We are facing a global emergency. Our scientists tell us that human-induced climate change brought on by the burning of fossil fuels has taken the human race and our fellow species into the sixth mass extinction event of life on Earth. Yet few people alive today are even aware of this emerging reality. The intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific body of the United Nations, issued a dire warning in October 2018 that global warming emissions are accelerating and that we are on the verge of a series of escalating climatic events, imperiling life on the planet. The IPCC estimated that human activity has caused the temperature to rise 10C, it will unleash runaway feedback loops and a cascade of climate-change events that would decimate the Earth’s ecosystems.1 There would be no return to the kind of life we know today.
According to the famed Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson, “the extinction of species by human activity continues to accelerate, fast enough to eliminate more than half of all species by the end of this century.” –by the time today’s toddlers are senior citizens.2 The last time the Earth experienced an extinction event of this magnitude was 65 million years ago.3 The IPCC concluded that to avoid the environmental abyss we would have to cut the emission of global warming gases 45 percent from 2010 levels—and we only have twelve years left to make this happen.4 This will require a transformation of our global economy, our society, and our very way of life without precedent in human history. In other words, the human race faces a razor-thin timeline for a radical re-orientation of civilization.
The wakeup call came in November 2018 national elections in the United States, A younger generation of congresspersons came to Washington and the House of Representatives passionately committed to a radical redirection of the American economy to address climate change while simultaneously creating new green businesses and employment that will ensure a more equitable distribution of the fruits of life. In November, young protesters from the Sunrise Movement stormed the halls of Congress and staged sit-ins in the offices of Nancy Pelosi, soon to become Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Steny Hoyer, the incoming majority leader of the House. The protesters were joined by Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Ocasio-Cortez called for the creation of a select committee in the incoming House tasked with the mission of creating a “Green New Deal” for America. The committee would set a one-year deadline to create an industrial plan to address climate change, decarbonize the economic infrastructure within ten years, create new business opportunities, and employ millions of disadvantaged workers in an emerging green economy—a bold “aspirational” proposal far beyond anything yet put forward by America’s cities, counties, and states.5 In the new term, congressional leadership equivocated, on the proposal and ultimately established a Select Committee on the Climate Crisis with little power to act.
Meanwhile, on February 7, 2019, Ocasio-Cortez in the House of Ed Markey in the Senate introduced a Green Deal Resolution. One hundred and three members of Congress have already cosponsored it, including several of the major presidential contenders within the Democratic Party: Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand.6 Democratic presidential hopefuls Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke have also lent their support to a Green New Deal. So have former vice president Al Gore and three hundred state and local government officials from across the country, including South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, another Democratic presidential aspirant. There is no doubt that the Green New Deal has energized both he progressive politicians and a younger generation of voters and will be a central theme of the 2020 national electoral campaigns.
Elected officials are sensing a sea change in public opinion that is quickly moving the issue of climate change from near obscurity to make it the central issue facing the American people. In blue and red states across America, individuals, families, workers, and businesses are becoming frightened about the violent changes in the weather and the deteriorating impact that climate change is having on ecosystems, causing widespread property damage, disruption of the business cycle, and loss of human life.
