Mon, Nov 12, 2018 - Page 7 News List

A radically realistic vision is needed to deal with global warming

By Barbara Unmussig

According to the latest report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s main scientific authority on global warming, keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels is a feasible goal. The IPCC’s stance represents a move in the direction of the kind of “radical realism” that many civil society actors have long advocated.

The IPCC does not bet on geo-engineering proposals — for example, deep-ocean sequestration of massive amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide, or “dimming the sun” by spraying the atmosphere with aerosols — to combat global warming. These largely theoretical solutions could have untold consequences for people and ecosystems, worsening not only the climate crisis, but also the other social and ecological crises we face.

Instead, the IPCC focuses on how we can avoid crossing the 1.5°C threshold in the first place. We must, it asserts, decarbonize the global economy immediately to ensure that global carbon dioxide emissions decline by about 45 percent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.

Achieving this would require not just transforming economic activity, but also confronting destructive power dynamics and social inequalities.

Radical Realism for Climate Justice, a new anthology published by the Heinrich Boll Foundation, sets out strategies developed by international civil society and social movements to bring about such change.

In line with the IPCC’s core message, we urgently need a politically managed decline in fossil fuel production. This means putting a brake on oil, coal, and gas production and exploration.

As the group Oil Change International says, it does not mean abrupt or panicked action that could lead to a “sudden and dramatic shut-down of fossil fuel production, stranding assets, damaging economies, and harming workers and communities reliant on the energy sector.”

In building up the renewable energy sector, we should avoid replicating systems that have driven inequality and entrenched damaging power dynamics in the fossil fuel sector and other industries. This means replacing the market-based, investor-focused approach to energy production with one that treats energy as a public good, while engineering a shift toward social ownership and management of energy supplies.

Rooted in energy sovereignty and self-determination, this approach would spur faster decarbonization, including by weakening vested interests’ power to resist change. It would also facilitate the restructuring of energy systems to serve social and ecological needs.

Another system-level transformation that would facilitate major emissions reductions would be the creation of a zero-waste circular economy, whereby everything we produce and consume returns safely to nature or is recycled and reused.

Consider textiles production, which in 2015 generated greenhouse gas emissions totaling 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents.

These massive emissions — more than the combined total for all international flights and maritime shipping — reflect a “fast fashion” culture that produces garments as cheaply as possible, with the expectation of constant turnover in people’s wardrobes. If each garment were replaced half as often, the industry’s total greenhouse gas emissions would plummet by 44 percent.

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