This speech was planned to be read during the Youth Strike 4 Climate, in Exeter on February 15th. Youth Strike for Climate is an international movement that is gaining traction and support all the time. February 15th was the first mass countrywide UK action. Exeter was one of the biggest events. XR unequivocally supports Youth Strikes. Some Youth Strike members are also XR Youth members, including in Exeter. Thanks to ‘Jack’ for the YouTube video above. Jack, please get in touch -one of our editors would like to create some content with you!
by Molly Bovett
To those with the
greatest power, from those who must break the system to claim it:
There never should
have been a ‘time for waiting’, and now even those stolen years have run out.
generation has failed to keep us safe in this time, and now we, your children,
are left to pick up the pieces and provoke you into action. The promises that
have been made and the plans that have been discussed so far are too vague and
have, at best, twelve years left before the state of our planet becomes catastrophic
and we run out of time for action; that is not time that can be wasted like the
politicians and major companies of the world have wasted the years leading up
are the ones who have created this mess and now we are here to force you into
action. You are the ones with the power to help us.
are raised to be quiet when they’re angry and to do as they’re told, but this
is one issue that we cannot be silenced on.
just the past twenty five years, you have emitted more CO2 than the entirety of
the human race before you. The climate we have been born and raised in, the
climate that you have created, is born of obliteration.
may even see climate collapse as soon as within the next five years, and if we
don’t amend that, cultural collapse will inevitably follow within our
these horrific facts are things that we have had to seek out ourselves; our
schools do not equip us with the knowledge and ability to mitigate the worst-case
scenarios. Nor do they teach us about the direness of our climate situation or
how we can live low carbon lifestyles.
do not want to live in fear but you give us no choice. We trusted you, the
adults, to keep us safe but you have failed to secure our future.
You want to raise good kids, people who will be kind to one another and the world around them, work passionately and take their educations seriously. These kids are here, begging at your feet to spare us a future in flames. We will care for this earth and its creatures. We will love every precious second that we are here; just as long as you do the same.
How To Mobilise Against The Climate Violence Perps
“An effective response to climate change requires collective action by all countries and sectors.” – Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
“Australia… remains one of the most carbon-intensive OECD countries and one of the few where greenhouse gas emissions (excluding land use change and forestry) have risen in the past decade.” – OECD, January 2019.
Is it just me, or have you noticed how conversations have changed over recent weeks/months? The climate emergency seems to have crept into every discursive nook and cranny. There’s talk of floods, fires, droughts and associated calamities, and of the prospects for survival as the climate emergency goes through what one commentator refers to as an “escalation crisis”, meaning that the pace and scale of change is far in excess of what the climate models are telling us. The upshot is that we simply don’t know where all this is heading. It’s a wicked problem, on steroids – a problem over which we (apparently) have less and less control.
Not surprisingly, there’s panic in the air. The world’s leading scientists – including the 15,000 from 184 countries who signed an open letter in 2017 – have exhausted themselves in pleading to governments and corporations to take the necessary action to avoid “runaway climate change”. In many instances such pleas have been either ignored, dismissed or entangled in webs of sectional interests and realpolitik obfuscation.
The growing sense of concern among scientists, however, has not gone unnoticed among my friends and acquaintances. When the “climate thing” comes up, I’ve seen perfectly well-adjusted people start chewing their nails, fidgeting, staring into the distance, and more than occasionally, quietly weeping. We shouldn’t be too surprised by such reactions – or what psychologists refer to as “ecoanxiety” – as there is growing evidence that the threat posed by the climate emergency is generating severe mental health problems – anxiety, depression and suicide ideation, to name a few.
The fact is that people are becoming more and more attuned to what is happening around them. My own mind is swirling with terrifying predictions about the extinction of all life on earth in a few decades, or, as some are predicting, in 12 years or less. Its hair rising stuff.
And as if all that isn’t enough, we still have to put up with so-called “denialists”-cum-conspiracy-merchants who peddle spade loads of aberrant nonsense that merely deplete one’s energies. I don’t bother with them, frankly – the people or theories. Why would I? It’s like arguing over whether the world is flat or if smoking leads to lung cancer. It’s a waste of time. There’s no ‘debate’.
