Daily Archives: November 19, 2019

OK, Boomer: The Climate Crisis and the Generation Gap

Earlier this month, Chlöe Swarbrick, a 25-year-old member of New Zealand’s parliament, was giving a speech on her country’s proposed Zero Carbon Law when she was interrupted by an older male colleague – “OK, Boomer,” she retorted.

The gibe drew media attention from the U.S. to Canada, the UK, France, India, China, and beyond. What was it about those two words—“OK, Boomer,” offhand and nearly inaudible—that caught the world’s attention? The phrase is four years old, but on Nov. 7, it went viral, and seemed to have hit a nerve. Some conservatives called the expression ageist. One talk-show host even compared the phrase to the “n-word,” drawing a quick rebuke from Dictionary.com.

Media outlets leapt into the “OK, Boomer” debate. “Now it’s war,” declared an article in The New York Times, “Generation Z has finally snapped over climate change and financial inequality.”

Despite Swarbrick’s heckler, New Zealand’s Zero Carbon law passed nearly unanimously. Here in the U.S., our youngest-ever congresswoman made a “Green New Deal” her very first piece of legislation – even though the scope of the “green dream or whatever they call it” struck many senior Democrats as prohibitive. Why do young people seem so much more focused on climate change? What does “OK Boomer” have to do with the issue, anyway?

Last year, a Gallup poll uncovered a “global warming age gap.” Americans aged 18-34 were reported to be 75 percent more likely to see global warming as a serious threat than the 55-and-older demographic. They were also 36 percent more likely to believe in human-caused climate change, and more than 50 percent more likely to think global warming had been underrepresented in the news. (Although often used interchangeably, the term “climate change” was designed to include a broader variety of impacts than simple “global warming,” such as extreme weather patterns.)

This generation gap may be partly due to life expectancy. For example, an American born in 1960 can expect to live until about 2030, but the most extreme impacts of climate change may not be felt until 2050 or beyond. Members of Generation Z born after the year 2000 can expect to live beyond 2075, if global climate collapse doesn’t kill them first.

Responding to allegations of ageism from her older colleagues, Swarbrick, the New Zealand parliamentarian, was unapologetic: “Today I have learnt that responding succinctly and in perfect jest to somebody heckling you about *your age* as you speak about the impact of climate change…makes some people very mad. So I guess millennials ruined humour. That, or we just need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and abstain from avocados.”

Whatever the cause of the generation gap, it has never been clearer that at its heart, the international climate movement is a youth movement. From the global climate strike and school walkout to the members of Extinction Rebellion, youths have been at the forefront of climate activism.

“OK, millennials. But we’re the people that actually have the money,” responded one AARP executive, without a hint of irony. But that may be why grassroots campaigns have begun to play such a large part in the global climate movement.

Much has been done through teen activist Greta Thunberg’s international campaign to raise awareness of the climate crisis. Thunberg recently visited the U.S. on her roundabout way to a relocated COP 25. The young Swede has become the literal figurehead of an international movement, but continues to draw expressions of venom and hate, particularly from middle-aged men.

But not all middle-aged men. On Nov. 7, former U.S. presidential candidate Jay Inslee tweeted, “I’m a Boomer and it’s time for our generation to do our part to defeat climate change. Ok, Boomers? (Did I do that right?)”

Yes, Jay, you did it right.

A study from N.C. State University recently found that climate education for children tends to rub off on parents, too. All the more remarkable was the fact that the change of opinion documented in the study was most pronounced in politically conservative male parents.

“There’s a robust body of work showing that kids can influence their parents’ behavior and positions on environmental and social issues, but this is the first experimental study demonstrating that climate education for children promotes parental concern about climate change,” said Danielle Lawson, lead author of the study.

“This study tells us that we can educate children about climate change and they’re willing to learn, which is exciting because studies find that many adults are resistant to climate education, because it runs counter to their personal identities,” Lawson said. “It also highlights that children share that information with their parents, particularly if they’re given tools to facilitate communication—and that parents are willing to listen.”

Maybe the ultimate solution to the climate crisis starts with finding fathers and daughters – or sisters, or brothers, or mothers – willing to listen and learn from the people they love.

