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The Making Of An Emergency

Lethal Heating - 19 August, 2019 - 05:00
U.S. News - Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder

Mostly non-binding climate emergency declarations are drawing some concern.
People watch waves break against a floodwall along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain after the area flooded in the wake of Hurricane Barry on July 13, 2019 in Mandeville, Louisiana.LAWMAKERS IN THE TEXAS city of Austin voted last week to declare a "climate emergency" that calls on city officials to identify innovative approaches to address the crisis and for immediate emergency mobilization to "restore a safe climate."
"The first step in solving any problem is to name it," city council member Alison Alter said in a statement after the vote. "The climate crisis is an emergency. We must treat it like one."
Austin is not the first city to make such a sweeping declaration, and grassroots environmental groups hope it isn't the last.
Twenty-four U.S. cities and counties have instituted climate emergencies in less than two years, including in New York City and Santa Cruz, California. Some 900 jurisdictions across the world have also declared them. The swell coincides with a growing frustration in some places over a Trump administration climate agenda that is seen at best as inadequate and at worst as nonexistent.
In most cases, the declarations are non-binding. Sometimes, they are accompanied by goals or benchmarks or strategies. But supporters say their greatest utility is that they instill urgency and represent a new way of thinking about the problem.
Most of the declarations fall along the same lines – detailing a string of global or region-specific facts about climate change before an appeal for an emergency. Some governments, including Amherst, Massachusetts, and Boulder, Colorado, took additional steps on emissions-reduction goals or created committees to explore the issues deeper.
The first U.S. county-wide climate emergency declaration came in December 2017 from Maryland's Montgomery County, an affluent suburb of 1 million people that borders Washington, D.C. It cited a "strong consensus among scientists that greenhouse gas emissions must be eliminated in a decade at most" and "cataclysmic changes to Earth" due to climate change.
For now, the declarations are gaining support in mostly liberal-leaning jurisdictions. But the movement isn't random, and it is also not without criticism from some climate change experts.
A grassroots environmental advocacy group called The Climate Mobilization has had a guiding hand in the effort from the get-go.
Founded in 2014, the organization aims to "initiate a WWII-scale mobilization to reverse global warming and the mass extinction of species in order to protect humanity and the natural world from climate catastrophe," according to its website.
Margaret Klein Salamon, founder and executive director, says that when she decided to work on climate change issues, she went looking for a non-governmental organization to join. She says she didn't see any that she thought were telling the full truth about the climate emergency, so she founded an organization to advocate for a paradigm shift from "business as normal into an emergency mode."
Klein Salamon says her background as a psychologist frames her thinking for her current work. She argues in her strategy for shifting the public's perception that climate change is like having a fire in your home.
"You do whatever you can to try to put out the fire or exit the house. You make a plan about how you can put out the fire, or how you can best exit the house. Your senses are heightened, you are focused like a laser, and you put your entire self into your actions. You enter emergency mode," she wrote.
Events across the world indicate a climate emergency, she says. Scientists say the globe is on track for the past five years to be the hottest ever documented. Heat waves like the ones that blasted much of Europe this summer and made June 2019 the hottest June on recordand July the hottest month ever recorded. Record-breaking ice sheet melting in Greenland, flooding in the U.S. and wildfire seasons in the Arctic are just some of the challenges people are already facing thanks in part to climate change, according to experts.
The Climate Mobilization lobbied for the first resolution, introduced in Maryland, and the latest one adopted in Austin. It scored a big win last month when progressive lawmakers, including Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, introduced a bicameral bill that the group helped draft declaring a national climate emergency.
"It cannot be understated scientifically what needs to be done politically," Ocasio-Cortez told reporters.
Like the declarations that came before it, the measure would be largely symbolic. It states that climate change "demands a national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization" of U.S. resources and labor.
Ocasio-Cortez said the bill, which likely won't find enough support in the Republican-controlled Senate, "acknowledges the scale of the problem." Its goal is to express "the sense of Congress that there is a climate emergency which demands a massive-scale mobilization to halt, reverse, and address its consequences and causes."
But the declarations haven't skated by without some skepticism.
Alex Trembath, the deputy director of the Breakthrough Institute, told VICE News that he is concerned the efforts could be "meaningless."
