2028: The End of the World As We Know It?

“There is nothing radical in what we’re discussing,” journalist and climate change activist Bill McKibben said before a crowd of nearly 1,000 at the University of California Los Angeles last night. “The radicals work for the oil companies.”

Bill McKibben

Taken on its own, a statement like that would likely sound hyperbolic to most Americans—fodder for a sound bite on Fox News. Anyone who saw McKibben’s lecture in full, however, would know he was not exaggerating.

McKibben was in Los Angeles as part of his nationwide “Do the Math” tour. Based on a recent article of his in Rolling Stone, (“The one with Justin Bieber on the cover,” McKibben joked) the event is essentially a lecture circuit based on a single premise: climate change is simple math—and the numbers do not look good. If immediate action isn’t taken by global leaders: “It’s game-over for the planet.”

The math, McKibben explained, works like this. Global leaders recently came to an international agreement based on the scientific understanding that a global temperature raise of 2°C would have “catastrophic” consequences for the future of humanity. In order to raise global temperatures to this catastrophic threshold, the world would have to release 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Here’s the problem: Fossil fuel companies currently have 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide in their fuel reserves—and their business model depends on that fuel being sold and burned. At current rates of consumption, the world will have blown through its 565-gigaton threshold in 16 years.

To prevent the end of the world as we know it, it will require no less than the death of the most profitable industry in the history of humankind.

“As of tonight,” McKibben said, “we’re going after the fossil fuel industry.”

Obviously no easy task. The oil industry commands annual profits of $137 billion and the political power to match. As McKibben noted, “Oil companies follow the laws because they get to write them.”

However, there are some numbers on McKibben’s side. Recent polling data shows 74 percent of Americans now believe in climate change, and 68 percent view it as dangerous. The problem environmental activists are facing is in converting those favorable polling numbers into grassroots action.

Enter “Do the Math.”

Using McKibben’s popularity as an author, organizers are turning what would otherwise be a lecture circuit into a political machine. Before rolling into town, Do the Math smartly organizes with local environmental groups. Prior to McKibben’s lecture, these groups are allowed to take the stage and talk about local initiatives that need fighting. Contact information is gathered to keep the audience updated on those efforts. Instead of simply listening to McKibben, as they perhaps intended, the audience has suddenly become part of their local environmental movement.

It’s a smart strategy, and an essential one—because the problem of climate change is almost exclusively a political in nature. Between renewable energy and more efficient engineering, the technology already exists to stave off catastrophic global warming. Though its application is lagging in the United States, it is being employed on a mass scale in other countries. In socially-stratified China, with its billion-plus population and tremendous wealth inequalities, 25 percent of the country still manages to use solar arrays to heat its water. Germany—Europe’s economic powerhouse—in less than a decade, has managed to get upwards of half of its energy from sustainable sources.

The same can happen here in America—provided we have the will to make it happen. McKibben says the key to realizing that goal is to battle the lifeblood of the fossil fuel industry—its bottom line.

To start, he’s calling for an immediate global divestment from fossil fuel companies. “We’re asking that people who believe in the problem of climate change to stop profiting from it. Just like with divestment movement in South Africa over apartheid, we need to eliminate the oil companies veneer of respectability.”

In conjunction with the divestment regimen, continued protests against unsustainable energy projects will also be crucial. McKibben will be in Washington, D.C. on November 18 to lead a mass rally against climate change and the Keystone Pipeline. “We can no longer just assume that President Obama is going to do everything he promised during his campaign. We need to push him.”

“I don’t know if we’re going to win. But I do know we’re going to fight.” More


The Unity of Water

MOSCOW – In May, Vietnam became the 35th and decisive signatory of the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. As a result, 90 days later, on August 17, the convention will enter into force.

The fact that it took almost 50 years to draft and finally achieve the necessary ratification threshold demonstrates that something is very wrong with the modern system of multilateralism. Regardless of longstanding disagreements over how cross-border freshwater resources should be allocated and managed, and understandable preferences by governments and water professionals to rely on basin agreements rather than on international legal instruments, that half-century wait can be explained only by a lack of political leadership. So, though the world may celebrate the convention’s long-awaited adoption, we cannot rest on our laurels.

Roughly 60% of all freshwater runs within cross-border basins; only an estimated 40% of those basins, however, are governed by some sort of basin agreement. In an increasingly water-stressed world, shared water resources are becoming an instrument of power, fostering competition within and between countries. The struggle for water is heightening political tensions and exacerbating impacts on ecosystems.

But the really bad news is that water consumption is growing faster than population – indeed, in the twentieth century it grew at twice the rate. As a result, several UN agencies forecast that, by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in regions stricken with absolute water scarcity, implying a lack of access to adequate quantities for human and environmental uses. Moreover, two-thirds of the world’s population will face water-stress conditions, meaning a scarcity of renewable freshwater.

Without resolute counter-measures, demand for water will overstretch many societies’ adaptive capacities. This could result in massive migration, economic stagnation, destabilization, and violence, posing a new threat to national and international security.

The UN Watercourses Convention must not become just another ignored international agreement, filed away in a drawer. The stakes are too high. In today’s context of climate change, rising demand, population growth, increasing pollution, and overexploited resources, everything must be done to consolidate the legal framework for managing the world’s watersheds. Our environmental security, economic development, and political stability directly depend on it.

