection wells, civil disobedience just became a sanctioned civic right.

The community is Grant Township, Pa., which, in November 2015, had fought off the Pennsylvania General Energy Company (PGE) and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA), assertion that fossil fuel companies had a ‘right’ to inject wastewater by adopting the country’s first municipal charter establishing a local bill of rights codifying environmental and democratic rights.

“I will do whatever it takes to provide our residents with the tools and protections they need to nonviolently resist aggressions like those being proposed by PGE.” —Stacy Long, Grant Township Supervisor 

But facing ongoing litigation with PGE, the township has taken another creative approach to protect itself by passing a new ordinance on Tuesday that protects those taking direct action to uphold the charter from arrest. According to a press release from Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which has helped the township craft its charter and wage its legal battle:

If a court does not uphold the people’s right to stop corporate activities threatening the well-being of the community, the ordinance codifies that, “any natural person may then enforce the rights and prohibitions of the charter through direct action.” Further, the ordinance states that any nonviolent direct action to enforce their Charter is protected, “prohibit[ing] any private or public actor from bringing criminal charges or filing any civil or other criminal action against those participating in nonviolent direct action.”

“We’re tired of being told by corporations and our so-called environmental regulatory agencies that we can’t stop this injection well!” stated Grant Township Supervisor Stacy Long. “We’re being threatened by a corporation with a history of permit violations, and that corporation wants to dump toxic frack wastewater into our Township.”

Long continued, “I live here, and I was also elected to protect the health and safety of this Township. I will do whatever it takes to provide our residents with the tools and protections they need to nonviolently resist aggressions like those being proposed by PGE.”

Among those expressing support for the ordinance is noted climate activist Tim DeChristopher, who said, “I’m encouraged to see an entire community and its elected officials asserting their rights to defend their community from the assaults of the fossil fuel industry.”

He took to Twitter to praise the move as well, calling it “one of the boldest moves to stop the natural gas industry’s attacks on our communities, climate and democracy.”




Turning Point in Climate Fight as AGs Unite to Target Exxon Crimes

Published on Tuesday, March 29, 2016 by Common Dreams

n a move many are hailing as a “turning point” in the climate fight, 20 state Attorneys General on Tuesday launched an unprecedented, multi-state effort to investigate and prosecute the “high-funded and morally vacant forces” that have stymied attempts to combat global warming—starting with holding ExxonMobil and other industry giants accountable for fraud and suppression of key climate science.

“This is about facts, and science, and transparency,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who spoke at a press conference alongside New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, former Vice President Al Gore and seven other Attorneys General.

“Fossil fuel companies that deceived investors and consumers about the dangers of climate change should be, must be held accountable,” Healey continued, saying there is a “troubling disconnect between what Exxon knew, what industry folks knew, and the company and industry chose to share with investors and the American public.”

The coalition of Attorneys General from 16 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands was convened by Schneiderman, who in November announced a state investigation into Exxon after reporting revealed that the oil giant had for decades known and suppressed evidence about the dangers that fossil fuels posed to the environment, and then purposely disseminated false information in order to boost its profits.

“It is troubling that, as the polar caps melt, there are companies that are looking at that as an opportunity to go and drill, to go and get more oil. How selfish can you be?”
—U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Earl Walker

California has also launched an investigation and on Tuesday Healey and U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Earl Walker confirmed their states have as well. Schneiderman said that additional states were pursuing similar action and that the purpose of the coalition is to work together in this “common interest.”

“The scope of the problem we are facing, the size of the corporate entities and alliances and trade associations [working against science and public interest] is massive and it requires a multi-state effort,” Schneiderman said.

AG Walker said that Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are already “experiencing the effects of global warming,” from coral bleaching and the proliferation of seaweed, to ever-more powerful hurricanes.

“It is troubling that, as the polar caps melt, there are companies that are looking at that as an opportunity to go and drill, to go and get more oil. How selfish can you be?” Walker asked. “Your product is destroying this Earth, and you want to do what? Destroy the planet further,” he added, saying they have “documents” showing just that.

“We will not stop until we get to bottom of this and make it clear we have to do something transformational,” he added. “We cannot continue to rely on fossil fuels.”

Environmental groups that have spearheaded the call for accountability and investigations into what Exxon knew heralded the announcements and the new AG climate coalition.

