By Steve Austin, JD | ASLA | Clinical Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, Washington State University
As the climate crisis accelerates, many well-meaning people are energetically promoting grand visions under Green New Deal banners to prepare the US for a post carbon future. The visions are extremely appealing, covering seemingly vital needs such as clean energy, transportation, affordable housing, ecological restoration, with justice as a goal and creating in good jobs in the process. Yet if we are not careful, all of these plans will come with an unbearable climate cost: the embodied emissions inherent in the proposals represent nothing but an emission blitz that will only make the crisis worse.
It would be the height of injustice – but par for the American course – to unleash this emission blitz on the rest of the planet simply because we built everything wrong and waited too long to realize it. Climate science doesn’t allow for a grace period in which the U.S. is afforded an opportunity to “finally get it right this time.”
The crisis is rapidly worsening. An April 2020 study found that, without massive changes to our current emissions trajectory, 2°C of global warming is likely to be reached sometime around 2040 – less than 20 years. Climate writer David Wallace Wells recently described the consequences of reaching that bleak temperature landmark: “more than 150 million additional people would die from the effects of pollution, storms that used to arrive once every century would hit every single year, and that lands that are today home to 1,5 billion people would become literally uninhabitable, at least by the standard of human history.” According to climate scientist Joëlle Gergis,“the implications of this are unimaginable – we may witness planetary collapse far sooner than we once thought.”
A late 2019 study shows that Global heating has already triggered9 of the 15 known tipping points of the planetary regulating system, potentially leading to a cascade of unstoppable, devastating climactic events. These could destabilize living conditions over large swaths of the planet, causing immense human suffering and likely leading to sustained global military conflict over the coming decades. Leading climate scientists recently published a paper in the journal Naturethat concluded that “this is an existential threat to civilization.”
This relentless rush toward 2°C of global heating will set in motion “disastrous consequences” possibly beyond humanity’s control as preeminent climate scientist James Hansen and others concluded in a 2013 study. There is no doubt what the consequences will be. According to writer Wen Stephensen in the book What We’re Fighting for Now Is Each Other: Dispatches From the Front Lines of Climate Justice, these consequences will be “to rob people, starting with the poorest and most vulnerable on the planet, of their land, their homes, their livelihoods, even their lives — and their children’s lives, and their children’s children’s lives.” He concludes: “There’s a word for this: these are crimes. They are crimes against the earth, and they are crimes against humanity.”
Climate science is absolutely clear as to how to avoid this: we must end all CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, land use change, ruminant animals and cement. And further, we must do everything possible to draw down excess CO2 in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the UN climate report in 2018 that suggested we had until 2030 to reduce emissions by roughly half in order to limit warming to 1.5C has given us a false sense of time to address the problem.
This should now be apparent: there are no years left to reduce emissions – we must end them now. On our current trajectory, the planet is heading towards 3C to 5C of additional heating this century. Therefore the conception that we have any carbon budget leftis just monstrous. This means the end of sweeping high emission dreams of a better way, only the truth that any more emissions will perpetuate global climate violence and injustice.
How are any extravagant Green New Deal plans compatible with this?
Certainly, the ideas contained in many iterations of the Green New Deal hold out exciting Continue reading “Climate Violence American Style: A Green New Deal Emission Blitz”