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'Only a wartime-style mobilization, in which government regulation mandates the early retirement or conversion to zero emissions of all greenhouse-gas emitting plant and equipment, could possibly facilitate such drastic changes on such a tight time-frame without crashing the economy.' (Image: Climate Mobilization)

The Paris Climate Talks and the 1.5C Target: Wartime-Scale Mobilization is Our Only Option Left

Margaret Klein SalamonEzra Silk

The Paris climate talks are over, and the postmortems on the final agreement are flooding in. Here’s our take:

  • After 21 years of negotiations, we finally have an agreement that the majority of nations are expected to ratify. This is a critical breakthrough in terms of shared global understanding of the crisis.
  • We are grateful that world leaders have agreed to make an effort to collectively tackle the climate crisis.
  • However, we are disturbed that it has taken this long, and that the agreement is not even close to strong enough to effectively protect civilization and the natural world.
  • We are glad that, now that an agreement has been reached, the climate movement can focus on national action — getting individual countries to race to zero emissions at wartime speed.
  • We’re also glad that the 2°C heat limit target has at last been exposed as exceedingly immoral and dangerous in the mass media. We are grateful that the world community has signed onto language aiming to keep temperatures “well below” 2°C.
  • We’re seriously concerned, however, that a new narrative is emerging portraying 1.5°C of warming as relatively “safe.” The fact is that the earth is already dangerously too hot at current warming of 1°C – which is higher than human civilization has ever experienced. The truth is that all further global warming is extremely dangerous. We have no carbon budget left to burn.
  • Climate science tells us that the current level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is enough to eventually produce at least 2°C of warming. That’s why we need an all-hands-on-deck effort to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations as quickly as possible. 
  • Ultimately, the Paris Agreement’s target of global net zero greenhouse gas emissions in “the second half of this century” represents a cataclysmic failure of leadership – and likely a crime against humanity and the natural world – that will devastate the planet and civilization if it is realized.

We believe humanity can still prevent civilization-destroying global warming – but only if we undertake a WWII-scale Mobilization to restore a safe climate immediately. We need to transition off of fossil fuels and carbon-intensive agriculture as soon as humanly possible. That means an emergency restructuring of the entire economy at wartime speed to achieve net zero emissions in the U.S. by 2025, net zero emissions globally by 2030, as well as an urgent effort to draw down the excess carbon dioxide that has accumulated in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. 

That is the expressed goal of our organization, The Climate Mobilization. Our tool is The Pledge to Mobilize, which calls for this Mobilization, and can be signed by every person on the planet, both citizens and politicians alike.

Unfortunately, President Obama and American climate negotiators at the Paris talks did not heed our open letter calling on them to champion a Mobilization that drives the U.S. economy to zero emissions by 2025 at the Paris talks. The letter, which was written by our advisor, Tom Weis, was signed by over 1,400 people, including Mark Ruffalo, IPCC coordinating lead author Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Ed Begley, Jr., Lester Brown, Terry Tempest Williams, Josh Fox, David Suzuki, Tim DeChristopher, Yeb Saño, the founder of the Woods Hole Research Center, the founder of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, and the former secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency.

However, there are heartening signs that the public discussion is turning toward the need for a lightning-fast mobilization of the economy.

In The Guardian Sunday, Bill McKibben characterized the pace of the transition as “the only important question” in the wake of the Paris talks: “Our only hope is to decisively pick up the pace. In fact, pace is now the key word for climate...We know where we’re going now; no one can doubt that the fossil fuel age has finally begun to wane, and that the sun is now shining on, well, solar. But the question, the only important question, is: how fast.”

Attempting to answer that question in a fantastic front page piece for The New York Times, climate change reporter Justin Gillis interviewed scientists and found that a target of zero emissions globally by 2030 could potentially limit global warming to 1.5°C:

“A serious campaign to meet the more ambitious goal would mean that in less than two decades, the nations of the world would likely have to bring an end to gasoline cars, to coal- or gas-burning power plants in their current form, and to planes or ships powered by fossil fuels.”

Climate scientist Glenn Peters has projected that meeting the 1.5C heat limit would require a global fossil fuel phase-out between 2025 and 2030, as well as a large-scale effort to remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Similarly, a group of scientists writing in The Hindu found that developed countries such as the U.S. would need to reach zero emissions in “the next 5-10 years” for a 50 to 66 percent chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C. Those aren’t very good odds, either!

There is no conceivable way to achieve such a quick transition to zero emissions only using market-based mechanisms such as carbon pricing. Only a wartime-style mobilization, in which government regulation mandates the early retirement or conversion to zero emissions of all greenhouse-gas emitting plant and equipment, could possibly facilitate such drastic changes on such a tight time-frame without crashing the economy.

In fact, that’s exactly what Gillis concluded in a Dec. 15, 2014 news analysis, in which he wrote that the only conceivable way to stabilize temperatures even lower than the now discredited 2°C “guardrail” would be through either “a technological miracle, or a mobilization of society on a scale unprecedented in peacetime.”

We are not aware of any other campaign calling for zero emissions by 2025 in the U.S. or zero emissions globally by 2030 through a wartime-style mobilization. Unless we have missed something, The Climate Mobilization is literally the only campaign on earth calling for action that has a chance of saving our climate and our civilization. Don’t take it from us – just pick up The New York Times!

Iowa Mobilizer Ed Fallon has asked Democratic Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Martin O’Malley to sign the Pledge to Mobilize multiple times (click on the links to see video), and none have signed so far. Now that the growing discussion of the 1.5°C target has demonstrated the immense urgency of our situation, we hope they each take another look at the Pledge, and consider championing a full-scale Climate Mobilization.

Fortunately, there are already several plans in existence describing how the climate mobilization we need to save civilization can work. Here are three that we highly recommend:

Please consider getting more involved in this campaign. Join us on a Thursday night organizing call. Take another look at our manifesto, “The Transformative Power of Climate Truth.” Start a campaign for Climate Mobilization in your congressional district by sending our modifiable cover letter & executive summary to your congressional representative. Support our work with a donation.

We need to turn this into an enormous grassroots movement, and we need to do it quickly. We need to bring the rest of the environmental movement and the American people on board with the call for Climate Mobilization NOW! If we succeed, we will be heroes.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Ezra Silk

Ezra Silk is Director of Strategy and Policy for The Climate Mobilization. He lives in Portland, ME.

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