By Dick Platkin*
If your email box is like mine, it is filled with invitations to Saturday’s Climate Change march and rally in Wilmington’s Banning Park. This rally begins at 11 AM, and it will be followed by a march to the nearby Tesoro Refinery, 1331 Eubank Avenue, in Los Angeles.
If you are already going to this rally, the three articles I discuss below will give you a deeper understanding of why this march is so important. Plus, I end with specific suggestions about what you can pursue locally to adapt to and, more importantly, to mitigate climate change.
If you haven’t thought about going to the rally, or on the fence, then please check out the articles I link to below. I consider their authors – Bill McKibben, John Bellamy Foster, and Michael Klare -- to be the best U.S. writers on climate-related issues. What I appreciate is their accessible writing style and thorough scientific knowledge about climate change. But, more importantly, all three writers dig deeply into the economic, political, and social processes responsible for global warming. These are not writers who fall back on a vague concept of human-caused climate change. Instead, they identify the industries, companies, political forces, and politicians most responsible for what all three writers consider inevitable terracide if not abruptly stopped.
If this strikes you as alarmist, then you are absolutely right. Despite their differences, all three writers are alarmists, and they explain, in painful detail, the political and economic processes that are already leading to planetary-wide destruction. Furthermore, even though their solutions differ, all three call for deep systemic changes beyond their harsh critiques of the Trump administration and of trendy life-style changes dubbed “going green.”
The lead story in the week’s issue of The Nation, On April 29, We march for the Future, is authored by Bill McKibben, this country leading climate writer, advocate, and political organizer. Widely known through his many articles and appearances, McKibben is also the founder of Saturday’s Climate March in Washington, DC, and in many other cities, like Los Angeles.
McKibben describes our current situation in these unsparing words:
“ It is, after all, the biggest thing humans have ever done, and by a very large margin. In the past year, we’ve decimated the Great Barrier Reef, which is the largest living structure on Earth. In the drought-stricken territories around the Sahara, we’ve helped kick off what called “one of the biggest humanitarian disasters since World War II.” We’ve melted ice at the poles at a record pace, because our emissions trap extra heat from the sun that’s equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima-size explosions a day. Which is why, just maybe, you should come to … a series of big climate protests that will mark the 100th day of Trumptime. Maybe the biggest thing ever is worth a day.”t is hard to avoid hyperbole when you talk about global warming.
McKibben’s solutions largely rest on a combination of mass political pressure on both political parties and extensive technological change. His goal is to keep as much carbon in the ground through total bans on fracking and the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines. He also calls for the full transformation to renewables: solar panels, bikes, buses, electric cars, wind power, and improved batteries. His ultimate goal is the elimination of all new fossil fuel infrastructure and the transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
In Trump and Climate Catastrophe, University of Oregon environmental sociologist John Bellamy Foster carefully describes the combined political and economic processes that have lead to the current climate catastrophe. Like McKibben, Foster considers the current crisis to be much larger than Donald Trump. And like McKibben, Foster thinks Trump’s efforts to stop climate research and fully deregulate the fossil fuel industry could move the existing current climate crisis past the point of no return. In Foster’s words:
“The effects of the failure to mitigate global warming will not of course come all at once, and will not affect all regions and populations equally. But just a few years of inaction in the immediate future could lock in dangerous climate change that would be irreversible for the next ten thousand years. It is feared that once the climatic point of no return—usually seen as a 2°C increase in global average temperatures—is reached, positive-feedback mechanisms will set in, accelerating warming trends and leading, in the words of James Hansen, … to “a dynamic situation that is out of [human] control,” propelling the world toward the 4°C (or even higher) future that is thought by scientists to portend the end of civilization, in the sense of organized human society.”
Where Foster disagrees with McKibben is over the latter’s faith in a transformation to renewable energy. In Foster’s words, “Even though a conversion to renewable energy is hypothetically conceivable within the system, capital’s demand for short-term profits, its competitive drive, its vested interests, and its inability to plan for long-term needs all militate against rational energy solutions.” In other words, the economic and political barriers of modern capitalism will effectively block the total technological energy transformation that McKibben calls for. Foster is not opposed to such an energy transformation in theory, but in practice he believes that the political barriers cannot be overcome without a parallel economic transformation.
