Three Signs Of Hope And One Omen On Climate

by Auden Schendler, via Huffington Post

With magazines like Scientific American publishing articles titled: “Global Warming Close to Becoming Irreversible,” and 15,000-plus temperature records set this spring in the U.S., it’s no wonder the CFO of the business I work for said to me yesterday: “I have this crippling anxiety about climate change… What are our children going to have to deal with?”

At Keystone, in Colorado, ski season is still going on but a nearby fire meant the lodge was being used as an evacuation center a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, the Washington Post expressed bafflement about U.S. inaction in the face of obvious climate threats highlighted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

This all leaves most of us in the movement to solve climate change with a borderline debilitating creeping terror that haunts our daily activities and inclines many of us to want to rock in the corner holding our knees, eating Chinese food out of the box.

But that’s neither productive nor healthy, and Kung Pao stains carpet.

Instead, we need to find signs of hope. And surprisingly, there are a few.

The first very hopeful development comes from science. One of the glaring problems climate realists understand is that it’s going to be very hard to cut CO2 emissions to the levels required globally by 2050 to keep warming to sub-catastrophic levels of about 2 degrees C. It’s just too hard to restructure the global energy infrastructure in that timeframe. But Drew Shindell and colleagues, of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, suggest in Science magazine that may not be necessary. They argue that we can target non-CO2 greenhouse gases — in particular black carbon (soot), methane, and ozone — to cut warming in the short term and buy us time to deal with CO2. Shindell et al. outline a variety of actions that could prevent .5 degrees C of warming by 2050. Better yet, these actions all have major health benefits, preventing “0.7 to 4.7 million annual premature deaths from outdoor air pollution and increase[ing] annual crop yields by 30 to 135 million metric tons due to ozone reductions in 2030 and beyond.” This is bipartisan news, because when people are healthy and crops survive, economies do better. You might even want to undertake these measures purely to protect human health and commerce.

The second development is the increasing bipartisan popularity of tax reform that aligns with climate protection. The far right doesn’t like the income tax and loves free markets. And the left wants to solve climate change and hates the fact that externalities aren’t valued by our economics. One way to address both concerns would be to replace part of the payroll tax with a carbon tax. There are several versions of this approach (including James Hansen’s suggestion to dividend the carbon fee back to citizens, which has been endorsed by Republicans for Environmental Protection), but all of them would be revenue neutral, in that a citizen’s wallet won’t change thickness; they will create market incentives to become more efficient for business and individuals; they will allows businesses to reduced their taxes through efficiency; they will create a free market for the first time by finally accounting for the costs of pollution; and the tax would help solve climate change. A carbon tax is, in a way, more libertarian than leftist; it’s a very conservative idea.

The third sign of hope comes [is that] even though the U.S. government hasn’t been able to pass climate legislation, it has the tools for defacto policy through the EPA’s ability to regulate CO2 as a pollutant, and other mechanisms. Along these lines, president Obama has, with industry cooperation, set strict standards for vehicle efficiency that means cars in America will get 55 miles per gallon by 2025, a huge increase. Last month, the EPA issued limits on carbon pollution from new power plants, and is legally obligated — by the Clean Air Act and Mass. V. EPA — to regulate existing power-plant carbon dioxide emissions too. Electricity generation is the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions, so this is big news. Without any new legislation — the U.S. can — and slowly is — reining in major sources of carbon pollution.

The last sign of hope is really an omen. After a winter that didn’t appear in much of the U.S., this hot March broke some 7000 heat records, some blown away by as much as 30 degrees.

Climate hawks — activists like Al Gore or Bill Mckibben — have always been baffled that Hurricane Katrina, the Pakistan floods, the recurrent Midwest floods, haven’t woken people up to global warming despite science connecting the flooding to warming and expectations that we’ll see more of the same.

But maybe it’s too hard to connect flooding, or storms, to the planet getting hotter. Maybe, to wake us up, what we really need is some heat.

