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September 2012, Week 3

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Bill McKibben: The 350 Parts Per Million Solution*?

By Robert Meeropol

Rosenberg Fund for Children 
September 13, 2012

http://www.rfc.org/blog/article/1215

 Last week my wife and I heard Bill McKibben, the founder of
 350.org*, speak at Amherst College. Bill is probably the
 leading environmental activist in the country. The 650
 people who jammed the original lecture hall, and the 300
 more who flooded the video-fed, auxiliary venue, were a
 testament to his drawing power and the growing unease so
 many feel about climate change.

 Bill did a great job of demonstrating the gravity of the
 situation by making these points, which he also laid out in
 a recent article in Rolling Stone Magazine (see
 http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719#ixzz26BZi8vrG):

  * The only thing the world's nations could agree upon at
  the failed climate change conference in Copenhagen in 2009
  was that it would become extremely difficult to sustain
  civilized life if global temperature rose more than 2
  degrees Celsius.

  * we've already raised global temperature     by 1 degree.

  * In order to avoid topping the 2-degree limit we cannot
   emit more than 565 more gigatons of CO2 into our
   atmosphere before 2050. Fossil fuel companies already have
   known reserves of coal, oil and gas that, if burned, would
   produce 5 times more pollution than the 565 gigaton
   ceiling.

 I'd add to this nightmare scenario that oil and gas
 companies are doing everything in their power to find new
 reserves and to bring that fuel to market as quickly as
 possible.

 McKibben proposed a world-wide divestment from the fossil
 fuel companies, coupled with a carbon waste tax, to slow
 down these corporate behemoths and to level the playing
 field between them and companies focused on developing
 alternative sources of energy. He presented this plan as one
 that was necessary, but one that did not even have a 50-50
 chance of succeeding. Despite this sobering assessment, as
 far as I could tell, almost everyone in the audience felt we
 had no choice but to try.

 I think that McKibben's effort to goad masses of people into
 action is laudatory. Acting to achieve clear-cut goals sure
 beats wringing our hands in anguish over the steadily
 deteriorating situation. It is encouraging that ten of
 thousands of people are jumping on his band wagon. But my
 political perspective leaves me even more pessimistic than
 McKibben is about the ability of this campaign to achieve
 its ends.

 350.org (www.350.org) may well be the last, best liberal
 hope to stave off civilization's unraveling in the face of
 impending planetary catastrophes, without abandoning our
 basic life style. It strikes me as unlikely, however, that
 we can solve such an interwoven global dilemma by applying a
 market- based solution to a single set of industries, even
 if those industries are the worst offenders.

 For instance, the McKibben plan ignores all other forms of
 pollution, all resource depletion caused by over-population,
 the carbon footprint of agri-business and the globalization
 of the food supply. Moreover, fossil fuel companies are
 inextricably entwined with our military-industrial complex
 and the worldwide empire it sustains. "The Pentagon is the
 largest single consumer of petroleum on the world," (The
 Green Zone, p. 50, Barry Sanders, AK Press, 2009,
 http://www.akpress.org/greenzoneakpress.html) and "has come
 to serve as a global oil protection service" (Michael Klare,
 Garrisoning the Global Gas Station, TomDispatch,
 http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174943).

 Can we put the brakes on the fossil fuel industry without
 pulling the plug on the military-industrial complex? Can we
 avoid plunging over an environmental cliff within the
 framework of existing capitalism?

 As far as I can tell, Bill McKibben believes it is possible,
 though maybe not probable, that we can. I feel the more
 people working to prevent environmental mayhem the better.
 I'm no fan of capitalism. It is based upon exploitation and
 endless expansion. The latter is impossible on a finite
 planet. Still, I hope what Bill McKibben plans will succeed
 because we're running out of acceptable alternatives.

 [* According to the 350.org website, "350 parts per million
 is what many scientists, climate experts, and progressive
 national governments are now saying is the safe upper limit
 for CO2 in our atmosphere. Accelerating arctic warming and
 other early climate impacts have led scientists to conclude
 that we are already above the safe zone at our current
 390ppm, and that unless we are able to rapidly return to
 below 350 ppm this century, we risk reaching tipping points
 and irreversible impacts such as the melting of the
 Greenland ice sheet and major methane releases from
 increased permafrost melt."  For more information visit
 www.350.org/en/about/science.]

 [Robert Meeropol is the younger son of Ethel and Julius
 Rosenberg. In 1953, when he was six years old, the United
 States Government executed his parents for "conspiring to
 steal the secret of the atomic bomb." Since 1990 he has
 served as the Executive Director of the Rosenberg Fund for
 Children ( www.rfc.org), a non-profit, public foundation
 that provides for the educational and emotional needs of
 both targeted activist youth and children in this country
 whose parents have been harassed, injured, jailed, lost jobs
 or died in the course of their progressive activities.]

 [Many thanks to Jenn Meeropol for sharing this with Portside
 and Portside readers.]

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