Common global experiences
Most days I chat with my older brother, Henryk, who lives in Lima, Peru. We talk about this and that – Brexit, the state of the Peruvian economy, Donald Trump’s latest buffoonery, and whether our prostates are in good shape. But since the middle of last year all that has changed. Now we both wrestle with the climate emergency, its consequences, the tragedy of it all. This is what he said during our last Skype chat:
“Does anyone [in Peru]care that we have the highest temperatures ever recorded in parts of Lima, or that there’s flooding in the north and south east of Peru? Roads have been blocked and bridges downed, communities are often cut off. Farm land is being destroyed in many parts of the country. Power consumption is at record highs to keep household temperatures down, with electrical goods in high demand. The snow is melting in the Andes, a source of drinking water for the capital. This is all the result of climate change. It’s an unfolding tragedy. I have been in a permanent sweat for 15 days. This is very unusual, uncomfortable and it’s difficult to sleep at night.”
A quick browse through the Internet confirms what Henryk is saying. In 2017, heavy rainfall (10 times more than the average) fell in the northern Piura region of Peru, leading to the deaths of 67 people, mainly as a result of mud slides, with thousands more having to evacuate their homes. In total, over 100,000 homes were damaged and more than 100 bridges destroyed, bringing chaos to that part of the country.
Floods and droughts have had severe impacts on farmlands across Peru, impacting its food supply. To make matters worse, the Ausangate glacier in the Andes is melting, threatening water supplies to Lima’s 10 million people. Many other extreme climate effects have been noted, not least unprecedented snow falls in parts of the Andes, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency. As in Australia, records are tumbling, year on year. The projections for both countries are similarly depressing.
On some of our better days Henryk and I hope things aren’t as bad as we think, although we’re not silly enough to put our faith in geo-engineering which, as Naomi Klein has wryly observed, is using pollution to neutralise pollution. On other days, Henryk and I get so depressed that we take to packing our existential bags. In short, we veer from naïve optimism to bone-jarring panic, seething anger and everything in-between.
But somehow, we always end up with the “so what can we do to stop this before it’s too late” question. Yesterday we both agreed that given the severity of the crisis – my brother keeps an eye of the doomsday clock which is set at two minutes to midnight – all of global civil society should take radical action.
Ok, so what does that look like? We echo various activist suggestions, like mobilising people to surround our parliaments with human chains, mass protests outside the homes of fossil fuel CEOs, heckling at shareholder meetings, chaining ourselves to mining equipment at extraction sites, stopping coal trains, and so forth. We both laud the actions of activists who have prevented CSG mining in NSW, or the open-cut mine in Gloucester, NSW, and those brave souls in Peru who have been killed or criminalised for seeking to protect the environment. We know that the rich and powerful are worried by all this, that’s why they’ve introduced draconian anti-protest laws across the globe, including in my own state of NSW.
Henryk and I also talk about changing the language we use in order to sheet home blame for the crisis to where it belongs: governments, lobbyists, corporate heads, mainstream media etc. Phrases like “policy violence”, “climate disaster”, “climate criminals” and “climate genocide” have crept into our vocabulary.
Like many others, we also think that citizens tribunals should be created to prosecute the guilty parties – or at least to identify who they are (as happened in the wake of the invasion of Iraq) – and that the criminal and environmental courts should do the same. We’ve ruled out violence as a tactic but we’re all for civil disobedience of the Extinction Rebellion and 350.org variety, if only to raise public awareness about the scale of the impending catastrophe.
All these actions and more are urgently needed to tackle the climate violence being perpetrated against us, even though it might be too little, too late. The window is shutting, and fast.
These are unprecedented times, much worse than the nuclear crisis because, even with the egregious policy of Mutually Assured Destruction, human agency could still intervene to draw us back from the brink. But if the runaway climate emergency takes hold then no-one knows what will happen and no amount of geo-inventiveness will pull us back from the abyss.