“This creates a huge sense of momentum. Exxon may have been able to brush aside a few isolated inquiries, but with more states jumping on board, these investigations are sure to generate some serious waves,” said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, which on Tuesday launched the website ExxonKnew.org to share information about the investigations and petition the U.S. Department of Justice and state Attorneys General to “hold Exxon accountable.”

“The Exxon revelations may turn out to be the largest corporate scandal in history,” Boeve continued. “Everyone is impacted by climate change, which means everyone has a stake in these investigations. A trial of ExxonMobil and the fossil fuel industry would be even bigger than the cases against Big Tobacco.”

As Katherine Sawyer, senior international organizer for watchdog group Corporate Accountability International, explained in an emailed statement following the press conference:

In the ’90s, investigations by attorneys general were the beginning of the end for Big Tobacco as we knew it and ushered in a series of lawsuits that shuttered its front groups, forced the release of internal documents, and held it liable to pay the high cost of its impacts on society. Just as a similar coalition did with Big Tobacco, this powerful coalition of state Attorneys General are leading the way in holding Exxon and the rest of the fossil fuel industry accountable for their decades of deception and protecting climate policy from their profit-driven interference.

“Big Polluters have done everything in their power to deny climate change, it is time for our justice system to take back the climate debate,” declared Annie Leonard, Greenpeace USA executive director, who said the AGs’ announcement was “a clear demonstration of climate leadership.”

The coalition includes Attorneys General from California, Connecticut, District Of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington state, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Appearing alongside members of that group, former Vice President Al Gore, whose 2006 documentary film An Inconvenient Truth is credited with spurring public debate about climate change, said, “I really believe that years from now this convening …may well be looked back upon as a major turning point in the effort to hold to account those commercial interests…who have been deceiving the American people about the dangers of climate change.”




Report Warns that Plastics Will Soon Outweigh Fish in World’s Oceans

Published on Tuesday, January 19, 2016 by Common Dreams

The weight of plastic waste clogging the world’s oceans threatens to exceed all fish by 2050 if the world’s seemingly insatiable appetite for the material continues at the current explosive rate, warned a new report presented on Tuesday.

In fact, according to the study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation along with the World Economic Forum, “plastics production has surged over the past 50 years, from 15 million tonnes in 1964 to 311 million tonnes in 2014, and is expected to double again over the next 20 years.”

The study—The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics (pdf)—introduced at the opening day of the WEF’s annual summit in Davos, Switzerland is the first of its kind to comprehensively assess global plastic packaging flows. The report makes an economic case for what it calls the “New Plastics Economy,” described as “a new approach based on creating effective after-use pathways for plastics; drastically reducing leakage of plastics into natural systems, in particular oceans; and decoupling plastics from fossil feedstocks.”

Among the findings, which are based on interviews with over 180 experts and on analysis of over 200 reports, the study estimates that roughly 8 million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean each year—”which is equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute.” This amount is expected to double by 2030.

“In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight),” the report continues.

What’s more, the report estimates that only 14 percent of plastic packaging is collected for recycling and even less for plastics in general. After sorting, only 5 percent is ultimately retained for subsequent use, which is far below global recycling rates for paper (58 percent) and iron and steel (70–90 percent).

Further, the report examines the carbon impact of plastics production, given that over 90 percent are derived from “virgin fossil feedstocks.” Plastics production represents roughly 6 percent of global oil consumption and “If the current strong growth of plastics usage continues as expected, the plastics sector will account for 20% of total oil consumption and 15% of the global annual carbon budget by 2050.”

The report argues that single-use plastics, and plastic packaging specifically, represents a net loss for the economy, as its limited value is outweighed by these negative impacts. It states:

After a short first-use cycle, 95% of plastic packaging material value, or USD 80–120 billion annually, is lost to the economy. A staggering 32% of plastic packaging escapes collection systems, generating significant economic costs by reducing the productivity of vital natural systems such as the ocean and clogging urban infrastructure. The cost of such after-use externalities for plastic packaging, plus the cost associated with greenhouse gas emissions from its production, is conservatively estimated at USD 40 billion annually – exceeding the plastic packaging industry’s profit pool.

“Linear models of production and consumption are increasingly challenged by the context within which they operate, and this is particularly true for high-volume, low-value materials such as plastic packaging,” said Ellen MacArthur, an accomplished British yachtswoman turned foundation chair.