Auden Schendler is Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company, author of “Getting Green Done” and a board member of Protect Our Winters. This piece was originally published at the Huffington Post and was re-printed with permission.

18 Responses to Three Signs Of Hope And One Omen On Climate

  1. Dano says:

    One thing to be careful about with the ‘fee and dividend’ is the ease with which the issue can be demagogued – “it’s a massive wealth redistribution scheme!!!!!!!1 SCARY!!!”. I guarantee you there are columns being written already about this. I expect columnists in my local paper to parrot better national columnists a few days after the better columns are written.

    We need a carbon tax. We also need to explain why.



  2. It seems as though people’s perceptions are turning around a bit, and the March heat wave is the primary cause of the warming to (global) warming. But we need to keep the pressure on through conversations with friends and relatives (painful though that may be in some cases!), letters to the editor and so on.

    Extreme weather events come and go, and the public has a short memory — and the denier crowd and its funders won’t go away any time soon.

    To make any sort of carbon tax a reality, there has to be an overwhelming popular demand, or the D.C. lobbyists will quietly undo even the best legislation.

  3. Leif says:

    ““I have this crippling anxiety about climate change… What are our children going to have to deal with?””? FLASH: Our children will HAVE to deal with whatever “We the People” refuse to address. For starters, Stopping the profiting from the pollution of the commons would appear to me to be a no brainer. That is a dumb foundation to build an economy and the highest profit Corpor/People in the world upon. These folks could buy and sell the kings of yore and they are beginning to think and act like they are in fact Kings! Beheading is so passe’, but gelding is in order.

  4. DRT says:

    While rocking in the corner holding my knees, eating Chinese food out of the box, I worry about the compostability of the box and the fact that the little metal bale handle will be thrown away and wasted forever.

  5. And then there is the ever present problem of the money in politics. Green candidates do not take money from corporate donors. Unfortunately, it is a major reason that they don’t have the recognition to get elected.

    As long as Congress is controlled by a duopoly depended on campaign contributions tied to legislative agendas, there is little hope that anything will happen.

    I was a bit disappointed this weekend in the fact that no one challenged the idea running for office outside the duopoly was a waste of time and energy… energy that would be better spent joining McKibben in trying to change minds. However, walking away from the political arena allows means that the deniers win, at least in the short term. I am not willing to do that.

    I will be voting for Dr. Jill Stein as well as fighting for the attention of those still unconcerned enough to ignore reality.

  6. Speaking of, one candidate running for president is Rocky Anderson, whose platform is below. (What’s not to like?) It includes addressing money in politics by overruling Citizens United with a constitutional amendment.


    Rocky advocates:

    The promotion of the public interest through the defeat of the systemic corruption that has caused massive failures in public policy.
    An immediate end to the on-going wars
    Essential health care coverage for all citizens
    Urgent international leadership by the U.S. to prevent against the most catastrophic consequences of climate disruption
    Adequate revenues to balance the budget through fair taxation
    Treatment of substance abuse as a public health
    Rather than criminal justice, issue
    Control of the Federal Reserve by the Treasury Department and Congress
    A balanced budget (or a surplus) except in times of war or major recession
    An end to the legal concept of corporate “personhood”
    A constitutional amendment to overrule Citizens United and to allow limits or prohibitions on the corrosive impact of money in our electoral system
    An end to the stranglehold on our government by the military-industrial complex

  7. jose says:

    Third party is not the way to go. Do what the religious right did to the GOP, you need to take over the Democrats from within.

    Can you imagine how lucky we’d be if there was a far right theocratic party in the US that siphoned off 40% of the GOPs support? Why replicate that with climate politics.

  8. Mark E says:

    (Caution, this is sarcasm, try not to jump on me without thinking)

    Texas drought… Pakistan floods… Australian extremes…. March US records…..
    ya da da da da
    This stuff is always in the news, so it can’t be that new. Same old RECORD RECORD RECORD….Clearly, records are normal and its what we expect now, so what’s the big deal?