I often laugh at this prospect, in the same mad way that occurs when all hope is lost. At other times, I’m virtually catatonic, especially when reading those doom-laden reports. My brother and I also rant at the self-censorship of the corporate media, the marginalisation of voices calling for radical action – independent journalists, climate scientists, environmental activists – and the way the plutocratic elites have turned the climate emergency into an infotainment sideshow or a business opportunity.
The deceit and vacillation of governments across the globe when it comes to emissions reduction is nothing less than scandalous: an act of wilful violence perpetrated against us all.
We have choices about how to respond to all this. My worry is that too many people are opting to carry on regardless (because life is demanding, or the story of finality is too much, or because we want to shelter our nearest and dearest). Others have retreated into fatalism (the party’s over, time to hunker down in gated communities, survivalist enclaves and nirvana-like hamlets), and yet others are talking of armed resistance when strangers come looking for food and water.
But there are other ways of responding which we see, for instance, in litigation cases through the courts, mass protests, actively shutting down mines, divestment, and so on. The current reality demands that these and other actions intensify, and that the coalitions and networks that make up the global environmental movement name the guilty parties and compel them, through organised civic action, to take the necessary decisions to prevent climate catastrophe.
Ultimately of course, what this means is system change and a radically different way of thinking about democracy and our relationship with the planet. Conference resolutions, non-binding targets, trading schemes and the rest will not be enough in the short term to prevent the slide to catastrophe – after all, carbon emissions are at record levels as I write.
That should tell us all we need to know about what the abuse of power looks like.
Cooking the books?
What about Australia’s commitment, or lack thereof, to reducing carbon emissions? A recent OECD report, Environmental Performance Review of Australia, suggests that our actions are ruinous when it comes to greenhouse gases (GHGs).
In a press release, the OECD notes that: “The country will fall short of its 2030 emissions target without a major effort to move to a low-carbon model…. Australia needs to develop a long-term strategy that integrates energy and climate policies to support progress towards its commitment to reduce greenhouse emissions.”
Reflecting on the review in The Conversation, Alan Pears, senior industry fellow, RMIT, concludes that the government’s current targets, “fall far short of what is really necessary and responsible”, a conclusion backed by the Climate Council and respected researchers like Anna Skarbek, CEO at Climate Works Australia, Monash University.
The OECD review notes Australia’s’ continued heavy reliance of fossil fuels far exceeds those of other wealthy countries: “[Australia is] reliant on coal for two-thirds of its electricity [and]has one of the highest levels of non-renewable energy use of advanced economies, with fossil fuel consumption still benefitting from government support. Coal, oil and gas make up 93% of the overall energy mix compared to an OECD average of 80%. The share of renewables in electricity generation has risen to 16% but remains below the OECD average of 25%. Australia’s power sector – the country’s top emitting sector – is not subject to emission reduction constraints.”
As one of the worlds’ leading per capita GHG emitting nations and coal exporters, Australia stands out as a pariah state. But, like other countries, it is paying the price. As the review notes: “Australia has warmed by 0.9ºC over the past 60 years, with the warmest years occurring since 2005. Both rainfall and drought are likely to grow more extreme, and bushfire smoke and dust will increasingly affect air quality. The oceans around Australia are warming, rising, and are expected to become more acidic, exacerbating pressures on the Great Barrier Reef. Better water management is needed to respond to the changing climate and prevent further toxic algae blooms forming and killing fish in the drought-hit Darling River”.
The review outlines a range of recommendations to lesson GHG emissions and the destruction (among the worst on the planet) of biodiversity and ecological systems.
Despite such tragedies, the current Coalition government remains committed to coal as part of its “energy mix” into the foreseeable future, and new mines are in the offing in various parts of the country. It may not be official policy, but Australia is, in effect, committed to worsening the globe’s biosphere, thereby inflicting spectacular violence on all species.