The researchers conclude that in order to get closer to the goal of a “circular economy”—where “consumption happens only in effective bio-cycles; elsewhere use replaces consumption”—both the public and private sector must work towards the goal of creating plastics that can be both recycled and composted.




‘Unlawful Pollution’: Volkswagen Charged With Crimes Against Climate

Published on Monday, January 04, 2016 by Common Dreams

The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday filed suit against Volkswagen, charging that the German auto-maker deliberately rigged cars to cheat emissions tests resulting in potentially millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions and untold damage to the atmosphere.

The civil suit, filed on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, alleges that nearly 600,000 diesel engine vehicles had illegal defeat devices installed that impair their emission control systems and cause emissions to exceed EPA’s standards. Further, the complaint states that Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act by bringing to U.S. market vehicles that were designed differently than the company had stated in applications for certification to EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

“With today’s filing, we take an important step to protect public health by seeking to hold Volkswagen accountable for any unlawful air pollution, setting us on a path to resolution,”said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance at EPA.

Environmental groups have estimated that the cheating scandal caused at least 32.2 million tons of extra carbon pollution into the atmosphere, equal to roughly 6.8 million cars.

“What Volkswagen did wasn’t just consumer fraud, it was a crime against our climate and against future generations relying on us for a livable planet,” Peter Galvin, director of programs at the Center of Biological Diversity, said after the scandal first erupted in September when the EPA sent a Notice of Violation of the Clean Air Act to the manufacturer and its subsidiaries.

CBD had previously calculated that Volkswagen should owe as much as $25 billion in fines for damages to climate and air quality. In a statement on Monday, Galvin said he was “heartened” by the development and urged the DOJ to pursue the full estimated compensation for the emissions cheating.

In addition to its environmental impact, pollution by nitrogen oxides (or NOx) has been linked to grave health problems, namely asthma and other serious respiratory illnesses—with children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing respiratory disease particularly at risk. What’s more, recent studies have shown that the direct health effects of NOx are worse than previously understood, and may also include damage to lung tissue and premature death.

Monday’s suit seeks injunctive relief and the assessment of civil penalties. According to the EPA, it does not preclude the government from seeking other “legal remedies.” Though Giles noted that “recall discussions with the company have not produced an acceptable way forward.”

“Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors,” said assistant attorney general John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violations of our nation’s clean air laws alleged in the complaint.”




Climate Change Driving ‘Profound’ Shift in Arctic Ecosystem

Published on Tuesday, December 15, 2015 by Common Dreams

The 2015 report card compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and released Tuesday comes to a disturbing conclusion: record highs in air temperatures, and lows in peak ice, reveal that—for the marine ecosystem—climate change is already “profound.”

“Changes in sea ice alone are having profound effects on the marine ecosystem (fishes, walruses, primary production) and sea surface temperatures,” reads a statement from the federal agency, whose findings were produced by 72 scientists from 11 countries.

The findings were grim. Measurements of sea ice—and the end and beginning of the winter period—found a shorter window of freezing, and a dramatic shift in the ecosystem overall.

Maximum sea ice extent in February was “15 days earlier than average and the lowest value on record” since 1979, NOAA warns. “Minimum ice extent in September was the 4th lowest on record. Sea ice continues to be younger and thinner: in February and March 2015 there was twice as much first-year ice as there was 30 years ago.”

Loss of sea ice, and climbing temperatures in the Barents Sea, off the coast of Norway and Russia, are causing “a poleward shift in fish communities,” according to the agency. These changes are impacting wildlife, as well as Indigenous communities that rely on them for their survival.

“The Arctic is warming twice as fast as other parts of the planet, which has ramifications for global security, climate, commerce, and trade,” said NOAA Chief Scientist Dr. Rick Spinrad at a press conference on Tuesday in San Francisco.

NOAA summarized its findings in the following video:

 




Pope Francis: To Address ‘Grave Environmental Crisis,’ Build Social Justice

Published on Wednesday, November 25, 2015 by Common Dreams

Pope Francis warned on Wednesday that the world is facing a “grave environmental crisis” and spoke of the intersection between social justice and the protection of nature.