    Seriously, my question is how do we deal with title=”The problem of shifting baselines?”>

  9. A.J. says:

    These are signs of hope, if properly enacted, and assuming they’re factoring in the reduction of aerosols likely to come with non-CO2 carbon reduction.

    For example, how much of that reduction will come from expanding the use of shale gas, with the greater potential for methane leakage if emission controls aren’t tightened?

    And I’m not yet convinced that Obama’s new fuel efficiency standard will achieve it’s lofty goals if car makers find it cheaper to quietly pay fines, or if any potential loopholes remain:

  10. Good piece, but please do not spread the false notion that Republicans love free markets.

    They do not. It is their ideology, yes. It is not their actual policy. Just like “small government” is their ideology, but their actual policy is huge government (with slashed budgets for helping people, and huge increased budgets for military spending, police state oversight, etc)

    Similarly their ideology is “for” free markets, they are *not* however actually in favor of free markets. The (deliberately ironically titled piece)”The Passion for Free Markets” has a good overview,–.htm

    So please: we should never, ever, help perpetuate myths like “right-wingers are for small government” or “they believe in free markets” They are for corporate feudalism attended to by a subservient pro-corporate nanny state so corporations can violate markets principles whenever convenient.

  11. The problem can also be called the “boiling frog” problem…slow change and we almost don’t notice. It’s not just climate and the general environment: it’s our politics shifting more and more to the right (the corporate right and the fanatical cultural right) so that what used to be fringe is not ‘conservative’ and what used to be conservative is not ‘middle of the road’

    How to deal with it? A hint for how to deal with it is to realize how not to deal with it: a media system like ours, a for-profit advertiser-based media model overwhelmingly dominated by gigantic corporations is not there to serve the public, no matter what they say, and that’s not just my opinion, that’s the law, they are legally bound to maximize profits (and even short term profits) at the expense of even their own long-term survival, never mind that of the world.

    That’s how not to deal with it. To deal with it, therefore, any environmentalist needs to be an activist or at least advocate for overhaul (not mere reform) of the media system into one without, or at least not dominated by, for-profit corporate institutions.

    A big, big job to change that.

    But it’s a big big job to turn around the climate battle, a big, big job to take out (or reduce) money’s influence on politics..well this media ‘leg’ is another piece that is big to tackle but absolutely critical.

  12. Raul M. says:

    Shifting baselines-
    Yep, sort of like walking along and finding a climb instead.
    So when climbing a ladder you move differently than when walking along.
    We are at the angle part but the climb could get to be like a ladder.

  13. A.J. says:

    And there were other concerns as well:
    I haven’t kept up on this aspect as well as I should, but wonder if these were ever addressed.

  14. Jimi S says:

    I am all for a carbon tax but I am opposed to attaching it to the payroll tax because it undermines SS and helps the GOP accelerate the demise of SS. Which, based on their rhetoric, is probably the real reason they are in agreement.

  15. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Well, I reckon that a change in the perennial direction of ‘wealth redistribution’ to one where it favours the 99% at the cost of the 1%, rather than the time-honoured reverse, would be an easy sell, even for publics as long brainwashed in adoration of the rich as are those of the West.

  16. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Markets only work properly, ie fairly and efficiently, when there is as near an equivalence of market power possessed by each individual as possible. Market power is mediated through money, so markets in states characterised by high and rising inequality, as are all late capitalist states today, are inherently unjust, inefficient and destructive of the common good.

  17. Robert In New Orleans says:

    If these three signs and an omen are all we have, I am going to continue folding cocktail napkins on the titanic.

  18. Agreed, but when you say that the right likes free markets and and then present them with a true free market opportunity they will certainly reject, you call their bluff. Which is what I’m doing in the essay.