It had already been quite a week for those concerned about the future of the planet.
As Haiti reeled and Florida braced for a monstrous hurricane fueled by warmer than ever ocean water, simultaneously, the European Union joined the U.S., China and 55 nations to ratify the Paris Climate Accord. But not before climate scientists were issuing warnings this week that carbon pollution in the atmosphere had reaching the “point of no return.”
While the planet continued to send forceful signals to its inhabitants that there is a limit to burning fossil fuels, leaders gathered in Oberlin, Ohio this week to address the vexing problem of climate change and wrestle with what can be done.
Not facing the problem, one participant observed would present “a banquet of consequences."
While edging dangerously close to blowing the lid off the doom and gloom that usually pervades climate proceedings, Oberlin Environmental Studies Professor and author of numerous, groundbreaking volumes that focus on reforming educational and economic systems, David Orr held forth on the power of market economies to produce the solutions. Orr invited leaders of Next System Project to present their treatise on how the economy will operate after fossil fuels are taken out of the equation.
“How do we calibrate the economy, a human contrivance, and this thing we call nature,” Orr asked. “It has to be done in a way that is fair, decent and resilient.”
We may not stop climate change, warned environmental activist and writer, Bill McKibben later that evening, but nations still have a responsibility to act, to deflect the worst of more mega storms.
During an evening address to a large crowd at Finney Chapel, McKibben, who (organically) raised the grassroots to oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline, urged major corporations to divest from fossil fuels and brought together 400,000 people in New York City for the largest climate rally in history, said that climate change is like a house on fire.
“Climate change is happening with rapidity,” he said. “It is a problem that has a time limit.”
McKibben criticized President Obama for saying climate change “creeps up on you.”
“Not quite. If you look at the top of the planet, there’s more blue than white,” he said, referring to the faster than expected melting of polar ice.
McKibben called for a moratorium on fossil fuel infrastructure, such as the pipeline being worked through pristine land in the Dakotas, where thousands of indigenous people gathered in opposition this summer, leading to a temporary halt of construction.
“It will take real political leadership,” predicted McKibben. “But no leader is going to take us there by themselves. We’re going to need hundreds of thousands of people, from Ohio, in the streets. We need to get out of our comfort zone. Because the planet is well outside its comfort zone.”
Transitioning from fossil fuels will be hard—they led to the creation of the middle class, said Richard Heinberg, director of The Post Carbon Institute. But, unless lifestyles change soon (no more weekend flights to Vegas) the easy to reach oil and gas will be burned up.
“We may continue extracting it, even if it takes more energy to do so. With regards to oil, we are surprisingly close.”
The path forward, he said, is to use the world’s remaining fossil fuels to build renewable energy infrastructure—as many wind turbines, solar panels, battery storage devices and bicycles as is humanly possible.
McKibben noted that a mass mobilization of this kind was written into the Democratic Party platform in Philadelphia this summer by him and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
“We got a promise to hold a climate summit in the first 100 days of the presidency with an eye toward a World War Two-type mobilization.”