The rapid growth of serious responses to climate disruption

A LOT of developments are emerging around the climate issue – a nonviolent insurgency, offensive and defensive fossil fuel divestment efforts, insurance industry responses, new forms of agriculture, dark humor, a cross country march, municipal preparedness, US administration actions, and more.  I also encourage action on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, currently being negotiated in secret and very dangerous to democracy and climate action.

Dear friends,

There’s so much change happening around the climate issue, in the climate movement, and in various sectors affected by climate impacts that we could describe it all as an awakening, a radicalization, perhaps even a speeding up of evolution. The several articles I’ve included below are only a sampling of what’s going on – and here’s a quick summary of what they see and say:

* NONVIOLENT INSURGENCY – The climate movement can, should, and is already evolving from lobbying and protesting to a mass civil disobedience-based insurgency aimed at enforcing a “higher law”, as well as ordinary laws and fundamental legal principles that are being violated by those endangering our grandchildren’s future. Such a movement may break laws like “no trespassing” in order to enforce far more important laws and principles and to challenge the legitimacy of authorities involved in destroying the commons we all depend on – what legal scholars call “the public trust”. (PS: Consider a great holiday gift about the power of nonviolence: DENMARK RISING by Barry Clemson, an inspiring, exciting, history-based novel chronicling the surprisingly effective actual – and potential – Danish nonviolent resistance to the Nazis. I just read it and loved it.)

* DIVESTMENT – A major research effort shows that obliviousness and mismanagement by the vast majority of retirement and investment funds are threatening investors and retirees with potentially massive losses through exposure to climate-associated risks. On the other hand, these funds could be driving the transition to a low carbon economy. Unions, cities, and other fund-users take note of this mix of danger and opportunity. (The study mentioned here complements the carbon divestment movement underway on campuses and elsewhere.)

* INSURANCE – Global insurance losses due to extreme weather have averaged $70 billion a year since 2010, an increase of 75 percent from 2000 to 2009 and 367 percent from 1980 to 1989. The insurance sector has been one of the earliest industries to voice concerns about climate change, because it hits their bottom lines very visibly and intensively. The consequent rise in insurance rates is bringing the climate home to more and more people, corporations, and municipalities.

* AGRICULTURE – Intense erosion and weather anomalies like unusually dry springs or wet summers are on the rise, challenging farmers. One industrial approach to solving this is to use larger mechanized planters that can plant more crops quicker. While many US farmers are adopting that approach, a more sustainable approach not mentioned in the article is agroforestry, which mixes trees with crops to better hold and access water, reduce erosion, support pest predators, and provide diverse yields, among other benefits. (Agroforestry itself is intimately related to permaculture, a global movement which is also working on ecologically aware farming practices to meet the challenges of climate change.)

* HUMOR – Comedians are diving into the absurdities and possibilities raised by our civilization’s bizarre response to nature and to its own impending doom.

There is much much more, of course. For starters you can Google /climate change adaptation cities/ to see reports from the World Bank and MIT right at the top, among many other institutional and non-governmental sites. And I just heard this morning that John Podesta has joined White House staff specifically “to oversee an aggressive climate change agenda via executive action”. The mounting litany of responses goes on and on, but those here are quite enough to make my point. Suffice it to say that I see an acceleration of diverse and widespread responses to the climate challenge.

Whether all this is happening “fast enough” is, of course, an open question, because climate disruption dynamics are accelerating and there is evidence that we need to dig far deeper to sufficiently transform our culture and our economic and governance systems if we are to adequately meet the growing climate challenge. (If you are interested in further information and thoughts about this, see my blog post Acknowledging real end-times possibilities –  especially its list of sites/groups taking extreme climate disruption and peak oil seriously and links in the comments below the blog post.)

THE GREAT MARCH FOR CLIMATE ACTION

A very important opportunity to enable all these diverse strategies and opportunities to be digested in ongoing conversations and action is the upcoming Great March for Climate Action. More than a hundred activists from all parts of the climate movement will live and walk together for eight months across the US, talking all the time. Imagine what could come of that. As I noted in my September 15th blog post An opportunity like no other – the Great March for Climate Action, these marcher activists

will talk about … climate change, activism, strategies, deeper causes, long term nuanced consequences, how their grandchildren will live, and what REALLY needs to be done about all that. Their diverse perspectives and information will churn together in a thousand combinations and novel configurations. The march will be a hothouse of new ways of thinking, feeling, and taking action. We could even say that it will be ‘the other greenhouse effect’ – a hundredfold concentration and enrichment of the energy, thinking, and conversations we already engage in together for a few hours or days at a time [but always hunger for more!]. Carrying on such intensified interaction for EIGHT MONTHS cannot help but generate breakthrough initiatives and collaborations, transformed lives and lifestyles, new directions for the whole climate movement and every other movement.

