Skip to main content

Why are the billionaires always laughing?

Because they know the corporate media will never call bullshit on their bullshit.

Why are the billionaires laughing?

It’s easy to laugh when the corporate press treats you as a glorious success instead of the epitome of a broken social order. Billionaires laugh because they know the corporate media prefers to fawn over them rather than hold them to account.

Today, we ask you to support our nonprofit, independent journalism because we are not impressed by billionaires flying into space, their corporations despoiling our health and planet, or their vast fortunes safely concealed in tax havens across the globe. We are not laughing.

We are hard at work producing journalism for the common good. With our Fall Campaign underway, please support this mission today. We cannot do it without you.

Support Our Work -- Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Every donation—large or small—helps us bring you the news that matters.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) announce the introduction of public housing legislation as part of the Green New Deal outside the Capitol on Thursday, November 14, 2019. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

Why We Need a Green New Deal and Half Measures Won't Work

It's too late to rely on the market to solve the crisis we've put ourselves in. No politically acceptable tax or fee will foster the magnitude of change we need, in the time we need it.

John Atcheson

Last week there were two reports released on climate change. The first warned that most nations were falling short of their commitments under the Paris agreement and that time was running out to avoid going above a 1.5°C increase in temperature. The second warned of impending tipping points and suggested a different way of formulating policy that might help us avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

We need a Green New Deal of the scale Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed. Nothing else deals with the reality of climate change and averts its worst effects.

Taken together, they explain why the so-called moderate's proposals to mitigate climate change are a prelude to disaster.

On Sept. 26, the U.N. released their Emissions Gap Report and it noted that most nations are not meeting the goals they agreed to under the Paris agreement. As a result, the world is now heading toward a 3.2°C rise in temperature by the end of the century. This would have devastating, ecosystem-destroying, and irreversible consequences.

The report goes on to say we must begin to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7.6 percent a year, beginning next year—or about a month from now—to stay below a 1.5°C temperature increase. Even a 1.5°C increase, scientists warn, will cause extensive and possibly irreversible increases in sea levels, more droughts, more frequent storms and heat waves, mass migrations of climate refugees, and increases in extinctions, but temperatures above that risk even more devastating consequences.

But the fact is, the U.N.'s forecast is in many ways conservative, and the actual temperature increases are likely to be higher than forecast, and to arrive sooner. One of the troubling assumptions in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's latest forecasts is that our carbon budgets are larger than previously thought, because the atmosphere is less sensitive to emissions than earlier forecasts assumed.

The second report, authored by some of the world's leading climate scientists, explains that in the future, the climate is likely to be more sensitive to a given amount of emissions, not less, because tipping points can cause rapid increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, either by compromising carbon sinks or causing the rapid release of natural stores of carbon.

Assumptions about carbon budgets make a big difference in terms of gauging how much time we have left to act. For example, the new carbon budgets the IPCC began using in 2018 suggest we have about nine years of current emissions remaining before we warm by 1.5°C; under the old budget, we only had three years.

But because of feedbacks, the expanded carbon budgets being used by the IPCC are likely to be exposing us to significantly higher risks.

There's ample evidence suggesting that the carbon sinks are getting compromised. For example, there was a great deal of celebration about the fact that human emissions of carbon had flat-lined between 2014 and 2017, but the dirty little secret is that even though emissions held steady, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide continued to go up—indeed, they went up faster than in previous years. In both 2015 and 2016 the atmospheric concentrations went up by 3 parts per million (ppm), which was double the rate of increase between 1990 and 2000.

Many scientists attributed this to the intense El Niño occurring at that time. During El Niño periods, the sinks—natural systems which absorb carbon—are not as effective.

But there is increasing evidence that the sinks are becoming permanently compromised, which means that a higher proportion of the carbon we emit will stay in the atmosphere. In fact, even before the El Niño, research was showing that carbon sinks were becoming less effective at removing carbon from the atmosphere.

This means that in the future, more of the carbon emitted by humans will remain in the atmosphere—the exact opposite of what the adjusted numbers in the latest IPCC report assume. It also means that even if we do manage to cut carbon emissions in the very near term, we may not have an equivalent cut in atmospheric concentrations, which means warming could continue to go up despite our cuts.

So what does this mean in terms of action we need to take to prevent a global catastrophe?

The second report says we must we move from looking at needed actions through the lens of neoclassical economics—the current framework employed by the IPCC—to a risk assessment model.

The underlying assumption of the neoclassical economic framework is that there's some optimal balance between mitigating warming and maintaining a healthy economy. More than a decade ago, The Stern Review showed that the costs of climate change exceeded the costs of mitigating climate change over the long or medium term, and as climate change has progressed from a distant threat to a current reality the notion of some optimized equilibrium point between the costs and benefits of mitigating it has become untenable. Nevertheless, it is still a widespread belief that this mythical balance exists. The policies suggested by this assumption include carbon taxes, carbon fees and dividends, and/or subsidies for renewable and carbon-free energy technologies.

On the other hand, a risk management framework focuses on minimizing or avoiding risk. The greater the potential risk, the less certain the science needs to be to invoke action. Obviously, with a risk like climate change that is global, irreversible in any time frame other than geological, proximate in terms of time, and catastrophic, risk avoidance takes precedence over any consideration of cost.

The policies implied by a risk management framework include bans, mandatory phaseouts, and other market interventions that are determined by need, not optimal allocation of costs and benefits. And the need is to phase-out fossil fuels beginning immediately and switch to clean renewables. That means immediately ceasing development of new fossil fuel resources and leaving most of the proven reserves we've already found in the ground.

Bottom line: it's too late to rely on the market to solve the crisis we've put ourselves in. No politically acceptable tax or fee will foster the magnitude of change we need, in the time we need it.

In short, we need a Green New Deal of the scale Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has proposed. Nothing else deals with the reality of climate change and averts its worst effects. The plans proposed by neoliberals and other "reasonable" people amount to applying trim tabs to a sinking ship.


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

John Atcheson

John Atcheson, 1948-2020, was a long-time Common Dreams contributor, climate activist and author of, "A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, "WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track". Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson. John was tragically killed in a California car accident in January 2020.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'And Maybe More': Biden Says He's Open to Reforming Filibuster to Win Voting Rights

"It's a simple choice between a free America or one chained by the past," said one advocate. "Our democracy hangs in the balance."

Julia Conley ·


Carbon Offsets Are Nothing But a 'Dangerous' Con Job, Warns Climate Group

"The best way to prevent the heating of our planet," says Friends of the Earth, "is to end the use of fossil fuels for good."

Andrea Germanos ·


In Face of Planetary Emergency, US Climate-Related Financial Risk Report Denounced as 'Pitiful' Failure

"Finding consensus between those who see or don't see our climate reality," said one critic, "is not democracy in action: it's homicidal."

Jon Queally ·


Schumer Endorses 'Inspiring Community Leader' India Walton as Buffalo's Next Mayor

The U.S. Senate majority leader's move comes as some key New York Democrats refuse to back the democratic socialist.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Who Will You Throw Overboard?' Manchin Targeted for Trying to Sink Democratic Agenda

West Virginians gathered at the senator's yacht to demand that he stop blocking the "popular and needed" Build Back Better package.

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo