We’re living in a time of epic change. We’re living in a time of great awakening. The tipping point has come, the shoe has dropped, the worm has turned, and the shift has hit the fan. And we’re just getting going.
Everything is up for grabs and everything is at stake. As Paul Gilding has observed, our normal human response is to be late and then fast. As the world has plunged from urgency to emergency, emergency responders are coming out in force.
The invisible hand of the climate is trumping the invisible hand of the market. We’re at the start of the biggest, fastest cultural, economic and industrial transformation in history.
The decline and fall of the fossil fuel regime is at hand. Coal is in free fall. Shell is pulling out of the Arctic. The Divest/Invest movement recently hit $2.6 trillion, a fifty-fold growth in just one year.
Globally we’re now adding more capacity for renewable power annually than for fossil fuels. Distributed clean energy is making a disruptive leap, decentralizing power literally and figuratively.
US emissions peaked in 2007 and have fallen since. China is shortening its timeline for peak emissions to 2025 and driving a ginormous domestic clean energy revolution at unimaginable speed and scale. India is moving.
The IMF has concluded that saving the planet would be cheap or might even be free. Such a deal!
Business is having a conversion. Thirty-six large companies have committed to sourcing 100% of electricity from renewables. This year 437 companies including Microsoft are calculating an internal carbon tax, with 583 more to follow soon.
About 40 countries and more than 20 cities, states and regions are putting a price on carbon. China’s recent landmark commitment to a national cap-and-trade program was quietly built behind the scenes between California and several Chinese provinces, illustrating the game-changing bottom-up power of Green Blocs of cities and states.
As the world’s eighth largest economy, California is growing its GDP and population while shrinking its carbon footprint. It’s now committed to 50% clean energy by 2030. It ranks among the top ten nations in total renewable energy generation, share of electricity from renewable sources, and highest energy productivity.
California’s groundbreaking climate justice policy commits over 30 percent of its cap-and-trade revenues to environmental justice for disadvantaged communities by funding green jobs, public health and economic and social justice. It will be billions in years to come.
The priceless value of ecosystem services is becoming embedded in federal and local policy to leverage green infrastructure investments that restore natural systems. In the face of California’s 1,000-year drought and inferno of wildfires, Native American tribal members are collaborating with scientists and U.S. Forest Service officials to revive traditional Indigenous ecological knowledge, restoring their roles as skilled, wise land managers.
A large-scale movement toward climate-friendly agriculture is emerging to radically increase carbon sequestration, while building food security and resilience on farms.
The Black Lives Matter movement catalyzed a long-overdue reality-based race conversation as smart phone cameras keep revealing the systemic racism, murder and abuse routine in African American communities. The Confederate flag can no longer fly in statehouses and public spaces. The mass incarceration nightmare may finally end.
Donald Trump’s trash talk unwittingly has catalyzed a Latino Spring that’s unstoppable, in the nation’s most ecologically conscious community. Rainbow lights bathed the White House after the Supremes ruled for gay marriage.
The Pope tossed a Hail Mary pass into these hopefully not-the-end-times. He linked the twin crises of climate and inequality with capitalism. Sanctifying our kinship with all creation, he denounced the “deified market” and “new colonialism” of austerity programs. He called in the global North’s “ecological debt” to the global South. Quoting a fourth century bishop, he branded the unfettered pursuit of money as “the dung of the devil.” There is a god.
Epic change. But make no mistake. This great awakening comes with a wicked hangover. Climate change is happening bigger and faster than even the alarmists predicted. It’s reshuffling ecosystems on a scale not seen in millions of years. The worst-case scenarios are just as likely as the best-case ones, which are already dreadful.
The supposed “safe” level of a 2C temperature rise is not safe at all – and abrupt climate change can happen in a lifetime. Dick Cheney advocated his 1% Doctrine that, if there is a 1% chance of a major terrorist attack, we have to treat it as a certainty with an overwhelming response.
Climate disruption is a certainty. We need to move to 100% renewables at warp speed, knowing that ecological wellbeing and social justice are one notion, indivisible.
Our charge now is to turn epic change into systemic change in culture, policy, law and governance. It’s doable.
But epic change by its nature is transformative change. What does that look like?
In 1979 Exxon intern Steve Knisely was tasked with analyzing how global warming might affect future fuel use. Knisely projected that by 2010 there would be 400ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere and “noticeable temperature changes.” He foresaw the fossil fuel industry might need to leave 80% of its recoverable reserves in the ground.
By 1981 Exxon scientists and researchers had concluded that rising CO2 levels could create catastrophic impacts within the first half of the 21st century. Yet starting in 1989, the same year as the Exxon Valdez spill, the company began arguing that the uncertainty inherent in computer models makes them useless for important policy decisions.
Exxon knowingly ramped up the fossil fuel industry despite the calamitous probabilities. Call it racket science. This is criminal behavior on the scale of a psychopathic James Bond cartoon villain.
In 2013, Richard Heede, a scientist at the Climate Accountability Institute, gathered a group of lawyers. He showed them that nearly 2/3 of the world’s CO2 and methane emissions dating back to the birth of the industrial era were the responsibility of just 90 companies.
The resulting lawsuits against these “carbon majors” are radical because they shift the culpability from developed countries to corporations. The lawsuits assign blame and name names. Big Carbon is taking it very seriously because a federal appeals court found that US cities and individuals suffering economic and other damages have standing to sue under the National Environmental Policy Act. The companies are also vulnerable to fraud and civil conspiracy charges for funding climate-deniers while internally acknowledging the science.
But isn’t it time for a sentence of corporate death – capital punishment for crimes of capital?
As Tom Linzey and Mari Margil of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund point out, “Sustainability is illegal under our system of law. Building economically and environmentally sustainable communities cannot be done through a system that elevates the rights of corporate entities above the rights of people and communities. Nor can it be done through a corporate culture whose primary overriding goal is the production of ‘endless more.’ It makes everything standing in the way illegal and in many cases unconstitutional.”
CELDF is working to build a new structure of law with close to 200 communities in 12 states. They’ve passed ordinances legally recognizing their communities’ right to local self-government. They’ve eliminated competing claims to corporate “rights” of personhood. They’ve recognized rights for nature and ecosystems. They’re establishing local Bills of Rights that prohibit unsustainable practices that would violate those rights.
Local Community Rights Networks have formed and created a National Community Rights Network. Thousands of these municipal constitutions will now emerge and provide templates for new state and federal constitutions.
What else does transformative change look like?
See Part II of Epic Change by Kenny Ausubel
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