A December 2018 public opinion poll conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that 73 percent of respondents think global warming is happening—an increase of 10 percentage points since 2015—and nearly half (46 percent) say they have experienced the effects of global warming—an increase of 15 percentage points since 2015. Moreover, 48 percent of Americans agree that people across the United States “are being harmed by global warming ‘right now,’” an increase of 16 percentage since 2015. Most disquieting of all, an overwhelming majority of Americans believe that global warming is harming the world’s poor (67 percent), plant and animal species (74 percent), and future generations (75 percent).7
The turnaround in the national mood comes in the aftermath of an escalating number of catastrophic climate events over the past decade. What makes climate change so terrifying is that it disrupts the Earth’s hydrosphere, which is essential to maintaining life. Earth is the water planet. Our ecosystem have evolved over eons in consort with the water cycles that traverse the planet via the clouds. Here’s the rub. For each one-degree rise in the temperature on Earth attributed to the increase of global warming emissions, the water-holding capacity of air increases by approximately 7 percent, leading to more concentrated precipitation in the clouds and the generation of more extreme water events: frigid winter temperatures and blockbuster snows; devastating spring floods, prolonged summer droughts and horrifying wildfires; and deadly category 3, 4, and 5 hurricanes, with untold loss of life and property and destruction of ecosystems.8 The Earth’s biomes, which developed in tandem with a fairly predictable hydrological cycle over the 11,700 years since the end of the last ice age, cannot catch up with the runaway exponential curve currently driving the Earth’s hydrological cycle, and they are collapsing in real time.9
It’s no wonder, then, that a survey of American voters conducted just after the 2018 national elections asking their opinion on launching a Green New Deal plan for addressing climate change, akin to the New Deal mobilization in the 1930s that helped life America out of the Great Depression, found widespread support across all political affiliations. The Green New Deal “would generate 100% of the nations’ electricity from clean, renewable sources within the next 10 years, upgrade the nation’s energy grid, buildings, and transportation infrastructure; increase energy efficiency; invest in green technology research and development; and provide training for jobs in the new green economy.” Ninety-two percent of Democrats supported the idea, including 93 percent of liberal democrats and 90 percent of moderate-to-conservative Democrats. But 64 percent of Republicans—including 75 percent of moderate-to-liberal Republicans and 57 percent of conservative Republicans—also backed the policy goals outlined in the Green New Deal. Eighty-eight percent of independents endorsed the policies as well.10
The widespread support for a Green New Deal among Democrats, Republicans, and independent voters suggest potential watershed in American politics with far-reaching implications for the 2020 presidential elections and beyond. Climate Change is no longer only an academic issue and long-term policy concern but, father, a frightening reality for millions of Americans who sense that the country and world are facing a new and harrowing future unlike any previous period in human history.
The American public is not the only constituency that is running scared and motivated to act. The global elite of heads of state, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and billionaires meeting in Davos, Switzerland, at the annual get-together of the World Economic Forum in January 2019 were abuzz about the dire warnings from scientists. Conversation about the impacts that climate change is having on economies, businesses, and the financial community dominated the public sessions and private huddles. In a survey of attendees, climate issues accounted for four of the top five risks that could cause the most damage to the economy.11 Gillian Tett of the Financial Times reported that even though “Davosians apparently fear that extreme weather events are becoming more common,” they agree that “the world has no effective mechanism to respond.”12
At the same time the World Economic Forum was meeting in Davos, a group of twenty-seven Nobel laureates, fifteen former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers to the President, four former chairpersons of the Federal Reserve, and two former US secretaries of the treasury joined together in an urgent appeal to the US government to enact a carbon emissions tax as the best and quickest means to help cut carbon dioxide emissions an encourages businesses to transition into the new green energies, technologies, and infrastructure of a zero-carbon era. Larry Summers, a former treasury secretary and president emeritus of Harvard University, spoke for the group, saying,
“The gravity of the climate change problem concentrates minds and leads people to put aside differences. People who agree on little seem to agree on this. And that’s strking.”13
The signers said that the proposed carbon tax would send “a powerful price signal that harnesses the invisible hand of the marketplace to steer economic actors towards a low-carbon future” and “promote economic growth.” They recommended that the tax “should increase every year until emissions reductions goals are met and be revenue neutral to avoid debates over the size of the government,” because “a consistently rising carbon price will encourage technological innovation and large-scale infrastructure development and accelerate the shift to low and zero carbon goods and services.” The proposals includes an additional feature designed “to maximize the fairness and political viability of a rising carbon tax.” All of the revenue generated from the tax will be “returned directly to US citizens through equal lump-sum rebates” so that “the majority of American families, including the most vulnerable, will benefit financially by receiving more in ‘carbon dividends’ than they pay in increased energy prices.”14
Americans are not alone in clamoring for a Green New Deal. More than a decade ago, a comparable movement to address climate change swept across the European Union. It, too, was called the “Green New Deal,” and it inspired a growing legion of activists. Then name stuck and remains a power rallying cry among political parties across the member states of the EU to this day, providing a central theme in the 2019 elections to select the new president of the European Commission and the members of the European Parliament.
