First published November 20, 2015. As we got closer to the December 7-8 climate talks in Paris, I began seeing movement towards an outcome so positive that it might surprise us all. Politically, climate change-related events of the week are just short of astonishing.
Obama’s rejection of the Keystone pipeline and New York’s Attorney General agreeing to hear the case against Exxon for lying about climate change happened just a week ago. Pundits saw these decisions as climate activism success and proof of populace power.
Market news was equally encouraging. Solar energy providers just underbid coal companies, winning contracts in Chile and India without subsidies. Renewable energy is simply cheaper. Coal stocks are down and coal companies are going bankrupt. This year coal sales have already declined by as much as 180 million tons versus last year. The largest state pension system CALPERS if California is divesting from coal. All great news.
Then the ISIS attacks on Paris happened. The mass murders were barbaric; the threat of more, terrifying; the fear, all engulfing.
While my news feeds didn’t change, my perceptions changed dramatically. My filters turned negative. I began seeing pessimistic reports everywhere.
The same President Obama who seemed so fearless in rejecting TransCanada‘s bid for the Keystone pipeline approved the Gulf Trace liquid natural gas pipeline expansion. As reported in DeSmog‘s newsletter, the pipeline is owned by Energy Transfer Partners, one of the worst environmental offenders, and will move fracked liquid natural gas to Cheniere Energy‘s shipping terminal in Sabine Pass, Louisiana. Back in 2012, Sabine Pass was the first terminal approved by the Obama administration for liquefied natural gas. Among its board of directors is Obama’s former climate czar, Heather Zichal.
Politics as usual in the entrenched fossil fuel business.
Even more damaging to the environment are increasingly conservative local leaders. One example: London is experiencing air pollution from car exhaust that’s risen to levels not seen since the 1950s, when one four-day “pea-souper” killed 12,000. This year, Oxford Street exceeded pollution limits set for the entire year in just the first four days of 2015.
But the Mayor of London Boris Johnson is a climate denier who calls pollution statistics “ludicrous urban myth” and has delayed any action until 2020. As Christine L. Corton wrote in the New York Times, “what’s happening in London is being played out in cities worldwide, as efforts to curtail the onslaught of air pollution are stymied by short-term vested interests, with potentially disastrous results.”
Then there’s the politics of COP21 itself. Protests around the upcoming G20 meeting are pushing members to recommit to ending fossil fuel subsidies, now at $425 billion, or four times the amount of pledges for climate finance. G20 leaders agreed but failed to dismantle fossil fuel supports in 2009. COP 21 offered another chance to broker the tough agreements.
But after the Paris bombings, the G20 vowed to make ISIS their primary focus.
Posting the morning of the Paris slaughter, 350.org Board Chair and Climate Solutions’ Senior Policy Advisor KC Golden’s offers this resounding call to climate action:
“We have the guts and the will and the brains to win our best and only viable future, a clean energy future. Believe that too. It’s not just stout opposition that’s stopping fossil fuel expansion; it’s the clean energy transition, taking off.”
Would the ISIS attack on Paris prevent Golden’s vision from happening?
Leaders across the developed world face a threat just as important or urgent than climate change, and definitely more immediate. One possible scenario: political leaders recognize our dependence on fossil fuel for the vulnerability that it is. From the easy target created by our troops’ fuel trucks operating in ISIS territories to the risks here at home from combustible fuel sources located near dense population centers, fossil fuels are a strategic disadvantage. Shouldn’t climate change action be part of the G20’s response to ISIS, depriving them of their primary source of income while keeping our troops and citizens safe?
What Golden wrote before the attacks was prescient: “We’re collaborating as never before to build stronger, more equitable economies, healthier communities, shared prosperity…making continued expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure as unnecessary and uneconomic as it is unconscionable.” The fight against ISIS is just one more reason to make that transition as fast as we possibly can.