Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Big Enviro Groups ‘Holding Back’ Anti-Warming Movement

Big Enviro Groups ‘Holding Back’ Anti-Warming Movement
Some critics call the best mainstream proposals too little, too late

by Megan Tady

The Dominion - http://www.dominionpaper.ca
First published in the US by The NewStandard

The heat is on environmental groups and politicians to churn out proposals
for stabilizing the planet’s rising temperatures, but some
environmentalists say existing plans to cool climate change are timid.
Their criticism reveals a rift between two approaches: preserving the
American way of life at the expense of quicker solutions, or changing the
structure of US society to counter an unprecedented threat.

The dominant approach to human-induced global warming revolves around slow
but dramatic reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions by mid-century. The
mainstream environmental community, along with a handful of politicians
and corporations, is calling for various regulations and market-based
actions to reduce greenhouse-gas output by 60 to 80 percent over the next
43 years.

This goal is based on what some scientists have estimated the United
States needs to do to help the world limit the rise in global temperatures
to less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The goal
presupposes that some climate change is inevitable. In 2006, a
government-commissioned report in the United Kingdom called the "Stern
Review" said that the "worst impacts of climate change can be
substantially reduced" by cutting greenhouse emissions to meet the
two-degree goal.

Even if climate warming is kept to two-degrees or lower, the report said
there will still be "serious impacts" on "human life and on the
environment." For instance, the report predicted the disappearance of
drinking water in the South American Andes and parts of Southern Africa
and the Mediterranean, up to 10 million people affected by yearly coastal
flooding, and 10 to 40 percent of species on Earth going extinct.

Noting that, "2050 is a long time away," David Morris, vice president of
the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said he wants to see action right
away. "So what I want to know is, what are [environmental groups and
politicians] going to do tomorrow?"

Morris and others who want to see more-immediate and deeper action fear
such incremental changes are downplaying the urgency of the situation.
"They’re really holding the whole movement back by setting their sights so
low," said Brian Tokar, Biotechnology Project director at the Institute
for Social Ecology in Vermont.

Market-based solutions

The basic premise behind long-term plans for emissions reduction is that
moving away from a fossil-fuel-based energy system will take time because
market forces will take a while to make renewable technology prices

"It’s still possible that we can avoid dangerous climate change and cut
emissions in half by mid-century through a process that doesn’t require an
immediate shutdown of all of our coal-powered plants," said John Coequyt,
Greenpeace energy policy analyst. "We can still do this in a phased – and
as a result – economically beneficial manner."

In January, Greenpeace published what it called a "blueprint for solving
global warming." The plan calls for 80 percent of electricity to be
produced from renewable energy, 72 percent less carbon dioxide emissions,
and for the US’s oil use to be cut in half – all by 2050.

The timeline is based on removing the market barriers to green energy,
while making dirty energy more expensive. It does not call for significant
public funding of renewable energy or government investments in new energy
infrastructure or public transportation.

Tokar dismissed the 2050 timeline, saying the US could cut greenhouse-gas
emissions more quickly if pressure groups took a different stance and
instead called for immediate government intervention.

"The only thing that can change it is a significant investment in public
funds to really jumpstart the industry," Tokar said. "There’s no reason we
can’t get there within the next five to ten years with significant

Coequyt of Greenpeace agreed with Tokar that the United States could reach
emissions-reduction goals sooner if not for the perceived need to depend
primarily on the market to make renewable energy the best choice for
consumers. "That’s definitely the case; we could see faster action,"
Coequyt said. "It’s hard for us to be a lot faster than what we put in our
scenario, but if the government made it a true national priority, I don’t
think there’s any doubt that we could go faster."

Despite this admission, Greenpeace is not pushing for the government to
get heavily involved in funding and distributing renewable energy, but
instead promotes weaker reforms like removing subsidies for fossil-fuel
industries and forcing prices to reflect the actual costs of environmental
damage. To reduce market barriers faced by clean-energy technology,
Greenpeace advocates offering producers of sustainable power priority
access to the electricity grid and reducing the governmental red tape that
inhibits their startup.

"What would be the other option?" asked Coequyt. "Mandate that every house
has to have solar panels on it and that coal plants have to shut down?"

According to Tokar, Greenpeace and other groups should be calling for the
funding of public transportation and subsidies to make housing more energy
efficient. "We can do all of these things immediately," he said.

Dissidents also rebuke the mainstream environmental community for not
pushing hard for a less-energy-intensive lifestyle in the United States.

Coequyt acknowledged Greenpeace is not yet urging Americans to
fundamentally change the way they live to fight climate change. "What
we’re saying right now is that we have the technology, and we can reduce
our energy through efficiency use so much, and we can do it without having
to completely change our lifestyle," he said. "But it is certainly
possible that in the near future we may have to have a more-urgent call."

But for some environmentalists, making the urgent call for lifestyle
changes – from something as tame as driving less to more radical changes
like adopting a vegetarian, localized diet – should go hand in hand with
the push for larger, system-wide greenhouse-gas reductions and energy
efficiency. They say radically scaling back consumption is needed to
ensure global environmental sustainability and equity.

Mark Hertsgaard, an environmental journalist, told TNS that to avoid
"irrevocably cooking" the planet, "we cannot continue this
resource-intensive life." Given a rising global population and unmet
energy needs of poorer countries, he said: "At the end of the day, we also
have to cut back on our appetite. That’s just arithmetic."

Morris, of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said environmentalists
need to start pushing large-scale changes into the public discourse. "We
need to start asking for the kind of sacrifice that will be required," he

Political Disconnect

Another plan published by the United States Climate Action Partnership
(US-CAP), a coalition of corporations and environmental groups, calls for
legislation to rapidly enact a "mandatory emission-reduction pathway,"
with an ultimate goal of 60 to 80 percent carbon reductions by 2050.

The partnership includes the Natural Resources Defense Council,
Environmental Defense, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and the
World Resources Institute. They are joined by nine corporations –
including DuPont, BP America and General Electric.

Vicki Arroyo, who is with the Pew Center, said their proposal is "ambitious."

But, Arroyo said, the plan "can’t start today" because passing legislation
takes time. "There really is no way in our system to move any faster than
what’s being recommended here," Arroyo told TNS.

Many of the proposals reflect the need to court the Bush administration
and politicians, who have refused to call for tough measures on climate

Bill McKibben, an environmentalist organizing national demonstrations
against climate change with the new "Step It Up" campaign, likened the
United States’s stance on global warming to an "ocean liner heading in the
other direction entirely." He said, "[Eighty percent reductions by 2050]
seems to be at the moment the outer limit of what’s politically possible."

For author and radical environmentalist Derrick Jensen, the obstacles to
faster changes presented by the US political system, illustrate the need
for more-holistic measures.

"None of [the solutions presented by mainstream groups] address the power
structures," Jensen told TNS. "None of them address corporations. None of
them address a lack of democracy…. The environmental groups are not
questioning this larger mentality that’s killing the planet."

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