On March 15, 2019, more than a million students of the Gen Z cohort joined ranks with their millennial elders and walked out of their classrooms and onto the streets in an unprecedented one-day strike, taking part in over two thousand demonstrations across 128 countries protesting their governments’ inaction on climate change and demanding a global transforming into a postcarbon green era.15
Although there’s a widespread agreement across the political spectrum that transitioning to a zero-carbon society is daunting, a path does exist that might stave off the additional half-a-degree rise in temperature that would doom life on Earth and give us a chance to reorder our relationship to the planet. Here is the possibility: Solar, wind, and other renewable energies are quickly coming online. According to a November 2018 study by Lazard—one of the world’s largest independent investment banks—the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) of large solar installations has plummeted to 36 dollars/megawatt hour, while wind has fallen to 29 dollars/megawatt hour, making them “cheaper than the most efficient gas plants, coal plants, and nuclear reactors.”16 LCOE is an economic assessment of the average total cost to build and operate a power-generating asset over its lifetime divided by the total energy output of the asset over that lifetime.”17 Within the next eight years, solar and wind will be far cheaper than fossil fuel energies, forcing a showdown with the fossil fuel industry.18
The Carbon Tracker Initiative, a London-based think tank serving the energy industry, reports that the steep decline in the price of generating solar and wind energy “will inevitably lead to trillions of dollars of stranded assets across the corporate sector and hit petro-states that fail to reinvent themselves,” while “putting trillions at risk for unsavvy investors oblivious to the speed of the unfolding energy transition.”19 “Stranded assets” are the fossil fuels that will remain in the ground because of falling demand as well as the abandonment of pipelines, ocean platforms, storage facilities, energy generation plants, backup power plants, petrochemical processing facilities, and industries tightly coupled to the fossil fuel culture.
Behind the scenes, a seismic struggle is taking place as four of the principal sectors responsible for global warming—the Information and Communications Technology (ICT)/telecommunications sector; the power and electric utility sector, the mobility and logistics sector, and the buildings sector—are beginning to decouple from the fossil fuel industry in favor of adopting the cheaper new green energies. The result is that within the fossil fuel industry, “around $100 trillion of assets could be ‘carbon stranded.’”20
The carbon bubble is the largest economic bubble in history. And studies and reports over the past twenty-four months—from within the global financial community, the insurance sector, global trade organizations, national governments, and many of the leading consulting agencies in the energy industry, the transportation sector, and the real estate sector—suggest that the imminent collapse of the fossil fuel industrial civilization could occur sometime between 2023 and 2030, as key sectors decouple from fossil fuels and rely on ever-cheaper solar, wind, and other renewable energies and accompanying zero-carbon technologies.21 The United States, currently the leading oil-producing nation, will be caught in the crosshairs between the plummeting price of solar and wind and the fallout from peak oil demand and accumulating stranded assets in the oil industry.22
Let’s be clear that this Great Disruption is occurring, in large part, because the marketplace is speaking. Every government will have to follow the market or face the consequences. Governments that lead in the scale-up of a new zero-carbon Third Industrial Revolution will stay ahead of the curve. Governments that fail to move with market forces and instead remain in a collapsing twentieth-century fossil fuel culture will falter.
Not surprisingly, a worldwide movement to divest from the oil industry and invest in renewable energies is rapidly gaining strength. The wild card is likely to be over $40 trillion in global pension funds, of which $25.4 trillion is in the hands of the American workforce.23 Pension funds were the largest pool of capital in the world by 2017. If pension funds were to remain invested in the fossil fuel industry, the financial losses to millions of American workers would be incalculable at the juncture where the carbon bubble bursts.
A deep conversation has just begun within the financial community around whether to stay the course and continue investment or abandon ship and invest in the new green energies and the new business and employment opportunities that would come with the build-out and scale-up of the new green infrastructure in America and around the world. Many institutional investors, led by global pension funds, have begun cashing out of fossil fuels and investing in renewable energies in what is becoming the biggest divest/invest campaign in capitalist history. More than a thousand institutional investors in thirty-seven nations, including some of the biggest cities and labor unions, have thus far committed to divesting $8 trillion in funds from the fossil fuel industry and reinvesting in the green energies, clean technologies, and business models that will take us to a zero-carbon future.24
The emergence of the carbon bubble and stranded fossil fuel assets concurrent with a popular movement for a global Green New Deal opens a window to the possibility of an infrastructure shift into a near-zero-carbon ecological era over the coming twenty years.
While the call for a Green New Deal is quickly gathering momentum, there is a realization among its proponents and supporters that there is as yet no clear path to an “industrial Revolution” that could accomplish the mission.
(Please if possible give this book a read!)