On Earth Day 2016, this is no time to be smug about the state of the climate
I recently finished Jane Mayer's remarkable new book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. And it's left me more pessimistic that the world will be able to come to terms with what's known as nonlinear or abrupt climate change.
I'll start with the politics.
Mayer, a staff writer at the New Yorker, explains in the book how brothers Charles and David Koch, along with several other U.S. billionaires, managed to create a parallel financial structure to the Republication National Committee.
Through hundreds of millions of dollars that was raised outside of the party, these libertarian-minded businessmen have helped elect right-wing politicians more loyal to their ideas than they are to the Republican establishment.
The "extremist upstarts" or "young guns", as Mayer refers to them, became a powerful bloc in Congress after the 2010 midterm elections. These Tea Party radicals tried to block payments that had already been appropriated in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"Many owed more to the Kochs and other radical rich backers than they did to the party," Mayer writes in Dark Money. "The White House was under the misimpression that stolid business forces within the Republican Party would see the threat to the economy and force the radicals back from the edge."
Leading the charge was the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity.
It all links back to the climate
What does all this have to do with the state of the planet on Earth Day?
The Koch family foundation has, in the past, invested huge sums of money funding organizations that try to deny that human activities are contributing to climate change. According to a Greenpeace report, the brothers allocated nearly $80 million to these groups between 1997 and 2010. And Americans for Prosperity has come under fire for claiming that "global warming alarmism" is going to ruin the economy.
Nowadays, Mayer reports, much of this funding is passed through a Virginia-based organization called DonorsTrust, which makes it harder to trace its origins.
"Between 1999 and 2015, DonorsTrust redistributed some $750 million from the pooled contributions to myriad conservative causes under its own name," Mayer writes in Dark Money. "Ordinarily, under the law, in exchange for their tax breaks, private foundations such as the Charles G. Koch Foundation were required to publicly disclose the charitable groups to whom they made their grants. It was one way to assure that these public service organizations were in fact serving the public. But donor-advised funds defeat this minimum transparency."
(Mayer points out in the book that liberals engage in similar activities through the Tides Foundation, which has much less money at its disposal.)
It's reached the point where Republican members of Congress and the Senate are mostly silent about human-induced climate change for fear of losing their nominations before the next election. The red states are in full climate-change denial, at least from the point of view of most of their elected representatives.
Temperatures rising more rapidly
Meanwhile, the global average surface temperature last month was 0.62° C above the 1981-2010 average. It was 1.07° C above the monthly average for the last century, according to the Tokyo Climate Center. That's stunning.
This came after the hottest January in recorded history, which came after the hottest year in recorded history, which came after the hottest year ever in 2014.
“The [new data] is a reminder of how perilously close we now are to permanently crossing into dangerous territory,” Penn State University professor Michael Mann told the Guardian. “It underscores the urgency of reducing global carbon emissions.”
This is raising fears of nonlinear or abrupt climate change—i.e. the climate is changing in unexpected and unpredictable ways because of a complicated set of variables coming together at once.
Canadian politicians miss the mark
Here in British Columbia, Premier Christy Clark is making a bizarre argument that burning more fossil fuels will actually alleviate the forest-fire risk. In her mind, this will be accomplished by exporting liquefied natural gas.
It's rooted in her belief that natural gas is a bridge fuel that releases fewer greenhouse gases than coal. However, the premier is neglecting to acknowledge that after adding in fugitive emissions from fracking shale gas, those gains could disappear.
So far, Clark has also utterly ignored the possibility of generating all electricity in North America through renewable sources. She's not alone in this regard.
One thing is clear: wildfire season is already underway in parts of B.C., suggesting that it could be another problematic year for the province.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is reportedly hoping to get the Energy East and Kinder Morgan pipelines built even as he's talking up the potential for renewable energy.
New evidence of accelerated global warming hasn't persuaded him to reset Canadian priorities.
It's all well and good that Trudeau signed the Paris climate agreement today in New York City. But as long as the billionaires are in the background continuing to use their wealth to foment doubt—and relying on right-wing sock puppets to do their bidding—it's hard to see how progress can occur quickly enough to avert a catastrophe.
There are members of the federal and B.C. Liberal caucuses who understand the nature of the problem. On Earth Day, it time for them to speak up.