Coal of course is only one, albeit hugely significant, contributor to GHGs. It is estimated by the World Health Organisation that globally, about 7.5 million people die avoidably (prematurely) each year due to the effects carbon burning pollutants (carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and fine carbon particulates that lodge in the lungs) and 500,000 perish as a result of extreme weather events caused by anthropogenic climate change. Yet, as Melbourne-based scientist, Dr Gideon Polya, observes, “This latter estimate of presently about 0.5 million climate change-related deaths may be an under-estimate because UN Population Division data indicate that presently 15 million people die avoidably (prematurely) each year (half of them children) due to poverty and deprivation in the Developing World (minus China), with these impoverished, tropical or sub-tropical countries already being severely impacted by global warming.”
Australia’s contribution to this unfolding tragedy is manifestly evident. It’s up to the global environmental justice movement to ratchet up the struggle for survival.
In a world where governments care more about money than the environment, it has been left to the people to decide which shade of green we want for our planet! With an estimated 18 billion pounds of plastic waste entering the world oceans from coastal regions annually and Donald Trump looking to re-open coal mines in the USA, it is now down to the people to make the change. But we need the support of the government, we need them to wake up and take responsibility and write legally binding agreements to cap the global temperature rise by less than the tipping point! 2 degrees is not good enough, because at 2 degrees mountain glaciers and rivers will start to disappear, 10% of the world’s population will be displaced due to sea level rise and A THIRD OF ALL LIFE ON EARTH WILL FACE EXTINCTION! As a population we need to band together to pressure the officials to enforce a mandatory cap in temperature rise at 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels and become carbon neutral by 2030! Because by the time we reach 2050 it will be too late.
In 2014, just 5 countries accounted for 70% of global CO2 emissions, including: China, the United States, the European Union, the Russian Federation and Japan. This sparked the launch of the “land mark agreement” to combat climate change in 2015 – COP 21, The Paris agreement, which THE USA HAS NOW PULLED OUT OF! China is so far the only country to make a major difference, announcing plans to invest over $3 Billion in renewable energy! Whist the EU’s aim is to become carbon neutral by 2050 and cut energy use by 20% below business-as-usual projections by 2020. This is NOT good enough! We are the 3rd largest contributor to CO2 emissions globally and our member states are among the wealthiest countries in the world. With these stats, there is NO EXCUSE for not making more of an effort to become carbon neutral! Because of our governments idleness we are now on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7 degrees C, 0.7 above the tipping point.
Despite all these statistics, there has still been no legally binding agreement to combat climate change since 2009! And there are still countries refusing the latest agreement (Katowice 2018), including the USA, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Knowing this, how can we rely on governments who are not willing to make a sacrifice to save the planet? If the temperature continues to rise there will be no trade, there will be displacement of people and there will be extinction!
We have the facts. We have the power. We will have Climate Justice.
Having lived for years in relative isolation and felt like (another) voice in the wilderness since 1980, the sudden rising up of Extinction Rebellion is inspiring. Despite taking part in numerous protest marches and movements since 1977 and been aware of countless courageous actions by activists being absorbed or quickly side-lined by our largely traitorous media, I’m hopeful that this time, a wider cross-section of the population have begun to get the message. As Shaun Chamberlain links in his vivid post: Why I’m Rebelling against Extinction: As a global society we are accelerating towards oblivion.
Attending the first meeting of my local Kendal group of Extinction Rebellion last Friday, at the Friends Meeting House, I was surprised by how many ‘ordinary’ looking people appeared galvanised by the opportunity of taking action. Some of the members there had taken part in the bridge-blocking protest in London back in November, one of many significant actions in towns and cities such as Bristol, Manchester, Belfast, Copenhagen, Galway, Stockholm, Dublin, Cork, Berlin, New York and Madrid. Another member was a hardened Greenpeace activist who outlined the different levels of roles available to anyone wishing to take part in the holacratically organised, Extinction Rebellion: You don’t have to be arrested if you feel that’s a step too far. Everyone interested at any level is vital.
