On Thursday afternoon a fired-up, thousand-strong gathering of nurses and environmental activists packed into Los Angeles’ Pershing Square to voice their concerns about the bleak prospects of climate change, and to demand a global agreement that reduces greenhouse gas pollution. The rally was timed to coincide with the current United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris and other environmental justice protests taking place across the U.S.
Dubbed “The Climate Crisis Is a Public Health Crisis,” the event was organized by the National Nurses United (NNU), a labor union whose members were wrapping up a two-day convention at the downtown JW Marriott.
Rolanda Watson-Clark made the trip from Chicago, and told Capital & Main, “Nurses have always been at the front of social movements, so here we are.” She explained how, in the Windy City, inner city children are deeply affected by petroleum waste products in the air.
Bad enough that the climate is changing and humans are causing it; worse, most of us don’t even want to talk about it.
“Where are the books? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?” asked author and climate activist Bill McKibben a decade ago on Grist, comparing the climate crisis to the AIDS epidemic, which, McKibben noted, produced “a staggering outpouring of art that, in turn, has had real political effect.”
To be fair, that has started to change: Authors such as Paolo Bacigalupi (The Water Knife) and filmmaker Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter) have begun to address environmental catastrophe in their works. But it’s likely that other authors, artists and goddamn opera writers have assumed that their climate-focused work would struggle for an audience: A recent Pew Research Center poll found that only 42 percent of U.S. citizens consider rising seas and global temperatures disturbing.
Will the United Nations conference on human-caused climate change move toward saving the earth for habitation? That’s what’s at stake as the heads of the world’s nations gather in Paris on November 30 through December 11. They intend to put teeth into the U.N.’s “framework” that is aimed to reduce carbon emissions, and which has been adopted by some 195 countries. But will they?
Bill Gates doesn’t think so. In an interview in The Atlantic, Gates praised countries for pledging to roll back emissions by 80 per cent, but cast doubts about their ability to reach that goal. It’s not that he thinks government is particularly inept and that the private sector could do it. He really doesn’t think that either can or will.
He believes that people will cut the easy stuff first, leaving the hard-to-do for the latter half of the time frame.
Paul Duncan, a battalion chief with California’s state firefighting agency, was at home in Northern California enjoying a day off on September 12 when he got the message: A wildfire was burning on Cobb Mountain, about a dozen miles away from Hidden Valley Lake, where he lived with his wife and two daughters.
Duncan, 46, decided to leave and help knock down the blaze because he knew the fire unit in the area was already short-staffed from putting out on another conflagration. Besides, his nearly 30 years of experience persuaded him there was no way a fire burning on a mountain to the west could burn down to the valley floor and then race eastward to threaten the Duncans’ home.
His optimism was short lived. Upon arriving on Cobb Mountain Duncan got some troubling news. The fire he was fighting was heading toward his family.
Five trillion tons.
That’s how much ice melted in Greenland and Antarctica between 2002 and 2014 – and the reason why the seas already rise above low-lying islands in the South Pacific, displacing tens of thousands of people and threatening coral reefs that nurture uncountable numbers of sea creatures. Because of the climate change crisis we’ve become used to reading this kind of metric, along with the science-class comparisons that make it easy to visualize the colossal numbers involved. (Those five trillion tons, we are told, could make an ice cube 11 miles long on each side.) What we don’t always grasp, however, is the domino effect that one environmental disaster can have on the other side of the world.
A few years back, my wife Susan and I camped at Malakoff Diggins State Park, just north of Nevada City in Northern California. The place is famous for its earth formations that are similar to those of Brice Canyon National Park,
Sometimes religious people tend to be slower to adapt to changes coursing through the culture, especially with concerns about human-caused climate change. Even though polling shows Catholics, for example, to be slightly ahead of the national curve of global warming awareness, further inspection reveals that only 53 percent of white Catholics think climate change is a critical or major problem, although 73 percent of Hispanic Catholics do. These figures were measured a year ago, but there are signs that most church members aren’t even aware of the Pope’s environmental Encyclical, released this past June.
Those figures still fall short of the nation as a whole. Some 91 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of independents and even 51 percent of Republicans think the government should be doing more about climate change. One would think that’s too awesome a majority for a deadlocked Congress to ignore.
