Are climate activists just about animals?

The #ClimateReparations campaign calls for urgent climate action and compensation for people worldwide. In an event held in Glasgow on June 13, organizers called for a “stepchange” in the response to climate change.

World leaders are signing onto the Paris Agreement, with 2019 being a “year of action” and “the most significant political action on climate change, ever,” according to broadcaster and well-known climate activist Yvette Cooper.

The campaign formed in October 2017, as a direct result of Cancun and Durban. Cooper joined with journalist Sadiq Malik and economist and philosopher Barbara Green to form #ClimateReparations, a group dedicated to spreading the message of climate justice and for action that is inclusive and has impact.

Many of those attending the event in Glasgow called for the implementation of the Paris Agreement, which aims to prevent dangerous levels of global warming by limiting temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, so that no more than 1.5 degrees is on the table.

However, the climate justice movement has had ongoing problems of resistance. After joining the #ClimateReparations campaign, which says that it represents tens of millions of people from over 150 countries, I received many messages asking me what I thought about “sacrificing animals for human comfort”. The so-called “sacrifices” of Indigenous people, climate refugees, the poor, and the extreme poor also appear to be a point of dispute. The activists argue that such people have not been specifically mentioned by the Paris Agreement.

If these issues were addressed, the campaign would have immense support, as authors Pankaj Mishra and Anne Applebaum believe in its more “radical” demands. Participants in the solidarity event in Glasgow were informed that it would be necessary to prevent a 2 degree Celsius temperature rise by 2030.

The goal to avoid a dangerous 1.5 degree rise has also been controversial, as social scientist Richard Dixon points out. While citizens are not aware of how their own actions impact the global climate, let alone the rest of the world, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report that shows that we can stop the warming “at no more than 1.8 degrees Celsius”, with the only exceptions being an asteroid impact and mass starvation, and that this can only be done by preserving global “greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere at current levels for at least 60 years, the longest-term period that has been submitted by climate change scientists to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

If we are to maintain a 2 degree global average temperature rise this would mean a complete halt of fossil fuel use, including for transport, and would require an enormous task to replace them. In this context, a number of the issues we face, the reduction of methane emissions, composting, and changing our lifestyles are given short shrift by the #ClimateReparations campaign.

While the idea that extinction would occur in the worst case scenario, 1.8 degrees Celsius, the person leading the event, Yvette Cooper, has said that she would prefer a 1.5 degree rise, if it was for everyone’s sake.

If our current track of climate action continues, then there are three possible outcomes:

1. We keep burning all fossil fuels, of which we have 1,300 billion barrels, for another 250 years.

2. There is a revision in our course of action to ensure that we reach 1.5 degrees C.

3. We sharply reduce the combustion of fossil fuels, going over 100 billion barrels to near zero in 50 years, if we do not want catastrophic 1.8 degree warming.

If this last scenario were to happen, we would have a slow elimination of carbon emissions within 50 years, but probably not what is required to avoid dangerous 1.8 degree warming. Both scenarios would bring increased adaptation costs and risk of starvation and the spreading of disease, and the option of compensating those affected with climate science funds, was not ruled out.

In a world where there are 3.8 billion people who lack adequate energy, and we have significant levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and growing temperatures that are causing food and water shortages, this is not a position that is likely to be adopted by any political leaders, however progressive. If we continue with fossil fuel based economic models, with no need to moderate carbon emissions, we should be spared of the oil wars currently raging throughout the Middle East, but the majority of developed countries should not. This is where the social justice and climate justice issues are intertwined.

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