Petition organisations like Avaaz and 38 Degrees have achieved amazing things. What we can only hope for next, is that all such groups along with old campaigners such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace can overlap and work in unison to stir our useless government into action rather than justifications and excuses. Better still, we need to begin the process of dismantling our entire omnicidal, neo-liberal system. It needs to be replaced – every last lock, stock and stinking barrel!
Anyone reading this, please look up your local branch of Extinction Rebellion. They are springing up everywhere and have already spread to 35 countries abroad. This emergency cause is one that the internet and (dare I say it given my own abstention), social media – were born to facilitate . . . a cause which might partly excuse much of their blatant consumerist triviality. Please go out (or stay in) and spread this idea as far and wide as you can! https://rebellion.earth/
Fixing Climate; The Story of Climate Science and How to Stop Global Warming by eminent climate scientist Wallace Broecker (who unfortunately just passed away)and his co-writer Robert Kunzig is an informative look at the science of global warming as well as a summary of the options for solving it. Wallace Broecker was professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, and through his research first discovered one of the primary regulators of the planet’s climate; namely the “thermo-haline conveyor,” the network of ocean currents which circulates hot and cold water over much of the Earth’s surface.
A recurrent theme in Broecker’s writing is his view of Earth’s climate as a sleeping beast which we awaken at our peril. The relative stability of climate for the past ten thousand years (since the end of the last ice age) is exactly what allowed humans to develop agriculture and create civilisation. Thus, we have greatly benefited from the long sleep of the climate beast. However, the carbon dioxide emissions created by our modern society’s dependence on fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas risk disrupting the climate and waking the climate beast. The consequences could be sudden and drastic.
Whereas we may think of climate change as being gradual and taking place over centuries or millennia, climate science has shown that drastic changes have happened very quickly in the past. A prime example is the end of the “Younger Dryas” ice age, a cold period which lasted from 12,800 to 11,500 years ago.
“The [ice] measurements … had shown that the warming at the end of the Younger Dryas had been abrupt … the ice layers were suddenly half as thick … most of that change had taken place in just a few years” (page 141).
So the scientific evidence is that climate change of sufficient magnitude to end an ice age can occur naturally in “just a few years,” not centuries or even decades. This bodes ill for our future, as our burning of coal, oil and gas is now changing the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere faster than any time in history. If a similarly quick global warming were to happen now, humanity would have little time or ability to adapt to it. The results would be catastrophic in terms of increased desertification, reduced food production and famine.
Aside from temperature rise, the biggest threat to Bangladesh in particular is from sea level rise. This is another area where research in climate science has made it clear that big changes can happen at a frightening pace.
In the 1980’s a colleague of Broecker’s, Richard Fairbanks, thought he could pinpoint a time when sea level rose twenty metres in a single century (page 171).
The above is indeed a stark contrast with the scientific conservatism of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) assessment of sea likely sea level rise being 59 centimetres by 2100.
The IPCC scientists specifically did not take into account the recent observations of accelerated ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica — essentially because they didn’t know what to make of them (page 183).
The problem is that scientists are generally cautious by nature, and unwilling to talk about possible worst case scenarios until that outcome is virtually certain. Unfortunately, if we wait until the worst case global warming scenario is inevitable before we start doing anything, it will be too late; the climate will have already changed, and humanity will have to suffer the awful consequences. Scientific conservatism in this case is lulling the public and world governments into a misplaced sense of security. So what is to be done? The answer is clear.
Which brings us to the one absolute certainty; no significant solution to the [carbon dioxide] problem can emerge until governments worldwide, and especially that of the United States, follow the lead of Norway and the European Union and impose either an emissions cap or a direct tax on [carbon dioxide] (page 266).
Broecker’s conclusion is shared by most climate scientists. To prevent dangerous climate change, carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced by replacing fossil fuels rapidly with nuclear, wind and solar energy. This will require huge investments, and the only way the money can be raised is through a carbon tax. Those of us who care about what the future holds for our children need to start thinking about how to bring about this colossal change in the world economy. The only way to solve the climate crisis is to put continuous and increasing public pressure on politicians around the world to transition away from fossil fuels.