The convention will soon apply to all of the cross-border rivers of its signatories’ territories, not just the biggest basins. It will complement the gaps and shortcomings of existing agreements and provide legal coverage to the numerous cross-border rivers that are under increasing pressure.

Worldwide, there are 276 cross-border freshwater basins and about as many cross-border aquifers. Backed by adequate financing, political will, and the engagement of stakeholders, the convention can help address the water challenges that we are all facing. But will it?

An ambitious agenda should be adopted now, at a time when the international community is negotiating the contents of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the successor to the UN Millennium Development Goals, which will expire in 2015. We at Green Cross hope that the new goals, which are to be achieved by 2030, will include a stand-alone target that addresses water-resources management.

Moreover, the international community will soon have to agree on a climate-change framework to replace the Kyoto Protocol. Climate change directly affects the hydrological cycle, which means that all of the efforts that are undertaken to contain greenhouse-gas emissions will help to stabilize rainfall patterns and mitigate the extreme water events that so many regions are already experiencing.

But the UN Watercourses Convention’s entry into force raises as many new questions as existed in the period before its ratification. What will its implementation mean in practice? How will countries apply its mandates within their borders and in relation to riparian neighbors? How will the American and Asian countries that have largely ignored ratification respond?

Furthermore, how will the convention relate to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, which is already in force in most European and Central Asian countries and, since February 2013, has aimed to open its membership to the rest of the world? Similarly, how will the convention’s implementation affect existing regional and local cross-border freshwater agreements?

The countries that ratified the UN Watercourses Convention are expected to engage in its implementation and to go further in their efforts to protect and sustainably use their cross-border waters. What instruments, including financial, will the convention provide to them?

Several legal instruments can be implemented jointly and synergistically: the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, to name just a few. The UN Watercourses Convention’s long-delayed enactment should be viewed as an opportunity for signatory states to encourage those that are not yet party to cooperative agreements to work seriously on these issues.

Clearly, politicians and diplomats alone cannot respond effectively to the challenges that the world faces. What the world needs is the engagement of political, business, and civil-society leaders; effective implementation of the UN Watercourses Convention is impossible without it.

This is too often overlooked, but it constitutes the key to the long-term success of cooperation that generates benefits for all. Inclusive participation by stakeholders (including the affected communities), and the development of the capacity to identify, value, and share the benefits of cross-border water resources, should be an integral part of any strategy to achieve effective multilateral collaboration. More


Surviving the 21st Century

Surviving the 21st Century

Published on May 28, 2014 • Professor Noam Chomsky Institute Professor & Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus), Massachusetts Institute of Technology addressed this question of global significance in a special Durham Castle Lecture on 22nd May.

The Pale Blue Dot

THE SAGAN SERIES – The Pale Blue Dot


Playing in the Major Leagues.

George Town, Cayman Islands – 19 October 2009

Climate change is the most serious peril that has faced humanity in its long history. However, we are faced with more than climate change, there is peak oil and an out of control population, as well as concerns for water and food security in the years to come.

As I said to a colleague earlier today “failing to plan is planning to fail”.

Humanity is today playing in the major leagues. We are in a sink or swim situation. If we can keep the planet habitable by mitigating and adapting to the changing climate, switching to alternative sources of energy such as solar, wind, geothermal, wave, ocean thermal and nuclear, sequester CO2 and provide the population with adequate supplies of water and food and bring the population under control, humanity may survive .

Warfare and conflict will also need to become a thing of the past as climate change and energy may well exacerbate conflict situations. With a 9.5 billion global population by 2050 ensuring that everyone has adequate food and water could be problematic.

There is however, no ‘Plan B’ if we fail to resolve all the problems facing us.

When playing in the major leagues there is no time out, there is no one that is going to offer help, let alone rescue us. Look around, the neighbourhood is somewhat sparsely populated and there are no other worlds on which humanity can survive. Even if there were other habitable worlds nearby they would in all probability belong to someone else.

There are, in all likelihood, other intelligent races out there somewhere, however in the major leagues one survives on ones own. As a young civilisation it is up to us to solve all our problems, to make peace among ourselves, to bring the population under control, to implement the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). We must solve our own problems. As a young race we are as children, and as such we may not be able to solve our own problems. But solve them we must.

If we are able to solve the situation facing us and make it to adulthood, in the galactic meaning of the world, we may then be introduced to the neighbours.

One of the most hopeful initiatives that has been started is the Eradicating Ecocide Initiative. Ecocide is the extensive damage to , destruction of or loss of ecosystems. It is happening on a mass scale, every day and it is getting worse. We can change this. Our aim is to stop the destruction of the Earth by making ecocide the 5th Crime Against Peace. Ecocide is a crime against nature, humanity and future generations. See http://www.thisisecocide.com/

An international law of Ecocide would make CEOs and our Heads of State legally responsible for protecting the Earth. People and planet will become the number one priority.

If we do not make it to adulthood we will be just another minor statistic, a failure, a insignificant footnote in the universal history book.

For all these reasons we have to come together and produce a new global climate change deal to replace the ageing Kyoto treaty. Unless we can do so, we are ‘planning to fail‘.

Posted by Nick Robson at 3:36 PM

Labels: catastrophe, climate


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