State lawmakers returned from the Labor Day weekend to face a potential Greek tragedy as the current legislative session enters its final days. Taking center stage is a contentious battle pitting the oil industry, the California Chamber of Commerce and a group of business-friendly Democrats against two history-making global warming measures.
Senate Bill 32, authored by Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), seeks to extend the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions already achieved by Assembly Bill 32, a bill Pavley helped write as an assemblymember, and which became the state’s highly effective 2006 carbon cap-and-trade law.
Senate Bill 350 is the attempt by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) to spell out the “Golden State Standards 50-50-50” that Governor Jerry Brown unveiled in January’s State of the State address. It would require California to double the energy efficiency of its older buildings,
Here’s the good news: The percentage rate of change in global carbon emissions in 2014 was zero. It didn’t go up. That’s the first time in the record books that the world economy grew but carbon emissions didn’t. Here’s the bad news: The average global temperature has been hotter every month since February of 1985 than the 20th century average for any given month. We’re talking 360 consecutive months of warmer-than-average temperatures.
Here’s the really bad news: If we continue to extract fossil fuels – coal, oil, gas – at the current pace, we will not be able to live on the planet by mid-century.
Here’s the science: Despite the climate deniers, the consensus of people who study this field professionally say that if we raise the temperatures of the planet more than two degrees Celsius (that’s about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) human life as we know it will not be possible.
“The biggest scam of the last 100 years is global warming!” thundered Stephen Moore to ALEC’s plenary breakfast club this morning. “It’s no surprise that when you give these professors $10 billion, they’re going to find a problem.” Moore then singled out North Dakota for its regulatory-free attitudes toward the fracking industry: “I just have one message for you — drill, baby, drill!”
The annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council began wrapping up business in San Diego Friday on this defiant note from Moore, a former Wall Street Journal writer. This newly hired Heritage Foundation economist is an apostle of completely eliminating state income taxes and has been in a running feud with liberal economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, over Moore’s casual regard for accurate reporting.
Moore’s speaking partner today was fellow supply-sider Arthur Laffer,
More Americans believe in angels than in climate change. Still, a poll released earlier this year indicated that more Americans than ever now think that climate change is happening, that it is caused by human activity and that world leaders have a moral obligation to do something about it.
So why are we getting so little action? If a large majority of people actually thinks our only home, the Earth, suffers from human behavior, then shouldn’t our personal and public actions reflect that reality? Oh, sure, lots of people drive electric cars, but lots more drive SUVs. I know that California has implemented a “cap-and-trade” program that will limit the future growth of carbon in the air, but the state has not banned fracking, which wastes water and hurts our air quality. And I know that the federal government has been setting higher goals for vehicle mileage —
As this series has made clear, “The California Chasm” is a challenge that threatens to transform the state into a shadow of its former self. Once a place where people came together to realize fortunes, remake their lives and attain their piece of the American Dream, we have become a state saddled with sharp differences in social, economic and health outcomes due to race, place and class.
This is an encore posting from our State of Inequality series
The resulting division is damaging to our sense of community but it also leaves the potential of our residents untapped. With research increasingly demonstrating that more equitable strategies can produce more sustainable growth, we need to create a conversation about how California can lead the nation not in inequality but in opportunity.
We have the know-how —
This month the U.S. and China reached an historic and unexpected agreement on climate change. As a follow-up, China announced that it will cap its coal consumption by 2020. The U.S. and China are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world, and the world’s largest economies. What does this mean for us?
Climate change isn’t something that we can wait 50 or 100 years to deal with – it is happening right now. The U.S. is seeing more severe weather, unprecedented sea level rise, loss of habitat and expanding ranges of pests and diseases.
The primary driver of climate change is the carbon that humans put into the atmosphere and the biggest producers of carbon are coal-fired power plants that generate electricity. China is now the world’s largest user of coal.
In the climate change agreement, China promised to reach its peak emission of carbon and other greenhouse gases,
Like most political junkies, I have been so focused on the recent election – national, statewide and local – that I have not been thinking much further. But the vicissitudes of politics always bring me back to the core issues. Once the up and down results are in, I remember again that the electoral process amounts to only a part of what makes a democracy work.