"They're sort of declaring an emergency for declaration's sake," Trembath said.
They're not the only front on which the terminology about climate change is being debated. The U.K.-based Guardian newspaper, for example, earlier this year announced a change to its style guide that clarified the preferred terms going forward would be "climate emergency, crisis or breakdown" and that "global heating" is favored over "global warming." It stopped short of banning the original terms.
"We want to ensure that we are being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on this very important issue," editor-in-chief Katharine Viner said. "The phrase 'climate change,' for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity."
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. took a cautious step in that direction, telling its journalists in a language guide that "climate crisis" and "climate emergency" are "OK in some cases as synonyms for 'climate change.'"
"But they're not always the best choice... For example, "climate crisis" could carry a whiff of advocacy in certain political coverage," the broadcaster said.
Ann Carlson, an environmental law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, says the declarations don't appear to hold much legal weight. She suggests they could be used to push back against policies that don't line up with addressing climate change, like fossil fuel projects.
Carlson says she doesn't want to discourage the effort but adds that she is concerned that the term "emergency" could scare people and result in the very opposite of what supporters want.
"The idea that climate change is an emergency, I worry, sends a signal that if we don't immediately act, we are doomed and we just throw our hands up," Carlson says.
That concern arose as early as 2006, when the Institute for Public Policy Research, a left-wing British think tank, warned that language that heightens the magnitude of the problem might be counterproductive by making it seem unsolvable.
"In this awesome form, alarmism might even become secretly thrilling – effectively a form of 'climate porn,'" the institute said in a report. "It also positions climate change as yet another apocalyptic construction that is perhaps a figment of our cultural imaginations, further undermining its ability to help bring about action."
But Klein Salamon defends the word choice, saying anything less would be underplaying the risks involved.
She acknowledges that the declarations aren't a cure-all. While the declarations have symbolic importance, "they must signal a shift into a new mode of governance," she says. That's why The Climate Mobilization plans to roll out a policy framework geared toward addressing the climate emergency, Klein Salamon says. One of its first suggested steps will be banning construction on any new fossil fuel infrastructure, like pipelines.
Carlson says she sees parallels between the declarations and the Paris Agreement. Neither has an enforcement mechanism, but the Paris Agreement, Carlson says, has more "meat on its bones" through its nation-specific commitments. Still, very few nations are on track to meet their Paris Agreement goals, according to Climate Action Tracker.
Just as the Paris Agreement doesn't hold nations legally accountable for their commitments, climate emergency declarations don't require localities to act on climate change.
For example, a day after declaring a climate emergency, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved a massive expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline that could transport an additional 590,000 barrels of oil per day.
Klein Salamon calls the move "totally hypocritical" but defends the declaration. "Without one, it would have been business as usual," she says.
"Some declarations are the strongest statements we've seen from governments, period," Klein Salamon says.
Both Carlson and Klein Salamon acknowledge a shift in how people are talking and thinking about climate change, especially in the political sphere.
"I would say that climate politics right now is the most rapidly changing transformation I've ever seen on any political issue," Klein Salamon says. "For the first time ever, we're seeing political candidates trying to outcompete each other on who is best for climate."
Polls show that voters are interested in climate change discussions. Pew Research Center found in a public priorities poll that 44% of Americans said climate change should be a top issue for Congress and the president. Another poll found that likely 2020 Democratic primary voters in California, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina ranked climate change as the second most important issue behind universal health care.
Mounting demand for addressing climate change in 2020 presidential campaigns has led CNN and MSNBC to schedule climate change town halls and the Democratic National Committee to reconsider hosting a debate on the subject.
While Klein Salamon hopes the swell of climate emergency declarations continues, actions from jurisdictions are only marginally beneficial, experts say, because most of the power to fight climate change lies with the federal government.
To Carlson, the declarations show an "incredible frustration" from a lack of action from the federal government that she calls "close to criminal." She says she wonders if these shifts could mean that the U.S. is approaching a moment when public demand for action becomes so strong that politicians can no longer ignore it.

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‘Our People Are Dying’: Australia’s Climate Confrontation In The Pacific

Lethal Heating - 19 August, 2019 - 05:00
The Guardian

Leaders at this week’s Pacific Islands Forum couldn’t disguise their anger over Canberra’s climate crisis ‘red lines’
Children symbolically representing climate change greet Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, as he arrived at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAPIt was always going to be a showdown on the climate crisis.As leaders from the Pacific gathered in Tuvalu for their annual Pacific Islands Forum, there was one subject destined to dwarf all others and which pitted Australia, with its increasing emissions and plans for new coalmines, against its small island neighbours.And PIF 2019 turned out to be exactly that: a reckoning on the climate emergency confronting the Pacific.
There were moving speeches from young Pasifika speaking of their fears for their future, tears in the leaders’ retreat, and accusations that Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, had shown such disrespect toward his counterparts during their marathon 12-hour meeting, that the Fijian prime minister said Pacific countries may be driven further into the arms of China.
The choice of location for the forum was significant. Tuvalu, located about two hours on a plane north of Fiji, is one of the countries most at risk. The main island, where the capital, Funafuti, is located, is an ever-decreasing sliver of land, at its narrowest just 20m wide, and just 3m above sea level. It faces a host of problems including salinity of the water table, which makes growing crops extremely difficult, coastal erosion that is seeing islands crumble into the sea, storm surges and rising temperatures. You are trying to save your economy, I am trying to save my people
Enele Sopoaga
The event was a huge undertaking for Tuvalu, which is designated as a “least developed country” and has a population of around 11,000 people. The convention centre, as well as about 75% of accommodation used for the event, was built specifically for the conference, and right up until people started arriving for the forum, Tuvaluans were laying electricity cables, painting, bringing in furniture – and working in shifts around the clock to get ready.
To feed delegates, different communities from Tuvalu’s outer islands took turns preparing and bringing in food, presenting lavish lunches and dinners of crab, lobster, fish, chicken, salads, taro and custard coconut cake. On several nights, large traditional dances or fateles were held, with the different islands taking it in turn to run the night’s entertainment.
Locals cook fish on an umu, or traditional earth oven, by the lagoon in Funafuti. Groups across the island helped feed the delegates during the foruem. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/EPATuvalu’s prime minister, Enele Sopoaga, told the Guardian ahead of the conference that Tuvalu was seeing the event as an opportunity to showcase its culture – to show the world what would be lost, apart from land, if Tuvalu were to disappear.
From the opening speech of the climate crisis summit, delivered by Fiji’s prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, held the day before the forum officially opened, it was clear that Pacific leaders had their eyes on one forum member country in particular when it came to climate action.
“I appeal to Australia to do everything possible to achieve a rapid transition from coal to energy sources that do not contribute to climate change,” he said, adding that coal posed an “existential threat” to Pacific countries.
When Scott Morrison arrived on Wednesday afternoon, he was asked by Sopoaga, as all leaders were, to stop and consider the installation built at the entry to the airport – a model of an island in distress with a moat around it, in which young children sat.
Groups of children sang a welcome song: “We have a problem, we need to solve it, we need to start right now.” Before singing a version of Sopoaga’s famous statement on climate change: “Save Tuvalu to save the world.”
Children symbolically representing climate change greet New Zealand’s PM, Jacinta Ardern, as she arrives for the Pacific Islands Forum. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAPMorrison’s announcement of $500m in climate resilience and adaptation for the Pacific region on Monday night, while welcomed by Pacific leaders, did not buy Australia much of a reprieve. The next day, Sopoaga said: “No matter how much money you put on the table, it doesn’t give you the excuse to not to do the right thing, which is to cut down on your emissions, including not opening your coalmines.”
The main event of the week, the leaders’ retreat, was held on Thursday, with leaders, in the customary matching shirts, sitting down to thrash out the language of a forum communique and climate change statement, that will be used as the basis of regional decision-making.At dawn on the morning of the retreat, as he stood watching an early-morning demonstration of traditional Tuvaluan fishing methods, Sopoaga said he was optimistic and thought negotiations would be wrapped up by lunchtime. 
Traditional fishing methods are used to round up fish during the forum. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAPSopoaga said the fishing method was a good metaphor for what the leaders were trying to do that day: a group of people walk out into the water and advance in a line, slapping and waving palm branches underwater, to frighten the fish which are herded toward the reef and then eventually surrounded by the group who hold hands and advance, trapping them with their bodies before they are scooped up with nets.
“You go in unison, you go like a human net. It’s a community thing, it’s a collective. I think that’s the way to address climate change. We must base it on a community approach,” Sopoaga said.
Tuvalu’s prime minister, Enele Sopoaga, told Australia’s PM, Scott Morrison: ‘You are trying to save your economy, I am trying to save my people.’ Photograph: Mick Tsikas/EPABut that community was sorely tested throughout Thursday, in a meeting between the leaders that Vanuatu’s foreign minister described as “fierce at times” and almost broke down twice, due to Australia’s refusal to budge on certain red lines, including insisting on the removal of mentions of coal, limiting warming to under 1.5C and setting a plan for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.Sopoaga said the next day he had told Morrison at one point during discussions: “You are trying to save your economy, I am trying to save my people.”Emotions ran high, with Sopoaga revealing that at one point during discussions, the Tongan prime minister, Akilisi Pohiva, cried as he reflected on a presentation given by two young women at the climate change summit earlier in the week about their fears for the future.
Pohiva cut a dignified but heartrending figure throughout the week. He attended the summit despite serious health concerns, which he told the Guardian meant this year’s PIF would likely be his last. His frailty was evident, but so too was his deep feeling for Tuvalu, with other leaders speaking of the enormous respect his presence, despite his illness, demonstrated for the region and its concerns.
An exhausted Sopoaga eventually emerged from the retreat venue on Thursday night, after almost 12 hours of negotiations, and told the waiting press that an agreement had been reached on the forum communique and climate change statement.
(L-R) Kiribati’s President Taneti Maamau, Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna, Tonga’s Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Pohiva cried as he reflected on a presentation given by two young women about their fears for the future. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAPAustralia had succeeded in watering down the language of the communique, and keeping out any mention of coal and its other “red lines”. But while Australia may have succeeded in softening the language, the means by which it achieved that victory seemed to undermine the government’s much-touted Pacific step-up, in which Canberra seeks to engage more concertedly with the region, particularly in light of China’s increasing interest in it.
The Fijian prime minister expressed his anger with how events had unfolded in the leaders’ retreat, telling the Guardian that Morrison had been “very insulting and condescending” and that his behaviour could lead countries to reject Australia in favour of engagement with China.
“After what we went through with Morrison, nothing can be worse than him,” Bainimarama said.
As the accommodation was packed up and the Australian defence force Hercules planes took delegates away, the people of Tuvalu remained, facing the same threats and dangers they did before leaders came to debate what to do about them.
On the final night of the forum, a clearly disappointed Sopoaga urged Tuvaluans who were unhappy with the “compromised” language coming out of the event not to lose hope, and he urged the rest of the world to remember the plight of his people: “We ask, please understand this, our people are dying.”

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