After decades of little action, there is, surprisingly, reason to be truly optimistic from the climate change summit in New York City on Tuesday. Corporations will not only announce substantive changes in the way they do business, but foundations and individuals have already announced their divestiture of tens of trillions of dollars from destructive industries such as oil and gas.
The above paragraph reads like an environmentalist’s dream come true. White the year 2014 is expected to be the warmest year in recorded history, protesters took to the streets in major cities around the world to demonstrate their lack of ignorance of this fact and to insist on immediate action from the United Nations Climate Summit. In what was likely the largest protest for climate change action ever, UN leader Ban Ki-moon, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and actor Leonardo DiCaprio marched with 600,000 others through Manhattan, demanding a prompt response.
Often referred to as “global warming,” certain human activities increase the proportion of so-called greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, exacerbating any possible pre-existing and naturally occurring weather pattern changes. Without mitigation, effects of climate change have already been shown in the decimation of forests by beetles, rising ocean levels and an increase in infectious diseases such as Lyme’s.
Rallies occurred in major cities in Europe, India and Australia and organizers in New York City estimated a crowd of 310,000. The group there was diverse, with fashionable sophisticates marching alongside the elderly and people in wheelchairs next to children and their young parents. The demonstration was colorful and the demonstrators boisterous. The global demonstrations were timed to create pressure in anticipation of the summit – the largest in five years.
The meeting will be as much about business as science and politics. Enormous, multi-national corporations are expected to pledge to help deter global climate change by substantially reducing emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, protecting the world’s forests and reducing methane emissions that have traditionally been a component of fossil fuel production. There has been no word yet on efforts to abate methane from livestock farming.
If it is true that money makes the world go around, then real results and true optimism in the cause to fight climate change is actually expected from New York. Unlike the disappointing outcomes of previous conferences, this one actually promises to birth effective outcomes. President Mindy Lubber of Ceres, a non-profit organization that champions sustainability, said that an “unprecedented” number of investors, companies and finance ministers are involved.
Eighty-eight-year-old New Yorker Coula Farriss was part of the march of floats, banners and balloons that streamed down New York City’s Sixth Avenue. She stated simply that, “Our climate is killing us.” One banner implored “Urgent, Save our Planet.”
Ban, the UN Secretary-General, wore a T-shirt announcing, “I’m for Climate Action.” He lauded de Blasio for his announcement on Sunday that New York – perhaps the most influential city on Earth – will, by 2050, reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 2005 levels. Ban walked for nine blocks alongside climate advocate and former U.S. Vice President, Al Gore. With them was de Blasio, French Ecology Minister Segolene Royal and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
De Blasio expressed elation about the demonstration and the summit. “I felt today that I was seeing history starting to be made.”
A special envoy for climate change from the U.S., Todd Stern, said at the White House last week that “Business is increasingly focused on trying to, in some cases, be part of the clean energy revolution.”
Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu will announce enormous divestments from top greenhouse gas-producing companies. He will name hundreds of wealthy individuals and dozens of major foundations that have promised to remove massive amounts of money from the world’s 200 largest gas and oil producers, such as Chevron, BP and ExxonMobil. A 2013 study identifies the production and use of fossil fuels as contributing 87 percent of all human-generated, carbon-based emissions.
A fund controlled by the Rockefeller Brothers – whose family made their fortune in the oil industry – is signing on. The president of the fund, Stephen Heintz, characterized the overall divestiture movement as “snowballing.” Major companies are taking the lead, with smaller ones expected to follow. A senior policy advisor to the United Nations Development program, Charles McNeill, said that this shift is “a good news story I never would have predicted.” He said groups are now acting as partners that have not done so in the past.
U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to express his country’s efforts against climate change at the summit, but it is understood that any new emissions-cutting promises will not be announced until early next year. In the meantime, the Obama Administration will likely continue on the course it set in 2009, when it pledged to reduce emissions from the U.S. to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. A counsel to the president, Joe Podesta, said that the administration is taking the summit seriously.
Tomorrow’s Climate Change Summit in New York will happen on the fall equinox, when a balance exists between day and night, and between light and dark. True optimism is in the air that, perhaps this time, global chaos and destruction will be mitigated.
Opinion by Gregory Baskin