Don't be fossil fooled; celebrating climate victories!

Facts: Don't be fossil fooled by empty climate pledges. Feelings: celebrating hard-earned climate victories! Action: Break up with your mega-bank.

Hola amigos! I’m sustainability scientist Kim Nicholas, and I’m so glad you’re back. If you’re new, welcome! Here’s your cheat sheet to get up to speed on what we’re doing here at We Can Fix It (basically: canceling the climate crisis; normally on the last Thursday of every month, but this month I had to examine masters’ theses- congrats LUMES grads!).

On the menu this month:
Facts: How to avoid being fossil-fooled by empty climate promises
Feelings: Celebrating climate wins!
Action: Break up with your climate-destroying mega-bank

Facts: Don’t Be Fossil Fooled

How do you know if a politician or company’s climate goal is good enough?

What does a serious climate pledge need?

  • To stop climate breakdown, we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground now. Ketan Joshi’s sketch below sums it up.

  • Strong climate pledges should have separate, non-tradable strategies for preventing carbon pollution in the first place (essential), and for any attempts to remove carbon from the atmosphere. (Deep dive here).

  • Offsets don’t work. Sorry. Serious climate policies will not keep polluting and promise to clean it up later.

  • Climate pledges should focus on BIG reductions of tons of carbon pollution emitted, starting THIS YEAR, compared with current emissions. Kevin Anderson and colleagues conclude countries like Sweden and the UK should be reducing carbon pollution at least 10% per year, starting now.

What will it take to stop warming?

  • Total climate warming ≈ total danger, harm, and suffering experienced by people and nature. :(

  • Total climate warming ≈ cumulative carbon emitted.

  • Therefore, cumulative carbon emitted ≈ total climate danger.

  • Goal of climate policy ≈ avoid danger.

  • Therefore goal of climate policy ≈ avoid adding carbon to the atmosphere.

  • When humans stop adding carbon to the atmosphere, we will have reached “net zero” carbon. This is necessary to stop warming. The faster we get there, the less the climate will warm, & the less harm and suffering.

  • Continuing business as usual will use up our remaining carbon budget, the total amount we can ever emit for 1.5°C, in less than 10 years. EEEK!! (So we’ve got to change business as usual.)

How do we get to net zero carbon?

  • The best way: stop adding carbon to the atmosphere in the first place. That means, stop burning fossil fuels, which cause over 85% of carbon pollution today. (The rest comes from deforestation.) Preventing emissions in the first place is “real zero,” and should be the primary goal of climate pledges and plans. It’s necessary for energy to reach real zero emissions. (We’ll tackle agriculture in a later post.)

  • The worst way: continue business as usual (yay oil and gas!), and promise to clean up the mess using “offsets”: removing as much carbon from the atmosphere as you added (where, when, how is often a bit vague).

  • In practice, offsets don’t work. Sorry!

  • Tree-planting for carbon schemes often fails to benefit local communities, or even backfires and creates more carbon pollution than it takes up, like California’s forest offset program. There will never be enough trees to offset fossil fuels.

  • Carbon removal tech is the great hope of fossil fuel companies, because it would enable them to continue producing and selling their current products. But climate gurus Kevin Anderson and Glen Peters call carbon removal tech “an unjust and high-stakes gamble.”

Will the necessary emissions cuts be easy?

  • No.

  • For a pretty good (2 in 3 chance) of limiting warming to 1.5°C, we should be aiming for cutting carbon emissions more than half globally by 2030, and nearly eliminating them by 2040, like the eye-popping rate in this graph:

  • The longer we delay, the harder the challenge to reduce emissions fast enough. It would have been a lot easier if we’d started earlier. But we gotta start now.

  • It’s tempting to avoid making tough emissions cuts by promising to remove the carbon from the atmosphere instead. But in practice, the potential to increase carbon removals from the atmosphere is very limited. Over-reliance on increasingly absurd and unrealistic promises of future carbon removal led climate researchers to call the concept of net zero “a dangerous trap” (recommended reading!).

What does this mean for business as usual?

  • One conversation we should be having is: what should happen to fossil fuel companies, now that their products need to be abandoned ASAP?

  • Should fossil fuel companies die a managed death, while workers are fairly transitioned into new jobs? Or should they transform into something else (non-fossil energy companies)? (From a conversation led by Johan Gardebo this week).

  • Discuss!!

Feelings: Celebrating Climate Victories!

This has been an exceptionally good week for climate news, so I thought I’d share some VERY well-deserved celebrations by a bunch of hard-working people around the world.

First, the big news from the Netherlands: for the first time globally, a company is being held legally liable for its contribution to climate change, and held responsible for meeting its share of the Paris Agreement. The Dutch court ruled that Royal Dutch Shell’s weak-sauce climate plan (keep burning fossils but plant trees!) and tired excuses were, respectively, weak-sauce and tired. The ruling means Shell will have to actually reduce emissions, to the extent that Shell will have to “reconsider its fossil fuel production plans,” (AKA leave it in the ground), according to climate law professor Harro van Asselt.  

To dive into the details of the decision, put it in context, and see what happens next, check out Ketan Joshi’s Twitter thread, especially on the judge’s rebuttals to hackneyed claims like “if we don’t produce oil, someone else will.”

