Tomorrow, around the world, in 168 countries and around the United States, myriad events will celebrate a mobilization for addressing global warming around the slogan of a moving planet. Sponsored by 350.org, the mobilization and its events call for marches, bicycle tours, green fairs, clean ups, trips to community gardens, biogas tours, environmental modeling etc. All in all, it is a call to take seriously the reality of global warming.
The clear and overwhelming consensus of earth scientists about global warming is impressive. 99% of them agree on the following conclusions: (1) Global warming is occurring; (2) Global warming is, principally, due to human interventions in creating new levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; ( 3) If we do nothing to counter-act global warming, we risk a dangerous tipping point of no easy return where its impacts on the environment ( and, consequently, on the economy) will be catastrophic. Over and over again, we are seeing massive evidence of glacier meltings, sea warming and sea rising, earlier springs, animals moving away from their normal habitats etc. Some worse case scenarios, if nothing is done to address global warming, envision hundreds of millions of environmental refugees fleeing lands being inundated by rising sea levels or loss of sources of water, as the glaciers have eroded.
Any one who regularly accesses the website, realclimate.org, will know that the debates among scientists about global warming are not about the above mentioned three consensus items. Debates focus on timing ( just how much time do we have before more catastrophic tipping points might occur?); parsing the precise amount of causation from human interactions with the environment versus more natural causation; just how many parts per million of carbon dioxide can the atmosphere absorb before catastrophic tipping points ? Some think we can absorb ( before hitting a no turn back tipping point) as much as 480ppm or even as many as 550ppm. Our current levels are 380ppm and rising.Others have argued that a level of 350ppm is the optimal level to avoid temperature rises of more than 2 Celsius. Hence the name of Bill McKibben's group organizing the event of moving planet, 350.org. McKibben the author of The End of Nature makes his persuasive case for the 350ppm in his book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough Planet ( New York: Henry Holt, 2010). NASA's James Hansen, perhaps our best scientific observer of global warming, tends to agree with Mc Kibben's estimate and prognosis.
By googling he term, moving planet, anyone can find out and access events being held near their home. I plan to join a march from the Ferry Building to the Civic Center in San Francisco tomorrow. The march ends with speeches by Bill McKibben and Michael Brune of the Sierra Club. There will be information booths and other material to help people know how to address global warming. In New York, a march will go toward the United Nations Plaza to dramatize that it is two months before the next UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa. So little has been achieved at the U.N. to move forward any serious proposals to address climate change. Naturally enough, some cities and their suburbs ( New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, Portland etc) will have multiple events planned for tomorrow's mobilization. In Alexandria, Virginia, for example, a march will move from coal burning plants to offshore windmills.
The goals of the mobilization day are the following: (1) Achieving a science based set of policies to get us back to 350ppm. This includes calling for a UN sponsored climate regime; (2) A rapid but just transition toward renewable energy; (3) Funding for a fair transition to a new climate regime; (4) Letting the rights of people trump the rights of polluters. More specifically, the mobilization calls for stopping dirty energy projects, protecting human health and reducing corporate powers' unfair and undue influence on climate change policies.
I do not have large expectations for what tomorrow's moving planet events will, in the short run, achieve. Our own country seems far from any serious address to global warming and the United States' own disproportionate contribution to it. A number of current candidates for the Presidency of the United States are, cavalierly, denying the scientific evidence for global warming. Minimally, if enough people turn out, there might be some evidence, even for cynical politicians, that there is a critical mass of citizens who want the issue addressed forthrightly and in some genuine deliberate speed.
John A. Coleman, S.J.