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Notes from a Small Planet: Hopeful Developments on Climate Change

Basia Yoffe
October 22, 2014
by Basia Yoffe 1310WHY IS THE CLIMATE-CHANGE MOVEMENT different from all other movements? The answer is the high level of motivation of the activists and the passion with which they move forward. People who have taken a long, hard look at the science of climate change see this as a life-or-death struggle, involving not just individual human lives or the lives of human communities, but the future of human civilization and of species across the Earth. Members of faith groups, unions, indigenous peoples, and the science community are therefore joining together to step up their actions to protect the planet. This passion was validated and heightened by the September 21st People's Climate March, which turned out 400,000 in New York City. More than three weeks after, at a policy speech he gave at Yale, Todd Stern, the U.S. lead climate negotiator at the UN Climate Summit, cited the march as evidence that the public demands action. He spoke of "the people" stealing the show at the UN Climate Summit, and of bold new initiatives that he hoped would lead to an agreement next year in Paris dealing with mitigation, accountability, and adaptation. caridonaldAnd the ripples of the march do not stop with Todd Stern. Recently I forwarded a 350.org e-mail to Cari Gardner, an organizer with Romemu, an Upper West Side synagogue (standing in pink sneakers in the photo at left). She answered me with a list of activities she was undertaking, including turning people out to protest fracking at an Andrew Cuomo book-signing event, to call Cuomo's office, to attend an October 11th fracking demonstration, and to sign the "Our Voices" petition calling for an effective 2015 UN Climate Summit in Paris. Cari also told me about the progress she's making with an effort to get everyone in her community of Hastings to compost their garbage. Rabbi Ellen Lippman of Kolot Chayeinu in Brooklyn invited Rabbi Arthur Waskow during the Sukkot holiday to speak to her congregation on the urgency of participating in this movement to save the planet. Julie Stelton of the Queens Community of Cultural Judaism is on a mission to save the Earth from a Republican Senate majority by volunteering in every phone bank within commuting distance of her home. Mimi Bluestone is donating hours of her time every week to do research, go to events, and write articles (including for this column). These are just four individuals, all of retirement age, in my friendship circles. Climate activism is by no means just a cause for the young! Multiply this by millions and you have the story of a worldwide collective intent on transitioning the world to 100 percent renewable energy, vastly improved efficiency, and a transformed, local agriculture by mid-century. AT THE UN CLIMATE SUMMIT that the People's Climate March was meant to prod into action, over 100 government leaders gave short speeches about climate change and what their countries were committed to doing about it. The four "BRIC" nations — Brazil, Russia, India, and China — were of special importance because of their growing economies and growing demand for energy. Russia, which relies on oil exploration and export as major drivers of its economy, did not come forward with any pledges to cut back on the use of fossil fuels, but Brazil, India, and China did make commitments. Brazil promised to submit a national climate adaptation plan in the next year; India to double its amount of energy from wind and solar by 2020; China to cut carbon intensity up to 45 percent over 2005 levels by 2020, and to double financial support for cooperation with developing countries. The European Union and the United States also made commitments. The EU pledged to cut emissions by 40 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2030, and to 80 to 95 percent by 2050, and to provide 14 billion Euros for climate financing to other nations over the next seven years. President Obama signed an executive order directing all federal agencies in the U.S. to begin factoring climate resilience into international development programs and investments. The U.S. is also deploying experts and technology to help vulnerable nations prepare for weather-related disasters and long-term climate threats. To see a partial list of national pledges at the UN Climate Summit, click here. Like-what-youre-readingGOVERNMENT LEADERS WERE NOT the only ones pledging action. Forty companies signed onto an initiative to cut deforestation by half by 2020 and eliminate it by 2030. Tech companies have led in pressuring states to develop renewable energy programs, and Apple has made it a condition for locating its plants. Labor unions, which provided a major contingent at the People's Climate March, are moving forward also, examining the role they can play. On October 31st, the Murphy Institute and Cornell's GLI/Worker Institute will be cosponsoring a forum, "Temperature Rising: Labor and the Climate Justice Movement." The U.S. Department of Defense seized on the momentum of the UN Summit and the People's Climate March by releasing a twenty-page document, "2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap." This report is far more concerned with responding to national security risks implicit in climate change — risks of famine, migrating populations, flooding, global unrest — than with its prevention. Yet the Department of Defense has also undertaken numerous greening projects that, given its massive budget, could have tremendous significance. My optimism is growing that the negotiations in Paris next year will yield a document that can put humanity on a path to sustainability. I urge readers of Jewish Currents to get active within the international environmental movement to help pave the road to Paris. There were thousands of Jews among the marchers in New York on September 21st; you have a choice of putting your energies into numerous Jewish environmental organizations, both faith-based and secular. Two places to start are Hazon and 350.org. You might also read (or re-read Rabbi Arthur Waskow's Jewish Currents article, "Moving Our Money/Protecting Our Planet." For a primer on climate change and its causes, click here. Basia Yoffe conducts the “Notes from a Small Planet” column in Jewish Currents and is a member of our magazine’s editorial board — and a very active activist.