It was probably more hope than expectation, but in the early years of the 21st century, it looked as if atmospheric concentrations of the hyper-greenhouse gas, methane had pretty much stabilised. This was good news as the gas has the capability of sending planetary heating into overdrive. In the short term – say a decade or two – methane is capable of warming the planet up to 86 times more rapidly than carbon dioxide. The gas doesn’t hang around in the atmosphere for much more than ten years or so, but then it breaks down into carbon dioxide and water – both greenhouses – which means that its warming influence continues. Even after 100 years, in fact, the global warming potential of the gas is still more than 30 times that of carbon dioxide.
Now, both the hope and expectation seem short-sighted as new research reveals that methane levels in the atmosphere are on the rise again. A new open access paper published by the American Geophysical Union (1) provides evidence for atmospheric methane levels starting to climb once more in 2007 and accelerate significantly for the period 2014 – 17. Such a hike is unexpected and was not factored into the calculations that came up with the emissions reductions framework for the Paris Climate Agreement. Consequently, the probability that global average temperatures will rise far above the 2°C dangerous climate change guard rail is now even greater.
A big concern is that it is not clear where the methane is coming from. There seems to have been an especially significant increase in the gas across the tropics and sub-tropics and at northern mid-latitudes, and more intensive farming and the warming of methane-hosting swamps and bogs have been fingered as possible culprits. Far more worrying is the possibility that chemical changes in the atmosphere, as it warms, might make it more difficult to break down methane. If true, this would be very bad news indeed, because it would mean that this extremely potent greenhouse gas would hang around for longer, thereby significantly increasing its global warming potential.
And there could be plenty more methane to come. Trapped beneath the vast tracts of permafrost at high latitudes are colossal quantities of the gas. The geographic region of most concern is probably the submarine permafrost that floors the East Siberian Continental Shelf, where an estimated 1400 billion tonnes of carbon, in the form of methane, is lurking beneath a frozen carapace that is thawing rapidly. According to one research team as much as 50 billion tonnes of this is available for sudden release at any time, which would – at a stroke – hike the methane content of the atmosphere 12 times. A discrete methane ‘burp’ on this scale could, it has been estimated, advance global warming by 30 years and cost the global economy USD60 trillion – a figure close to four times the US national debt. The occurrence of such an outburst is far from certain and there are other issues to consider, including how much methane is absorbed by the ocean as it bubbles upwards. Nonetheless, this cataclysmic scenario provides yet another reason – if more were needed – why we must slash our own emissions to zero as soon as we can.
(1) Very strong atmospheric methane growth in the four years 2014‐2017: Implications for the Paris Agreement
Bill McGuire is Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at UCL and author of Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanic Eruptions. He was a contributor to the IPCC 2012 report on Climate Change & Extreme Events and Disasters.
I’ve just had my first experience of offering respite relief to someone who has been working really hard towards making XR work. I originally offered to host someone because I love where I live and it has been very healing for me living here. I also have spare space at the moment, so it makes sense to use it for something positive rather than leaving it empty.
I was afraid that a stranger coming, even someone from XR, might be difficult, so I started by being very clear about what was being offered. The offer was for self catering accommodation with a wood burner, gas cooker, mattress (but not necessarily bedding because we’re off grid except for mains water and we’re short of electricity at the moment) and some fresh vegetables (we have a market garden so it was easy to add an extra veg box to the list) and a few other basic food items. We have had a lot of Workawayers and WWOOFers over the years, so we realise how important it is to be clear at the outset what you are willing to offer and not to offer too much. The key thing for us was to emphasize that we would not be cooking for the guest and we would not necessarily be around for socializing – this was important to us as we tend to have a lot of people around and we need our space. Also, there was no expectation of them needing to do anything other than stay in the accommodation and rest.
What actually happened was that our guest was really thoughtful and interesting and I ended up spending a few hours working with her on the first day and talking A LOT, and then we invited her to eat with us each evening because she was so awesome! It was so much more rewarding than I expected and feels like we have made a new friend.