Baldcypress trees at sunrise in North Carolina. The effects of climate change on baldcypress swamps from rising levels of carbon dioxide have been linked to increases in temperatures in North America, and scientists are studying how well natural wetlands can pull gases from the atmosphere. Photo by the U.S. Geological Survey via Flickr Creative Commons.

Business as Usual

By Kevin Hall

I would not want to be born today nor would I wish it on anyone.

The growing uncertainty around whether the planet’s climate will remain stable through the end of this century is now so great that the thought of having to be 80 years old in 2100 fills me with dread. For that matter, I don’t much like 2050’s prospects.

The worst can still be avoided, albeit with an improbable Herculean effort, but between the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere and the latent heat stored in the oceans, a great degree of disruption is unavoidable. For a comprehensive look at the current state of affairs, see “The UN’s Devastating Climate Change Report Was Too Optimistic” by Nafeez Ahmed at motherboard.vice.com.

Ahmed offers analysis of the recent UN IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5℃, alongside other climate-related research, which warns that six “climate tipping points” are being reached sooner than expected. This isn’t because of a miscalculation in the rate of growing pollution levels, but because critical thresholds of high global temperatures are being reached at lower levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs) than anticipated.

In short, things are happening faster than anticipated just a decade ago. The kicker is that once these tipping points are crossed, feedback loops of ice-melt or releases of naturally stored GHGs are activated and no amount of reductions in human-caused emissions can turn them off. The loss of the summer arctic ice cap and resulting absorption of heat by the waters rather than a reflection of light and heat off the ice and back into space is an example, as is the release of methane from melting permafrost.

So when scientists warn that the “business as usual” scenario for emissions must be avoided and steeps cuts made, they are to be taken literally. They are not using the familiar phrase euphemistically to soften the blow. No, they’re talking about the economy, literally the ways in which business is conducted and the need for all of it to change. Dramatically. And within a decade. I am not optimistic, to say the least.

Regardless of international efforts and given the inescapable impacts headed our way, especially if they are to be successfully mitigated to the degree we need to survive, a very big part of the solution is to organize locally. Independent, combustion-free systems of energy and food production will need to be developed, land use and transportation systems retooled.

Another cause for local organizing and a collateral trend of climate change is the rise of authoritarianism here and abroad. As resources grow increasingly scarce, weather insecurity spreads, income inequity skyrockets and the financial stability of households and nations crumble, every corner of the planet is experiencing the rise of right-wing populism to varying degrees.

Which brings me, of all things, to the November ballot’s Yes on P—Clean, Safe Parks for Fresno tax initiative. Because children are being born today, and they deserve full, healthy lives to 2100 and beyond.   

And because we need to build community, and the parks campaign is truly a community-wide effort thanks to years of nonpartisan, public education and organizing efforts by the coalition members of Fresno Building Healthy Communities (BHC) and millions of dollars in backing by the California Endowment. The groups started in the field almost a decade ago by simply asking the city’s adult residents and youth what their priorities were, and parks were right at the top.

But the city’s local military, its police department, is actively opposing the parks tax. Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer, the Fresno Police Officers Association and their current lead mouthpiece, Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, want a force-enlarging sales tax passed first; they’ve been joined by the firefighters, too.

In this struggle, the city’s voters are seeing a mild but revealing microcosm of the tension between environmentalism and militarism that is playing out worldwide. Residents of a resource-strapped community are being asked to choose between visions: one that emphasizes community building versus a militaristic, top-down policing of its population. We need to green our cities and planet now.

The parks tax also offers an example of politicians following public opinion. Every candidate for Fresno City Council now endorses the tax, which wasn’t true a short time ago, and it is polling at high levels of support. This dynamic is also critical to addressing climate change. The current Fresno City Council has a record of violating environmental law and refusing to estimate air pollution and GHG emissions from new industrial developments (Community Alliance, April 2018), so they clearly need to be pressured or led into any solution.

Finally, taking direct action is the healthiest possible next step for all concerned, and the quickest cure for climate change anxiety or the brightest step available toward improving the place you live is to walk a precinct. Get out and talk to your fellow Fresnans about parks. It’s an enjoyable conversation greater than 70% of the time if polls are any indication.

As someone who has organized and run field campaigns in the past, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Yes on P effort. Led by BHC leaders Sandra Celedon and Kimberly McCoy from an office at Fresno and Barstow, first-time walkers and old pros alike are guaranteed a positive, structured approach. Go to www.FresnoForParks.com for details. Congressional races are also a critically important place to get involved.

Another exciting local development is the Community Choice Energy effort. Destiny Rodriguez of the Center for Climate Protection is the local organizer, and she brings a long history of direct involvement on air quality issues in the San Joaquin Valley. Community Choice, when applied correctly, is a unique California law that allows cities and counties to become purchasers of renewable energy for their entire communities. The result can be locally or regionally produced renewable energy, and as they’re run by not-for-profit agencies, the bottom line is not shareholder returns but stable prices for clean energy systems. Rodriguez can be reached at destiny@climateprotection.org or 559-541-0954.

Join the fight for survival.

*****

Kevin Hall is a former Fresno County Planning Commissioner and a long-time air quality advocate.

  • Community Alliance

    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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