… to when the first advertisement I saw in Asia (Bangkok, Thailand) was an anti-elephant poaching ad by Yao Ming. After four months of research on the intersections of elephant poaching, the illicit ivory trade, and terrorist groups last fall, this was super exciting! And there were more ads like this one, but with more educational information about the origins of ivory, throughout Suvarnabhumi Airport.
On Tuesday, November 18th, the United States Senate voted on the highly controversial Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL) that would bring Canadian tar sands 1,700 miles through forest, desert, and sand hills from Alberta’s boreal forest to the Texas Gulf Coast. The vote was proposed by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana), and it needed 60 votes in order to pass and permit construction of KXL. It failed by a close final count of 59-41. The bill was approved by the House of Representatives last week (the Sioux tribe declared this an act of war against their nation).
President Obama has said that his position on KXL has not changed. In fact, it seems he may be even more against the pipeline. He has said he will not approve the pipeline if it is shown that it will contribute to climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions (which it obviously does). Luckily, Obama will not see this bill on his desk, but there is still room for him to lead and reject Keystone for good. Regardless, the vote is a victory for environmental and climate activists who have worked hard for years to stop the construction of this destructive pipeline.
This issue is particularly close to my heart. In March 2014 I participated in XL Dissent, where more than 1,000 students marched from Georgetown University, where President Obama gave a speech on climate change in 2013, to the White House, where 398 people zip-tied themselves to the fence and got arrested. I was one of the 398, and I was arrested for my convictions and for my hope for the future. You can read more about my reasons for getting arrested here.
Less than two months after the historic People’s Climate March, when 400,000 people marched for climate justice in New York City, world leaders listened to us and stepped up to the plate.
On the night of November 11th, 2014, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Beijing, United States President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a a new U.S.-China climate deal. President Obama stated that by 2025, the United States will lower greenhouse gas emissions 26-28% compared to 2005 levels. President Xi stated that China will reach peak carbon emissions by 2030, and then decline. To reach that goal, 20% of China’s energy will have to come from renewable energy sources by 2030.
The agreement was crafted in secret over the last nine months. Officials hope that it will inspire action at the climate talks in Paris in 2015. Prior to this ground-breaking agreement, many believed there was not much hope for a firm commitment in Paris. This is because the United States and China are the two largest economies, as well as the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, and without leadership from these two countries, other governments do not have as much incentive or obligation to cut greenhouse gases.
Although this agreement is an important step in the right direction, it has no enforcement mechanisms, and will not keep the world below the 2 degrees Celsius tipping point beyond which catastrophic climate change is inevitable. Bill McKibben provides interesting thoughts about the significance of the climate deal: what it is, and what it isn’t. McKibben notes that this agreement is an important victory for the grassroots and that it indicates that the grassroots should continue to put pressure on the international community. The Council on Foreign Relations also weighs in.
Let us hope that this agreement will push the world, especially the biggest polluters, towards climate solutions and a binding treaty in Paris.
There was a paucity of serious talk about climate change during America’s 2014 midterm elections. Amid rising sea levels, landmark climate reports, and the hottest June, August, and September on record, the most common sentiment coming from Republican politicians was, “I’m not a scientist.” This refrain is used to deflect tough questions on climate and avoid the politically-charged subject of climate denial.
According to an article from the New York Times, environment and energy issues were the “third-most mentioned issue in political advertisements” during this campaign season. Through these ads, many Republicans, often backed by right-wing billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch of Koch Industries, attacked climate action such as the Environmental Protection Agency regulation of coal-fired power plants, funding for climate science, and political momentum moving toward the climate talks in Paris that are scheduled for late 2015.
Even though a plurality of American voters believe that climate change is occurring and that the government should curb greenhouse gas emissions, with Congress now solidly Republican, many believe that any hopes of a federal effort to address climate change are dashed.
This Tuesday, September 23rd (two days after the People’s Climate March), world leaders gathered at the United Nations in New York City for the 2014 UN Climate Summit. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called world leaders to New York City in order “to raise political momentum for a meaningful universal climate agreement in Paris in 2015 and to galvanize transformative action in all countries to reduce emissions and build resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change.” You can read the Final Summary of the Summit, written by Mr. Ban, here.
Many countries committed to strong action, such as Costa Rica (100% clean energy by 2016), Iceland (economy completely powered with clean energy), and Nicaragua (90% renewable energy by 2020). You can read more about the major commitments or check out this cool interactive map.
However, the Climate Summit did not push us forward, toward decisive international action, as much as some would like. The scientific community has been educating the general public about climate change for decades, and yet no international legislation has succeeded in curbing emissions. In fact, this year the world will produce 65% more carbon emissions than it did in 1990.
As many of the protesters chanted at the People’s Climate March, “Hey, Barack, you talk the talk, now walk the walk!” (You can see President Obama’s full speech here.) Climate change is an issue that all world leaders should be focusing on. If they do not start “walking the walk,” and take serious action on climate at COP21 next year in Paris, the future of human civilization will be in jeopardy.