Sandy puts climate change issues back on the political radar
Rebecca Burton, Special to CTVNews.ca
Published Sunday, November 4, 2012 9:43AM EST
Last Updated Sunday, November 4, 2012 10:47PM EST
As the U.S. presidential election winds down, environmental writer Bill McKibben is just getting started.
With "Do the Math," McKibben is waging a war against the fossil fuel industry. McKibben and the organization 350.org will kick off the campaign on Nov. 7 with its first booked appearance in Seattle. McKibben will tour 21 cities across the U.S. before ending in Salt Lake City on Dec. 3.
McKibben, an author who first gained fame in 1989 with "The End of Nature," had been planning this campaign before the devastating storm that tore through the U.S. northeast last week. With some commenters suggesting climate change is behind the recent increase in hurricane and tropical storms, McKibben’s campaign lands in a time of crisis.
"No matter who wins [this election], the power to block change will lie with the fossil fuel industry, so that’s who we have to take on," McKibben wrote in email interview with CTV News.
Hurricane Sandy began its destructive path across the Caribbean, where it killed 69 people. It slowed and lost hurricane status before reaching Northeast U.S. shores, causing immense coastal damage, knocking out power to missions, and causing at least 113 deaths.
"Sandy shows that we’ve waited too long to stop global warming, but we can still do much to keep it from getting completely out of control," McKibben wrote. "But only if we act boldly."
Some activist groups are still trying to make climate change a prominent election issue -- an issue that has been largely been absent from the campaign trail.
ClimateSilence.org raised funds for a new TV ad this weekend targeting Republican challenger Mitt Romney. It uses clips of Romney supporters laughing at Obama’s promise to "heal the planet." The ending tagline, over images of Sandy-related destruction, says, "Tell Mitt Romney: Climate Change isn’t a Joke."
While Obama has been careful to stick to his script on Sandy and FEMA recovery efforts this week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took the moment to endorse the incumbent. "We need leadership from the White House, and over the past four years, President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption," Bloomberg wrote in an opinion piece.
Yet there is still no clear winner on either side when it comes to climate change.
Daniel Kessler, media campaigner for 350.org, said one of the pitfalls in the U.S. is that it doesn’t regulate its fossil fuel industry effectively. "Fossil fuels remains the one industry still allowed to dump their garbage, they should be charged for that," he said.
Even McKibben said he was "very mixed" on how he would rate the Obama administration from the last four years.
"They increased auto-efficiency, which is good, but opened up the Powder River basin and the Arctic to mining and drilling which will more than offset that," he said. "The power of the fossil fuel industry is overwhelming and so far he hasn’t bucked it much."
McKibben’s campaign "Do the Math" is attempting to explain climate change with math:
- 565 gigatons: the amount of additional carbon dioxide that can be pumped into the atmosphere without major global warming
- Two degrees: the highest degree change the earth can handle before it becomes unstable
- 2,795 gigatons: the amount of carbon dioxide that fossil fuel companies have in reserves.
That's five times the amount the Earth can handle without exceeding two degrees of warming.
The campaign will host a series of talks, revival meetings and interactive experiences with the likes of social activist Naomi Klein, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others. "If it really catches fire, it could hurt the fossil fuel industry," said Kessler.
The lecture tour is an extension from McKibben’s June Rolling Stones article that tied his simple stats to summer wildfires. The article remains the most read piece in the magazine’s history with over 5,000 comments.
Despite devastating pictures of Hurricane Sandy, not all climate scientists are convinced the problem can be directly linked to climate change.
University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver told CTV News on Vancouver Island that "you can never link any storm to global warming."
"We can say the ingredients of this storm have been cooked up by global warming," he added.
Anne Petermann, executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project, responded to McKibben’s article in the blog Climate Connections, saying even if McKibben was able to move investments out of fossil fuels, it would merely move them into "devastating land-grabbing biofuel or other false solution schemes."
While the campaign itself won’t extend into Canada, the backing organization 350.org is partnering with Canadian environmental groups to tackle issues here, such as controversy over the Alberta tar sands.
According to McKibben, the "Do the Math" numbers are global but added "they understate Canada’s contribution, since most of the oil in the tar sands isn’t yet tallied in the company’s reserves."
Andrea Seale, acting director of communications and director of development for the David Suzuki Foundation wrote in an email to CTV News, "you just have to look at the incredible public opposition to the Enbridge pipeline to see that fossil fuel companies can’t do business as usual."
While she doesn’t know what kind of impact the "Do the Math" campaign will have on Canadians, the Suzuki Foundation is advocating to keep fossil fuel reserves in the ground to prevent future global warming.
"If Canada’s energy strategy is ‘burn it all as quickly as possible’ that’s not good enough," Seale wrote.
With files from The Associated Press