The pontiff’s comments, made in the Kenyan capital at the start of his first visit to the continent, come just days ahead of the UN climate summit in Paris, where global delegates will hammer out an agreement to curb climate change.

“The grave environmental crisis facing our world demands an ever greater sensitivity to the relationship between human beings and nature,” Francis said at the State House in Nairobi, where he spoke to President Uhuru Kenyatta and political leaders.

“We have a responsibility to pass on the beauty of nature in its integrity to future generations, and an obligation to exercise a just stewardship of the gifts we have received.

“In effect, there is a clear link between the protection of nature and the building of a just and equitable social order. There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature, without a renewal of humanity itself,” he said, referencing his widely heralded encyclical.

“To the extent that our societies experience divisions, whether ethnic, religious or economic, all men and women of good will are called to work for reconciliation and peace, forgiveness and healing. In the work of building a sound democratic order, strengthening cohesion and integration, tolerance and respect for others, the pursuit of the common good must be a primary goal,” he said.

In addition to his stop in Kenya, Pope Francis’ African trip will also include a stop in Uganda, but, the Washington Post reports,

the focal point of his Africa trip appears to be the Central African Republic, where a war between Christians and Muslims has claimed more than 5,000 lives since 2013. The fighting there remains intense, and some security experts are surprised that Francis’s visit has not been canceled. It is the first time a pope has traveled to an active conflict zone.

There, Francis is scheduled to meet with Muslims at the central Koudougou mosque in Bangui, the capital. Driving through the city, he is likely to see some of the thousands who have been displaced by the most recent spasm of violence.

Underscoring Francis’ statement in his encyclical that there is “an urgent need to develop policies” to slash carbon emissions, the UN weather agency on Wednesday delivered “bad news for the planet”—2015 is on track to be the hottest year on record, and 2011-2015 has been the warmest five-year period on record.

Also on Wednesday, international aid group Oxfam expressed the inverse of the Pope’s remarks, warning in a report that “Left unchecked, climate change could reverse decades of development in the world’s poorest countries.”




France Cancels Major Climate March, But Groups Say They Won’t Be Silenced

Published on Wednesday, November 18, 2015 by Common Dreams
Update:

The Prefecture of Police of Paris has reportedly cancelled a march planned for November 29 that organizers expected to draw at least 200,000 people, citing security concerns.

Activists noted that other actions planned worldwide will still move forward.

Nicolas Haeringer, French campaigner for climate advocacy group 350.org, said in response, “The government can prohibit these demonstrations, but our voices will not be silenced. While this makes it difficult to go forward with our original plans, we will still find a way for people in Paris to make the call for climate justice heard, and we encourage everyone around the world to join a Global Climate March and raise their voices louder than ever. There’s never been a greater need.”

“While our plans in Paris must change, the movement for climate justice will not slow down. Around the world, marches, demonstrations, and civil disobedience are all planned for the weeks and months ahead. Together, we will continue to stand against violence and hatred with our peace and resolve,” Haeringer said. “For people around the world, join the Global Climate March in your community to show your support for climate justice. For those who were planning to travel to Paris, still come and join us, and together we’ll find a way to take action together.”

Earlier:

French police are reintroducing border checks and cracking down on demonstrations set to take place during the upcoming climate talks in Paris—but activists on the ground say they will not sacrifice their plans for protest.

Talks between organizers and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius ended in a stalemateon Tuesday with no immediate consensus on a massive march planned for November 29—the day before the COP21 negotiations are scheduled to begin—which climate groups hoped would draw hundreds of thousands of people.

Following last week’s attacks that killed 129 people in Paris, French officials had proposed scaling down the November 29 march to a stationary action held behind kettling nets, miles away from the summit headquarters, with a cutoff of 5,000 participants.

But organizers said such a dramatic downsizing “would not be acceptable.”

In fact, many said, now is the time to double down on free speech and free assembly.

Alix Mazounie, a campaigner with Climate Action Network France who took part in the meeting with Fabius, told Democracy Now! on Wednesday, “More than ever, people across the world and in Paris need to stand up to say that they are fearless and that they want the right to public and democratic freedom of speech.”

Watch the video below:

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said COP21 actions were more important now than ever. In a blog post published Wednesday, Dearden wrote, “It will be deeply ironic if climate activists from around the world are among the first to fall foul of France’s emergency powers.”