Carbon Offsets Raise Needed Money For Climate Mitigation Projects, But Using Them To Excuse Emissions Raises Serious Doubts

Carbon credits, or offsets, have become such a familiar feature of the climate change response landscape that they’ve even earned a euphemism, “nature-based solutions.” The desire to speak of “solutions” rather than the unfashionable “offsets” betrays some of the controversy and criticism surrounding the practice. Indeed, the carbon credit concept has become a staple of climate action in three big areas: corporate responsibility/marketing, institutional emissions frameworks, and personal carbon footprint conscience-easing.


Source: UNEP

In the corporate world, declaring a low carbon footprint is a common public relations strategy aimed at environmentally-minded customers, but the most common way companies are achieving “100% renewable” is through the purchase of offsets. After all, for a factory or a ski resort connected to the local power grid–running offices, large machinery, and other amenities–it would hardly be realistic to disconnect and quit drawing from the coal or natural gas plant that is yet to be retired. Companies count on consumers not thinking so critically, and pervasive advertising about their renewable power “use” may leave people with the impression, especially in the United States, that we don’t need to do more in investing in our renewable energy infrastructure than we really have. Many corporations certainly do have a climate consciousness in their leadership, and many invest in climate mitigation under theories that climate change affects their bottom line, too, but whether their particular credit scheme offers a true one-to-one tradeoff within the greenhouse effect warrants greater scrutiny.

In institutions like state and local governments–and even national governments and bodies of the UN–carbon credits are similarly an integral means of achieving “net zero” emissions targets on optimistic timelines. In this context and in the regulatory sphere, it is important to distinguish between carbon credits in an offset scheme and carbon credits in an industry regulated by a cap-and-trade scheme. For specific industries, like power plants, carbon dioxide emissions can be relatively easily quantified, and a reduction in emissions at one plant can be accurately equated to an identical increase in another. Carbon credits as offsets, however, are often much less certain, as in when a municipality plants trees in another part of the world in the hopes of compensating for its net transportation emissions month-to-month.

And personal carbon credit purchases also entered into vogue in the past decade or so. A guilt-ridden google search will lead fossil-fuel hungry folks to a smorgasbord of offerings from different marketers. Some more critical research can also lead one to a variety of outlets cautioning that these products may not be what they seem. The only truly sure-fire way to make up for a transatlantic flight’s worth of fuel would be for the couple-hundred passengers to buy up the seats but keep the plane on the ground.

With all the popularity of these conservation-oriented and ostensibly emissions-cutting models, there are reasons to be skeptical. This summer, for example, the UN Environment Programme noted the need for stronger real emissions reduction commitments and stressed that offsets are not a “get-out-of-jail-free card.” When it comes to substantially mitigating climate change, there is no substitute for actually cutting our own emissions, physically, today. The following five criticisms provide a decent summary of the caution with which we should consider claims about the benefits of carbon credit trading. The sixth and final point below, however, explains why we should do it anyway, just with a hefty dose of humility and equal or greater action at home.

(1) Nature can’t keep up. Anthropogenic fossil fuel emissions are simply entering the atmosphere at a much faster rate than natural carbon sinks can store them in the biosphere (and eventually lithosphere). As the UNEP notes, some 50 percent of the greenhouse gases we’ve sent into the atmosphere in our industrial history have arrived there only since 1990. And even with nature’s carbon sequestration mechanisms operating at full speed, our emissions still need to be cut by about 45 percent by 2030 to maintain a fighting chance of staying within globally-agreed warming targets.

(2) Verification varies. Not all carbon offset programs are created equal, and the process for determining the climate effect of the credit purchased is something to consider. There is a robust ecosystem of carbon credit verification programs, but these will vary in their criteria, thoroughness, and reach. Governments like California are exploring verification systems, and intergovernmental organisms like the UNFCCC are developing rigid accounting mechanisms. In a world chock-full of offset-based claims and disparate accountability schemes, however, it’s safe to say that we probably aren’t verifiably achieving all the carbon goodness everyone claims to be.

(3) Carbon sequestration projections are uncertain. Nature’s end of the greenhouse gas mitigation bargain simply isn’t as knowable as we might like to think. Scientific research can reasonably help a person estimate how much CO2 she sends into the atmosphere when she drives her truck 4000 miles. And for many ecosystems, science has a decent grasp of understanding how they grow and the rate at which biomass removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But combining these two ideas compounds the uncertainty. The point of the offset purchase in the first instance is that there is no doubt that the truck is going to be driven 4000 miles. It’s already on the road, and those greenhouse gas molecules are as good as in the sky. Equivalent molecules being taken up by the driver’s offset program of choice, however, hinges on ecological systems far less straightforward than gasoline combustion. Assumptions must be made about precipitation patterns acting predictably, natural disasters staying at bay, growth occurring exactly as present science says it might, nutrients not becoming limiting, and a range of other factors. Add to this the lengthened timescale at which a natural system sequesters carbon relative to a truck belching it out, and it seems like certain emissions today are being traded for merely probable removal tomorrow.

(4) It’s tough to say what counts. Whether an offset program is used to finance renewable energy developments elsewhere, plant trees, or simply stop an area of forest from being cut down, a looming question is to what extent the offset program funds were the device that truly secured the alleged carbon dioxide reductions. How do we police the claiming of credits for other people’s conservation efforts that might have gone forward even in the absence of the additional funding? Another concern is that many carbon offsets are purchased for the prevention of deforestation; these has an extortionist element: “I was going to turn a blind eye to Chevron trampling an acre of the Amazon, but now that I haven’t, you must tolerate my factory doing equivalent climatic harm.”




Cascades of Climate Change: A Call For Action

Climate change. Who cares? Well, you should. Climate change is not some far off phenomenon where only people generations from now will experience its devastating effects. Climate Change Is Now. There is only one mother Earth, and we only get one shot to live here.

Whether you are a resident of a coastal state like Maryland or a land locked state like Vermont, you will see the effects of climate change. Climate change does not only mean that the planet will get a little warmer. (I currently live in Vermont, and I wouldn’t mind it being a few degrees warmer in the winter). But this is a misconception of what climate change truly is.

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) there is a difference between climate change and global warming. Weather refers to atmospheric conditions that happen in a particular location during short periods of time, while climate refers to average temperature, rainfall patterns and humidity of regional and global areas over a period  of years or decades. Global warming is “the long-term heating of Earth’s climate system observed since the pre-industrial period (between 1850 and 1900) due to human activities, primarily fossil fuel burning, which increases heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in the Earth’s atmosphere.” Climate change is long-term change in the average weather patterns that have come to define Earth’s local, regional and global climates.

Climate change, whether you are a skeptic or not, is here. It has been affecting the U.S. for quite a while. Coastal communities are assessing their vulnerabilities and risks and have been planning accordingly to implement climate change resilience plans. Despite lack of support for The Paris Agreement at the federal level, states are making progress towards reducing emissions, and may, cumulatively, be able to overcome inertia at the federal level.  The US. Climate Alliance is one of many sub-nationals, which are entities that operate below national government. These actors show that there is a possibility to close the emissions gap without the work of national actors. For example cities, “consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for more than 70% of global CO2 emissions.”

The U.S. Climate Alliance is a bipartisan coalition consisting of 24  governors who have pledged to reduce greenhouse emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. This state-led entity focuses on cooperation among the states to expedite necessary climate solutions that help each other reach their climate goals.

The Alliance encompasses 55 percent of the U.S. population. It has the third largest economy in the world—ranking under China and the United States—with an $11.7 trillion economy. The members’ policies surrounding climate and clean energy have drawn in billions in investments and has generated more that 1.7 million jobs in the clean energy sector. This number is over half of the total  number of jobs within the clean energy sector in the United States. The U.S. Climate Alliance has illustrated that climate leadership will not destroy economic growth.

This is a wake-up call for Americans. Climate change should not be a politically polarized issue. Republican and Democratic governors alike have shown through the creation of this alliance that climate change should bring us together instead of dividing us.

There is only one planet Earth, and this alliance has taken the initiative to keep the United States on track with its obligations under the Paris Agreement.

The current members of the U.S. Climate Alliance are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

If you do not see your state listed and want it to  join the U.S. Climate Alliance, please press your local representative to take action.