But here I wanted to focus on celebrating the far-too-rare, fleeting, but still magical feeling of actually WINNING a climate victory that a small group has worked at for years, against seemingly impossible odds. Look how pumped these folks from Friends of the Earth Netherlands, who brought the case to court, are!!

I wanted to offer my gratitude for all the people who played a role in making this moment happen. This is your victory. Thank you, and please keep fighting!

  • The six other organizations and 17,000 citizens who were part of the legal action.

  • The climate movement of millions, organizing and shaping hearts and minds through campaigning and public pressure, that supported and galvanized those folks to join the case. (You’re supporting your favorite climate orgs, right??)

  • All the people behind the hundreds of climate lawsuits around the world, paving the way for legal climate responsibility. Especially the Urgenda climate case, also in the Netherlands, which forced the Dutch government to reduce emissions immediately.

  • The thousands of policy wonks who worked for their entire careers on the Paris Agreement, which is the first reference cited in the Dutch judge’s decision.

  • The thousands of scientists who have contributed to reports and studies cited as a basis for the judge’s decision, including the landmark IPCC 1.5°report and the Production Gap report, among others. Climate nerds FTW!

Speaking of climate victories: Huge congrats to eight Australian teenagers (and the octogenarian nun!), who got a judge to rule that governments should not stand idly by, locking in a world where 1 million of today’s Australian kids will require hospitalization for heat stress. (AKA, the environment minister has a duty of care to protect young people from future climate harm.) The judgment stopped short of actually stopping approval of a proposed expansion by Whitehaven Coal in New South Wales; the government is now “considering the judgment.”

Science has long shown that we have to entirely stop digging up fossil fuels, and indeed shut some existing coal plants down early, to limit warming to 1.5°C. The need to end fossil investments and expansion was recently confirmed by the International Energy Agency, a group founded in 1974 to ensure oil supply security. The times, they are a-changin’.

Action: Break Up with Your Mega-Bank

Quick, grab your bank card and your credit card. Whose logo is in the corner?

Bad news: if your bank or credit card company are household names, they’re massive funders of climate destruction. They lend money to coal mines, pipelines, and tar sands, and the companies that expand them.

Five years after the Paris Agreement, banks still invested over $750 billion in 2020 in projects like companies drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and fracking in Patagonia, according to the latest Banking on Climate Chaos report.

Just a few of the banks still funding fossils, long past their best before date: JPMorgan Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Barclays, TD, BNP Paribas, Scotiabank, HSBC, Bank of China, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, UBS, Danske Bank, Nordea (Lund University’s default bank, ahem)…. look familiar? (If you don’t see your megabank, check the full list… it’s probably on there!)

Stop giving these guys your money.

Let them know why you’re leaving them (and encouraging your friends to do the same).

Switch to a credit union (a member- based, nonprofit, primarily local financial cooperative that returns income to members in the form of lower fees, as opposed to paying profits to investors).

I switched from Bank of America to Redwood Credit Union in Sonoma, and in Sweden, I switched from Nordea to Sparbanken Skåne in Lund. I’ve been happy in both cases with vastly better customer service, and a clearer conscience. (Ekobanken gets an even better environmental rating from Fair Finance Guide in Sweden, but when I was switching, they lacked some key features I required like autogiro and a debit card, so it didn’t work for me.)

I suffered from analysis paralysis with switching banks, but once I decided to do it, switching was less of a pain in the ass than I’d expected. It actually felt good to do a bit of an audit, cancel some old subscriptions I didn’t need any more and hadn’t realized I was still paying, and set up some basic adulting things like savings and investment accounts with monthly auto-transfers.

You can do it! Look for a local credit union (sparbanken in Sweden), check out the Fair Finance Guide for recommendations in 13 countries, and make the switch.

Feel free to reuse or adapt the letter I wrote to break up with BofA, and/or this template from Ethical Consumer.

Share your bank breakup on social media and with friends and colleagues to help inspire them too.

Parting Thoughts & Tidbits

Kim on the Internet: Finally, someone asks me about masturbating turkeys

I got to talk to Michael Osborne about mutual friends, how much are individuals really responsible for climate change, and my family’s legacy in turkey masturbation. (That’s how I knew he had really read Under the Sky We Make!) Enjoy:

Kim on Newsstands:

I talked with Richard Webb at New Scientist about climate work as a crucible to create meaning, what I lose sleep over, and Tindering while climate-conscious “without becoming an insufferable bore and turn-off,” as he put it. Read here (subscription required), or pick up a real magazine at a real newsstand!

Recently Enjoyed:  

Read: Probably the best climate writer out there, IMO, is Elizabeth Kolbert. Her writing for The New Yorker is just stunning. Her recent book, Under a White Sky (great title, right?!), is beautifully written and uncomfortable, examining the increasingly crazy ways man is trying and usually failing to control nature.

Eat: Simon and I finally defrosted our freezer, which gave rise to the Challenge Ingredient Cook-Off, where we wrangled a lot of mystery items we’d forgotten about into dinner form. During my week to cook, I made yummy potato skins and bizarre glutinous dumplings. See what you can rustle up from forgotten corners of your kitchen before it goes off, saving some food waste and cash. :)

Grow: All our plant babies (seedlings we started indoors back in February) are safely in the ground at the allotment garden, and we planted our perennial food forest with the help of Atticus, Pili, Laura, and Mike a few weeks ago (tack vänner!). Pics next time. Bye!