As a result, Foster comes to a dire conclusion; we can continue to live under capitalism or we can make the wide-ranging political and economic changes that will ultimately prevent imminent planetary catastrophe. But, we cannot have our cake and eat it too: we can choose one or the other, but cannot choose both. Foster calls his alternative political/economic program eco-socialism. He also points out that many others have reached the same radical conclusion, such as Eric S. Godoy and Aaron Jaffe in their October 31, 2016, op-ed piece in the New York Times, “We Don’t Need a ‘War’ on Climate Change, We Need a Revolution.” Their point, like Foster’s, is that we are now at a critical juncture in human history. Governmental and corporate allegiance to fossil fuel profits has become a death knell to humanity. We must now assure that a dangerous economic system ends, not the planet and human civilization. The choice is stark, but it is ours.
Michael Klare’s recent article, Climate Change is Genocide: Why Inaction equals Annihilation, first appeared on-line at TomDispatch and then was widely republished.
Like McKibben and Foster, Klare, who teaches at Hampshire College, contends that humanity is at the precipice. Emerging conditions in Africa reveal what this catastrophe eventually portends for the entire planet. In Klare’s words:
“The overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists agree that any increase in average world temperatures that 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial era -- some opt for a rise of no more than Celsius -- will alter the global climate system drastically. In such a situation, a number of societies will simply disintegrate in the fashion of South Sudan today, producing staggering chaos and misery. So far, the world has by at least one of those two degrees, and unless we stop burning fossil fuels in quantity soon, the 1.5-degree level will probably be in the not-too-distant future. Worse yet, on our present trajectory, it seems that the warming process will stop at 2 or even 3 degrees Celsius, meaning that later in this century many of the worst-case climate-change -- the inundation of coastal cities, the desertification of vast interior regions, and the collapse of rain-fed agriculture in many areas -- will become everyday reality.
Klare’s program is not fully articulated in his Tom Dispatch article, but he does spell it out in more detail elsewhere, and he also calls for readers to join one of the April 29 Climate Marches. More specifically, Klare proposes that those who understand the calamity already underway work on two fronts. The first is broad political struggle, similar to McKibben, especially against the Trump administration, as well as a full energy transformation. The second is local actions that can proceed with or without hostile laws and regulations from the Trump administration.
Therefore, let us consider a few of these local actions, especially since the effects of climate change are already appearing in California as more intensive forest fires, droughts, heat waves, tree dies offs, beach erosion, and heavy rains.
What you can do at the local level: As I have previously written at City Watch and Progressive City, despite weak leadership in both major parties on climate issues in Washington, DC, there is still much we can achieve at the municipal level.
Extensive urban tree planting: As explained by a recent LA Times investigative study of tree die-offs in Southern California, climate change plays a decisive role. It expresses itself as five years of drought, which weakened trees, followed by an extremely wet year in which insects now thrive, including invasive species. The result is millions of dead trees, with no end in sight. Therefore, we need to accelerate our planting of a highly diverse urban forest in Los Angeles so future combinations of extreme climate events, plant diseases, and invasive species will not devastate entire neighborhoods.
Once achieved, this vigorous urban forest will reduce CO2 levels, which have recently reach 410 parts per million (ppm). Trees can also filter out other dangerous air pollutants, such as particulate matter. In addition to climate change mitigation, trees also play an important role in adapting to climate change by creating shade that protects us from heat waves and makes walking more inviting, while buffeting heavy rains and allowing percolation into aquifers.
Alternative Transportation Modes: Los Angele already has a range grass roots group that advocate for more transit, bicycle infrastructure, and pedestrian improvements. While all these options require money, they also need public supporters who are fully engaged. They must write articles and letters-to-the-editor, heavily lobby elected officials, make their case at public meetings and hearings, organize participatory events and demonstrations, and when necessary, engage in civil disobedience.
California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA): On one hand, we have a powerful tool to understand the climate impacts of plans, programs, and public and private projects. It is the California Environmental Quality Act, which also provides elected officials with a lever to stop or downsize projects that contribute to global warming. On the other hand, our elected officials have a developer-guided political agenda to reduce the scope and power of CEQA. Since the developers have no intention of changing this cozy relationship, it is up to local activists to drown out and expose the City Hall pay-to-play that is contributing to terracide.
Conclusion? When Saturday’s march is over, roll up your sleeves for the long haul. Through CityWatch, you will get some report cards and action plans for the tumultuous years ahead.
*Dick Platkin is a former LA city planner who reports on local planning issues for City Watch. He recently taught courses in sustainable city planning at USC’s Price School of Social Policy, where he used articles by the three authors cited in the above column. Please send any comments and corrections to firstname.lastname@example.org.