“Of course, those campaigners have nothing to do with the brutal attacks on Paris last Friday night. On the contrary, they will challenge the unequal, unsustainable and militaristic policies on which terrorism has thrived,” he added.

Authorities also said they will employ more than 30,000 police officers at 285 different land, sea, and air checkpoints around France from now until two days after the conference ends. According to AFP, security forces will also keep close watch on “extreme” environmental groups and advocates.

However, those rigid security measures will be met head-on by activists planning to forge ahead with demonstrations that are scheduled to take place throughout the two-week summit.

“The tragedy in Paris has only strengthened our resolve,” said Nicolas Haeringer, France campaigner for the climate advocacy group 350.org. “We fully share [authorities’] concerns about public safety—just as we fully oppose any unnecessary crackdowns on civil liberties and minority populations.”

“This is not the time to step back,” Mazounie told The Guardian. “We are in a country of free expression—that has always been the source of our power. This will be about unity, solidarity and peace, as well as climate change.”

Anti-globalization group Attac said full-scale mobilization was not only a free-speech issue, but also a stance of solidarity with the victims of the attacks in Paris and the bombings in Beirut.

“We are all targeted but we are not afraid,” Attac France said Tuesday. “We do not succumb to anxiety, just as we do not accept the ‘shock strategy,’ which consists in taking advantage of human, social and environmental catastrophes to trigger all forms of regression, restrict our basic freedoms and generate withdrawal.”

Much of the action in Paris is being organized by Coalition Climat 21, comprising Greenpeace, Oxfam, Avaaz, and more than 130 other civil society groups. The coalition said it would work in tandem with authorities to ensure participants’ safety, but added that protests during COP21 were crucial to the summit’s success.

“Thus, we will implement all our efforts to hold all the mobilizations currently planned,” the coalition said.




Rallying with Pope, Climate Justice Campaigners Hail ‘Shovel-Ready Solution’

Published on Thursday, September 24, 2015 by Common Dreams

An hour after Pope Francis spoke to Congress and issued “a call for a courageous and responsible effort […] to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity,” a rally on the National Mall highlighted a “shovel-ready solution” to the climate crisis.

Speaking at the Moral Action on Climate Justice demonstratoin Thursday, Larry Kopald, co-founder and president of organization The Carbon Underground, said it’s “a solution that will put carbon back in the ground, a solution that will feed us better, make us healthier, create jobs, and even boost our economy.”

“What is this magic solution?” he asked. “You’re standing on it […] It’s the soil.”

Kopald and his organization are not alone is calling for soil to be seen as part of a climate solution, with organizations including the Center for Food Safety, Organic Consumers Association, the Rodale Institute, and Vandana Shiva’s Navdanya also touting the approach. Regenerative agriculture’s ability to heal soil was also the focus of the Regenerative International Conference in Costa Rica this June, as well as the Soil Not Oil International Conference held earlier this month in Richmond, California.

Kopald explained the problem with the dominant method of food production, saying, “Industrial agriculture techniques have destroyed most of the soil. Seventy percent of the soil on earth is dead or dying, and all of that carbon that should be in the soil is now stuck in the atmosphere causing climate change.”

But healthy soil fed through agroecological methods can be an effective carbon sink, he explained.

“Here’s the good news: If we restore that soil, we can bring that carbon back. We can fix the climate. There are a billion acres of land in the U.S. alone used to grow food,” he said. “If we restore those acres, if we restore that soil, we we bring down 3 billion tons of carbon back from the atmosphere […] every single year.”

The current system in which “subsidies [are given to ] to farmers using chemicals destroying our soil and causing climate change,” needs to stop, Kopald continued, with the subsidies instead going “to farmers who are willing to restore our soil, and feed us better food, and help reverse climate change.”

“We need to tell President Obama and the next man or the next woman who lives in the White House that we’ve got to stop focusing on the problem and start focusing on the solution,” he said, urging rally attenders to send a message to lawmakers to “fix the soil, fix the climate.”

The event, which organizers stated on their website invited people to “join thousands of people of all creeds, colors and faiths, on the National Mall in asking our world leaders to #FollowFrancis to take bold action for climate justice,” also included speeches by the Moral Monday movement leader Rev. William Barber, Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo, and the musician Moby.

Twitter users captured parts of the event with the hashtag #FollowFrancis: