Giving Carbon Credit, Part 3: Notes from David Orr presentation at the 2012 Prairie Festival

Giving Carbon Credit A brief series on the elemental substance of life Much is justifiably made about carbon and its impact on climate. But how much do you know about the much larger role carbon plays on our planet? You are what you think, and you are what you eat, and carbon is central to both. Carbon takes many forms, cycles through the environment, and is an integral part of our planet, especially the biosphere where all of our planet’s lifeforms live. Like the very air we breathe and the water we drink, carbon wears so many hats and takes on so many forms in our lives and in the life of this planet. The following short series of essays explores the myriad forms, movements and transformations of carbon through our planet and will provide additional resources if you want to find out more on your own.

Notes from David Orr’s Prairie Festival Presentation

September 30, 2012

  1. Climate Destabilization
    1. As CO2 has increased from 280 parts per million (ppm) to 394 ppm, the earth has become a new place for humanity. The increase has been to the tune of 2 or more ppm/year and while this doesn’t seem like all that much, there is a lag time in its effects.
    2. There is approximately a 30 year lag between the time the CO2 is released into the atmosphere before the full effects of that release is felt
    3. David Archer tells us that the carbon released by humanity today will take centuries, even millennia to be reabsorbed.
    4. Geo-engineering solutions to reflect away sunlight or sequester atmospheric CO2 back into geological formations are inadequate in scale and/or cost too much in collateral damage to be able to reverse the greenhouse effects of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
    5. Currently, 2 degrees Celsius of global atmospheric warming (combined sea and land average) is locked in, even though we have only witnessed only almost 0.9 degrees increased temperature gain. This is of considerable concern since the severity of the impacts we are seeing today were predicted not to show up so quickly, so what will 2 degrees look like?
    6. There is good evidence that without immediate, large scale reductions of greenhouse gas emissions (primarily CO2), the global temperature average could plausibly increase 4 degrees Celsius, not 2. The Royal Academies of Science produced a journal devoted to exploring what that would look like, and it’s not pretty.
  2. Reactions to changes
    1. Denialists will gradually fade away with increasing evidence provided by reality, but they can delay taking action, which is a serious issue.
    2. For people to really change, we have to feel it before we act.
    3. The evidence can be very alarming, but it’s important to not ignore it or shut down, rather using it to emotionally give us the energy to transform our society to a low carbon future.
    4. If you’re optimistic, you don’t know enough. If you’re paralyzed, then that’s a sin and you don’t want to go there. You need to be realistic but hopeful.
    5. Bill McKibben in his Rolling Stonearticle, does a good job of outlining the challenge
      1. There is currently $3 trillion of our economy is tied up in the fossil fuel industry (natural gas, coal, oil). There is an additional $20 trillion in fossil fuel “assets” that are accessible for extraction, sale and consumption. [Bill McKibben’s article states that 565 gigatonnes of carbon released will bring us 2 degrees of change. The $20 trillion of marketable fossil fuel assets represents 2795 gigatonnes of carbon, or 5 times as much as would increase the global temperature 2 degrees].
        1. What to do with these assets? Fossil fuels are bankable assets that nobody is going to willingly walk away from. “Stranded assets”
        2. If you DO walk away from these assets too quickly, the amounts of loans, financial investments tied up in them collapse, and the entire economy could collapse.
        3. If you DON’T walk away from these assets quickly enough, the effects of climate change could destroy nations.
        4. Therefore, the challenge is how to DO IT RIGHT: finding a way to transfer assets from the fossil fuel industry into new low/no carbon ways to provide energy to run our society in ways that don’t disrupt the economy so we can get through.
    6. What is the government’s role? Problem: our government is broken, so the challenge is to make it become functional on this level again.
    7. President’s Climate Action Program
      1. Provided at beginning of the Obama administration as a type of roadmap to turn the corner on energy policies during the first 100 days of his administration. This was largely not implemented.
      2. It has now been updated and there is now a 2012 version.
    8. Oberlin Project: you have to act to develop a systems model to build a sustainable community.
      1. Rebuild downtown
        1. Oberlin is part of the Rust Belt
        2. Start with one block and retrofit it to meet latest LEED Platinum standards for sustainability
          1. Solar power
          2. zero carbon discharge
        3. Expand out from there to make entire downtown district sustainable.
      2. Get to carbon neutrality
        1. solar, renewables
        2. Oberlin is part of the Climate Positive Development Plan which is part of the larger Clinton Initiative to move toward carbon neutral city designs.
      3. Get to 70% local food reliance (food grown locally)
        1. Open local food processing center
        2. Document how local food recharges the local economy
      4. Get local consortium of educational institutions to incorporate sustainable design and maintenance of this kind of community into their curricula.
      5. Go Viral
        1. Opening Denver and Washington DC centers
        2. Have lined up $60 million in investment, $100 million to go.
        3. 1-to-6 or 7 ratio of public-private investment.
      6. Teams
        1. Interdisciplinary trouble-shooting assembled to help all of this unfold
          1. Educators, Law, Economic development specialists, community organizers, etc.
  3. How to pull things together
    1. Full Spectrum Sustainability
      1. Example: Local Foods Economy
        1. Need educational resources to train folks how to grow local food, create viable CSAs, small businesses, marketing, etc.
        2. Need banking community buy-in to finance investments
        3. Need marketing expertise to sell the concept, showcase successes, etc.
    2. Mass appeal
      1. The science and sunshine movement needs to learn from the tea party experience
      2. The more immediate the goals, the less ideologically they are perceived and therefore less threatening.
      3. Medium term goals are also good for long term viability that are easier to stay ideologically neutral.
    3. Depolarizing politics
      1. Take government off your back should mean keep them out of your bedroom, not leave corporations alone.
      2. Expand the concept of debt to include ecological debt
      3. Expand the right to life debate around abortion to preventing poverty, preventing war, preventing ecological destruction.
      4. Expand discussion of what our forefathers wanted as expressed in the US Constitution.
        1. We don’t know for sure how they would feel about a lot of modern society, but we DO know that they disapproved the tyranny of plutocracy. How else can you describe a country where 400 wealthiest individuals have more wealth than the 150 million poorest citizens?
        2. We DO know that they would be abhorred with our trashing the planet and would disapprove the kind of short term calculus that sacrifices our future for short term gain.
          1. Prosperity is mentioned once in the Constitution. Nowhere does it approve of prosperity that limits/sacrifices our future prosperity.
            1. Rights should be extended to all life and life to be.
        3. Corporations are not mentioned in the US Constitution. Interpreting them as having personhood is a misinterpretation of the 4th and 5thAmendments
          1. Corporations cannot be protected as a person in that they are clearly an abstraction and have no corporeal reality.
          2. They are given superhuman properties not subject to corporeal limitations such as mortality.

Martin Luther King said that there is such a thing as being too late. There is still time, but just enough time.

If the truth raises anxiety, it is a healthy type of anxiety that can be directed toward the improvement of our land and peoples. Believing in the reality of climate change is such a motivator.


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