Viewpoint: Youth of the world unite behind climate action – Capitalists respond

Karen Rubin
Karen Rubin

The worldwide climate strike that brought out over 7 million people in more than 2100 events in 175 countries, with some 600 in the United States is being hailed as the biggest in history.

New York’s climate strike brought out more than 250,000 in Battery Park, where the global climate leader, Greta Thunberg of Sweden, laid down the gauntlet to the do-nothing world leaders: “This is an emergency. Our house is on fire,” Thunberg told the cheering crowd. “We will do everything in our power to stop this crisis from getting worse.”

A few days later, at the UN Climate Action Summit, quivering with emotion, she declared, “People are suffering, dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

The demands of the strikers, many carrying signs calling for “Green Jobs Not Dirty Fuel” and “Save the Planet. End capitalism,” echoed the Green New Deal being proposed: a 100 percent shift away from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy and sustainable agriculture, in such a fair and equitable way as to “leave no one behind.”

But it is not capitalism, per se, that is the culprit – but rather, the entrenched fossil fuel oligarchs who control the levers of government and will do anything to keep power.

Indeed, capitalism may well be the white knight that saves the planet.

At the UN Climate Action Summit, over 100 business leaders presented concrete actions to align with the Paris Agreement targets, and speed up the transition from the grey to green economy, representing or controlling over $4 trillion in assets.

Twenty-one of the biggest names in the video games industry, including Sony, Microsoft, Google, with a combined audience of 970 million players, have formed the Playing for the Planet Alliance committed to taking actions that will result in a 30 million ton reduction of CO2 emissions by 2030, planting millions of trees, new “green nudges” in game design and improvements to energy management, packaging, and device recycling.

“We have the technology we need,” former Vice President Al Gore wrote in a New York Times op-ed, pointing to “the tsunami of technological and economic change that has given us tools to sharply reduce global warming pollution much faster than we thought was possible only a short time ago.

“As recently as 2014 — a year before the Paris climate agreement was reached — electricity from solar and wind was cheaper than new coal and gas plants in probably 1 percent of the world. Today, only five years later, solar and wind provide the cheapest sources of new electricity in two-thirds of the world. Within five more years, these sources are expected to provide the cheapest new electricity in the entire world. And in 10 years, solar and wind electricity will be cheaper nearly everywhere than the electricity that existing fossil fuel plants will be able to provide,” Gore wrote (www.nytimes.com/2019/09/20/opinion/al-gore-climate-change.html)

Government leaders are getting the message. At the UN Climate Action Summit, 77 countries committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, 70 more announced they will either boost their national action plans by 2020 or have started the process of doing so. The European Union announced 25 percent of its budget will be devoted to climate-related activities. Even Russia, with an economy largely based on fossil fuel extraction and export, adopted the Paris Climate Agreement.

Over 100 cities – including many of the world’s largest – announced significant and concrete new steps to combat the climate crisis.

And in the US, 25 states including New York and California have formed the US Climate Alliance to uphold the Paris Agreement – collectively representing over 50 percent of U.S. population and 60 percent of GDP.

While all this was going on, Trump was putting a thumb in the eye of the world and rolling back Obama’s climate actions: ending the Clean Power Plan; weakening methane regulation; freezing fuel efficiency standards and canceling California’s waiver to set its own standards; promoting drilling on public lands and offshore; weakening protections for endangered species and overturning regulations protecting rivers and streams from pollution, In his General Assembly address, he boasted the U.S. “is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world.”

But what was apparent at the UN was the Trump and his administration has become irrelevant to the global crusade to mitigate the most devastating impacts of climate change – despite the fact that the US, with 5 percent of the world’s population and the largest economy, is responsible for 25 percent of heat-trapping, global-warming carbon emissions. The rest of the world is forging full steam ahead to prevent the earth from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius – and all the devastation that would result – within the next 12 years.

Trump’s reaction to climate action (“Democrats want to destroy the economy!”) rings hollow when the billions and billions that are being spent, or should be spent on climate catastrophes, are calculated when the public health costs and lost productivity are accurately and honestly put into the equation.

Indeed, a newly formed Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment will change the way money is invested in business ventures and infrastructure by creating new data analytics that incorporate the cost-benefit of climate adaptation, mitigation and resiliency into the model.

“Pricing the risks posed by climate change will create opportunities to build a network of resilient infrastructure in high, medium and low-income countries, enabling us to better prevent future human and financial disasters,” said the Coalition’s John Haley, CEO, Willis Towers Watson, one of the world’s largest insurance companies.

Clean renewable energy is freedom from the enslavement to oil oligarchs; it means energy independence in the form of micro-grids.

There was an Industrial Revolution that spurred the bottomless need for fossil fuels; then the Information Revolution. The Sustainability Revolution must be next.

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Karen Rubin

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