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On the Run

October 4, 2014

“Well, I dreamed I saw the knights in armor coming
Sayin’ something about a queen
There were peasants singin’ and drummers drumming
And the archer split the tree
There was a fanfare blowin’ to the sun
That floated on the breeze
Look at mother nature on the run in the nineteen seventies 21st century”

-Neil Young, After the Goldrush

Climate change is the single biggest environmental and humanitarian crisis of our time. The Earth’s atmosphere is overloaded with heat-trapping carbon dioxide, which threatens large-scale disruptions in climate with disastrous consequences.
National Resources Defense Council

…carbon pollution threatens our health, our economy, and our children’s future
Sierra Club

Blah, blah, blah. Tell me again, why do you like polar bears?

All of God’s Creation – humans and our environment – is groaning under the weight of our uncontrolled use of fossil fuels, bringing on a warming planet, melting ice, and rising seas.
– from a letter to Congress from 200 evangelical academicians appealing for legislation to address climate change

Scripture tells us that all of the world is God’s precious creation, and our place within it is to care for and respect the health of the whole.
– Serene Jones, describing on behalf of the World Council of Churches why she supports a divestment of church funds from fossil fuels companies

Well alright, welcome aboard. It is refreshing that you are engaged in the task, but do you have to bring religion into everything?

The worldwide internets is full of links and stories about last month’s United Nations Climate Summit in New York. Here, many of the powerful met to talk, talk, talk about what to do. Heads of state from over one hundred countries were there. China and India, whose populations make up one-third of the world’s population, sent stand-ins for their top government officials. Scheduling conflicts back home was the reason given to the UN. The UN will have to send out those “save the date” notices much sooner the next time they host an event like this.

Vladimir Putin declined also. He does things his own way, dammit. World events, global issues and opinions are only minor annoyances.

But Barack Obama was there, reporting to us how much we have accomplished to reduce carbon emissions and telling us there’s much more to do. With a little more than a year before the next election, his time to do so is slipping fast. Last month’s speech sounds nothing like his 2008 campaign promises. For that matter, he’s not the same guy we were sold in that election.

If you were weary of the politicians, you could hear from Al Gore or even the movie star, Leonardo DiCaprio. Or you could join them in a protest march down 8th Avenue. Here, people carried signs with expressions such as “Save the Himalayas,” “Climate Justice,” “Change the Politics not the Climate,” and “Creation is Sacred, Stop Destroying Our World.” The mayor joined celebrities and others – 400,000 people in all –  in a march down 8th Avenue.

Most of Corporate America does not have the same luxury that Putin has when it comes to public relations. So, I suspect that if you tuned in to TV that week, you would have your share of commercials from opportunists and there would be plenty of earnest talk and ersatz from the broadcast sponsors for you to endure .

There are a number of companies who take global warming seriously, however. Toyota, which seems to be genuine about these things, touted its cell technology. Others, such as Apple, Mars and Ikea, who have committed to powering their operations with renewable energy, also seem to be all in and were simply timing their PR releases out of good practice.

The most notable for me however, was the Rockefeller $900 million philanthropic trust’s announcement that it was divesting its funds from fossil fuels companies. The family’s wealth of course, was created by John Rockefeller’s 19th century US oil and gas monopoly that ultimately helped shape the global market. One wonders what the old man would have to say about all of this. He’s often mentioned as one of the world’s most generous philanthropist. Helping others was a major part of his life. I think that he would recognize that it was time for change and be supportive of the foundation’s divestment.

The best philanthropy is constantly in search of finalities—a search for a cause, an attempt to cure evils at their source.
John D. Rockefeller

I also noticed a report issued by the esteemed accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, about the lack of progress that leading industrialized countries have made towards reducing carbon emissions. They track the reductions against the goals set by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  They tell us that we’re nowhere close. For those who might be turned off by the noisy crowd filling the streets of Manhattan, the lectures from pushy environmentalists or the evangelists’ exhortations, how about some dim and careful language from Chartered Accountants?

The stakes are high. The physical impacts of climate change will vary from country to country, and some countries may find that the impacts within its own borders are relatively limited or in some cases benign. But in a highly globalised economy, no country is likely to be spared as the impacts of climate change ripple around the world, affecting interdependent supply chains and flows of people and investment.

I think they are telling us that our days are numbered (pun intended).

pathway-to-a-lowcarbon-economy

The G20 countries are on the red dotted-line trajectory. IPCC told us we needed to follow the orange line. http://www.pwc.co.uk/

It’s not easy for an organization like this to tell it like it is. So they haven’t. A reporting of the numbers is about all we can expect from them and perhaps the fact that they talk about carbon emissions at all speaks volumes about the challenges. They are accountants for many of the world’s largest petroleum entities all around the world – Saudi Aramco, ExxonMobil, Chevron, GazProm, Pemex and many others. Their energy practice is one of the best in the world. Talent runs deep. If they can’t figure out an issue for the industry, nobody can. They sponsor events such as the 21st World Petroleum Congress, not a march on Wall Street.

For me, none of the events in NYC were more than a blip. I’m thrilled that many were taking to the streets and had air cover from the mayor and other influential participants. Speak truth to power. And the world seems to love Desmond Tutu, so maybe he can help keep the ball moving on this critical matter. But sometimes, this kind of thing just adds up to one more news cycle that goes nowhere. (See PwC chart above.)

For me, the most moving story was about the walruses which have gathered on the Alaskan shores because of the shrinking Arctic ice. The walruses normally are resting on the ocean ice. Due to the changes in the water temperature and the melting ice they have nowhere to go, so they’ve congregated on the beaches. The world’s not going to stop drilling for oil or burning coal to save the sea walruses. The PwC partners who talk of “flows of people and investment” wouldn’t know an Alaskan walrus from a California sea lion. Some might confuse them with St. Bernards. They are not alone. Troubles for large sea mammals in some faraway place just doesn’t make it to the top of the list for many of us. Things to do, places to go.

Slow down for a moment and take a look. The images from shores of the Chukchi Sea are astonishing. More powerful than all the social media activity from the UN Summit combined. (All photos from NOAA, Corey Accardo.)

Pacific Walrus

Pacific Walrus

Pacific Walrus

 

17 Comments
  1. Our lethargy in dealing with this global problem is frightening indeed. Thanks for an insightful article.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Supposedly, we were in good hands with the 2008 election. Or so we were lead to believe. It’s just not a priority here and even if it were, we seem to be missing the right level of global engagement.

      Like

  2. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I hadn’t heard that, about the walruses. The photos are heartbreaking. I did hear a hopeful note in APR’s Marketplace coverage of the Climate Summit, saying that bankers joined the fray this time …for the first time. Meaning, money is interested. And cynical as it is, things only seem to happen when it will make more money for the rich. If this is a sign that change is coming, I’ll take it. I remain wary though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s always been a lot of money in making big changes. Rockefeller and the others who developed the oil and gas economy are Exhibit A. Let the bankers help. Then you will see the politicians get behind it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s not just lethargy in dealing with this, there’s all those who have been convinced by petroleum industry propaganda that climate change is not a real thing. The US House of Lunatics wanted to deny the Defense Department funding for planning for catastrophes resulting from climate change. That’s just stupid to the core.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A lot of money, effort and time has been put into distracting the public from the science behind climate change. Messaging is a diligent and careful function with utmost importance for some of those who feel threatened by an honest public discussion.

      Like

  5. Superb post. The canaries-in-the-coal-mine are dropping like flies. Arctic melting, Antarctic ice shelves collapsing, disappearing glaciers, methane hydrate releases, sea levels rising, ocean acidification, deforestation, extreme droughts and weather events, and the greatest rate of species dying off on record. Elizabeth Kolbert correctly called it “The Sixth Extinction.”

    But, the news media doesn’t seem interested in covering this story much despite its obviously sensational characteristic. I’m sure their corporate superiors and sponsors wouldn’t approve.

    A fellow blogger friend who is currently a university journalism student, submitted a project paper on climate change. It was given a low grade because the professor said it was biased by not offering the position which denies the existence of anthropogenic global warming. The student had assumed that revealing the truth was more important than including both sides of a debate no matter how falsely equivalent. In the world of commercial journalism, far removed from the concept of a Fourth Estate, that assumption was apparently in error.

    We’re in big, big trouble.

    Like

    • E. Kolbert’s book appears to be quite sobering.

      As for the coverage we can expect on the major outlets – all pithy. The march in Mahattan is just another “large gathering” of discontents with colorful clothing headed up by soft-headed attention-hungry celebrities and the walruses are just another sorry story foisted on us by the environmentalists. Formulaic, short-lived and enough content to get us through another cycle. Brought to you by ______________.

      Good luck to your friend in journalism school. We need good journalists.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. My dear fiend,

    Your statement, “but do you have to bring religion into everything?” is like asking a Christian to leave their lungs at the door. It is the core system to their way of thinking. Just as Christians operate with a different standard of conduct so they support issues that coincide with that belief.
    If the World Counsel of Churches makes a statement that supports your cause, what does their unrelated beliefs got to do with the matter at hand? Whatever prejudices you may subscribe to that group is inconsequential unless your find them not worthy of consideration.
    I would rather you welcome the support that saves our planet and not let unrelated issues confuse that matter. If Christians or any people of faith don’t matter in your world than why bother noting their support. That’s just how I see it.

    Like

  7. Good article and worth reading. We do need to make changes. There are efforts as you pointed out, but not enough. Yes, it is disappointing Obama has not been able to fulfill more of his campaign promises, but I do think he has generally done what his office allows against a very self-satisfied and cruel congress.

    Like

    • There’s no doubt whatsoever that the Congress was bound and determined to stymie the man and his initiatives. Why even the R’s leader in the Senate said so publicly. The first priority was to make sure Obama would not be re-elected in 2012. It puts a bit of a damper on the ability to get things done.

      Like

  8. We need everyone: the environmentalists concerned about their polar bear; the Christians and other believers bound to take custody of the creation; and the mealy-mouthed accountants trying their best to seem relevant, not offend their clients and hold on to their lucrative practices. We absolutely need the Indian and Chinese governments full engagement. And yes, I think we would be well-served if Putin joined in.

    Jim Wallis, Desmond Tutu and other activist Christians have been helpful on many matters in the here and now. Celebrate the involvement.

    However, many Christians have either wittingly or unwittingly slowed down the discourse towards solutions on climate change. They’ve either been hoodwinked by the people they elected to represent them in Congress (Ihofe, Bachmann, and others) or the elected officials are speaking for their constituents if you believe the polls. Maybe that will change soon with younger Republican voters and politicians, who won’t be satisfied with meaningless posturing, role-playing and talk past anyone that has a different color uniform.

    As I said in the post – welcome, Christians. I see you brought your teachings with you. Go back home afterwards and tell your home congregation all about it. And here we have the environmentalists, polar bears in tow.Both segments were represented in the Manhattan parade, proud to tell everybody that they want change. Now, if we could only imagine the entire New York office of my forever favorite public accounting firm coming down from their high-rise offices to march alongside!

    Like

  9. As I’ve grown older I’ve become more cynical, Bruce. This fight was started in the a long time ago. I remember organizing a coalition in Sacramento to support California’s Clean Air Act in the early 70s. And the battle has gone on and on. There are so many lost opportunities. Will it take total disaster? –Curt

    Like

  10. Great piece Bruce. We were in NYC during that March, but not as participants. Incredible to see. Let’s hope these numbers raise awareness to the ‘powers that be.’ xo LMA

    Like

  11. I wish there’d been more media about that march! 400,00 people is impressive!
    I’d not heard the news about the Rockefeller philanthropy!
    Those walrus photos are awful in their impressiveness.
    How can people continue to deny???

    Like

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