Yes, we must have listening and sympathetic ears among those elected to office. Yes, it helps to have people from the margins brought into the arenas of decision making and sitting in the rooms where deals get made. But without advocates for the issues that matter, however much money gets spent and whoever is elected remains irrelevant.
My loneliest moment as an elected official came about three months into my first term as a member of the Santa Monica City Council. We were deciding on development projects one at a time because we had scrapped the laissez faire rules,
Have you ever felt paralyzed by the apocalyptic projections of global warming? Have you walked away from a presentation, article or news report feeling despair about the heating of our planet? You’re not alone. Amongst young Americans polled, global warming is a major worry.
The fear is good and warranted; the despair and paralysis are not. According to Jonathan Parfrey of the L.A.-based nonprofit, Climate Resolve, climate change needs to be seen as a local issue that people can address and do something about. And he has many ideas about how that can be done.
“L.A. has a spectacular climate,” says Parfrey, “we all love it. That’s why we’re here.” But global warming can hurt our city by impacting the things we care most about — including our health, food and water supply, property values, air quality and fire safety.
What’s called the “urban heat island effect” —
At some point during the last decade, as various plans have been floated to avert climate change, it struck me that we’re focusing on the wrong problem. Global warming caused by a buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (carbon dioxide chief among them), has indeed sped us in the direction of rendering the planet uninhabitable for life, human and otherwise. But climate change is not a disease in itself. Instead, it’s a symptom of a disease, systemic and pernicious, brought on by squandering the parts of nature we call “resources” at a breathtaking clip and without restraint. All of the solutions on offer, from displacing coal with natural gas in the West to constructing more nuclear reactors in the South, are supposed to allow us to go living exactly as we do, without the consequences.
Except we can’t. As Naomi Klein, author of No Logo and the blockbuster bestseller, The Shock Doctrine,
Energy efficiency is the Swiss Army Knife of public policy. It’s Veg-o-matic. It slices and dices. No matter the question, energy efficiency just might be the answer.
What technology saves you money on your utility bill? How can businesses become more competitive? What reduces greenhouse gas emissions at the lowest cost? Energy efficiency is the correct answer to all-of-the-above.
Now add another benefit: energy efficiency can help prepare us for climate change.
Think about the hot summer days when electricity use skyrockets. On L.A.’s hottest day on record – 113° Fahrenheit on September 27, 2010 – LADWP delivered a whopping 6,177 megawatts. It was the all-time high in power demand, mainly to power air-conditioners and refrigerators.
But, when the grid is overtaxed, there’s also a high likelihood of power outages. More than an inconvenience, blackouts are a public health problem. During the Chicago heat wave of 1995,
Despite the conventional wisdom that Southern California only has one season, some wag suggested it does indeed have four: Fires, floods, earthquakes and riots. So far this year we’ve had none of those, for which I am grateful, and I hope our luck holds.
I say luck because Los Angeles County leads the state in fire risk. Of the million homes in California in high-risk fire areas, half are in our county. Seven of the 10 most expensive fires in the U.S. since 1990 have been in California, and insurers paid some $5 billion in wildfire claims in 2003, 2007 and 2008.
Meanwhile, wildfires across the country have set new records. Nine million acres of forest were destroyed this year in 45,000 wildfires. An area larger than Massachusetts was burned over in five western states, including ours. That’s 13,000 square miles blackened, wild life killed, trees and brush scorched and burned.
After a presentation by Climate Resolve on the local impacts of climate change last month, our host, Jonathan Parfrey, jokingly told us that anti-depressants would be passed out at the door. Gallows humor is understandable and – for me – always necessary when faced with hard truths. But dare I say that I also felt slightly more hopeful armed with information that would help us plan for the future?
This briefing, held at the Municipal Water Department, presented the first in a series of studies, sponsored by the City of L.A. and the U.S. Department of Energy, that focused on how climate change will impact L.A. County by mid-century. A lot of complex modeling went into the study, and – in this era of climate science denial – our presenter, Dr. Alex Hall, the study’s lead author, was at pains to explain it to us.