Just what we need – all quite in addition to the media attention, the activation and actions of citizens and towns along the way, the march examples of small carbon footprint, and the inspiring commitment of people whose lives embody the seriousness of the issue… I urge you to really consider supporting the march and/or specific marchers — or becoming a marcher yourself. There is nothing quite like it.

ONE MORE THING: STOP THE TPP!

If you feel called to take even more action on climate issues over the holidays, consider addressing the horrendous Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) currently being negotiated in secret (except for occasional WikiLeaks leaks). Once completed (possibly in mid-2014), the Obama administration wants Congress to “fast-track” it to make informed public response and even sensible Congressional deliberation difficult if not impossible. The TPP reaches far beyond climate issues. But it particularly relates to climate change because any environmental regulation in a signatory country that threatens any corporation’s “expected future profits” can result in that corporation suing the country’s government directly in special international tribunals of private sector lawyers, not only bypassing the sovereignty and citizenry of the country concerned but, if they win, forcing the country’s taxpayers to pay the corporation for its “losses”. Can you believe it?! If TPP passes, it will give corporations unprecedented power to undermine regulations that address climate change – which is why preventing its passage is one of the most important climate actions we can take at the moment.

Public Citizen is one good place to familiarize yourself with this trade agreement and what to do about it. See citizen.org and their related action site. For specific TPP issues related to the environment, read this. For a petition to nix fast-track, go here.

You can read another stimulating, clarifying, and very powerful overview of TPP here and another excellent one from a non-US, Malaysian perspective – which notes the role of TPP in US geopolitical strategy – here.

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All this gives evidence – once again! – that things are getting better and better and worse and worse faster and faster simultaneously – often in intimately related ways!

We are all part of the accelerating evolution of life on our planet, shaped so strongly by our human activity… all of it energized by the twin possibilities of pointless and painful extinction on the one hand and, on the other, a new civilization of just and generous partnership with each other and nature. That’s what’s unfolding, right now, through everything we do…

Coheartedly,
Tom

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Excerpts from
Climate Protection: The New Insurgency
By Jeremy Brecher, Foreign Policy In Focus
18 December 13

Faced with the failure of conventional lobbying, the climate protection movement is now turning to mass civil disobedience-but we can take it further still… The emergence of a global insurgency that challenges the very legitimacy of those who are destroying our planet.

The 2013 Fifth Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed that humans are destroying the earth’s climate. But it also revealed something even more alarming: Twenty-five years of human effort to protect the climate have failed even to slow the forces that are destroying it. On the contrary, the rate of increase in carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels tripled between the release of the first IPCC report in 1988 and today….

Those who are fighting to save the climate need a new strategy. One such strategy to consider is a global nonviolent law-enforcing insurgency.

A Nonviolent Insurgency

Insurgencies are social movements, but movements of a special type: They reject current rulers’ claims to legitimate authority. Insurgencies often develop from movements that initially make no direct challenge to established authority but eventually conclude that one is necessary to realize their objectives. To effectively protect the earth’s climate and our species’ future, the climate protection movement may have to become such an insurgency.

The term “insurgency” is generally associated with an armed rebellion against an established government. Its aim may be to overthrow the existing government, but it may also aim to change it or simply to protect people against it. Whatever its means and ends, the hallmark of such an insurgency is to deny the legitimacy of established state authority and to assert the legitimacy of its own actions.

A nonviolent insurgency pursues similar objectives by different means. Like an armed insurgency, it does not accept the limits on its action imposed by the powers-that-be. But unlike an armed insurgency, it eschews violence and instead expresses power by mobilizing people for various forms of nonviolent mass action.

The powers responsible for climate change could not rule for a day without the acquiescence of those whose lives and future they are destroying…. It is the ordinary activity of people – going to work, paying taxes, buying products, obeying government officials, staying off private property – that continually re-creates the power of the powerful. A nonviolent climate insurgency can be powerful if it withdraws that cooperation from the powers-that-be….

Much of the climate protection movement is now turning to mass civil disobedience…[which] represents moral protest, but it does not in itself challenge the legal validity of the government or other institutions against which it is directed. Rather, it claims that the obligation to oppose their immoral actions… is more binding on individuals than the normal duty to obey the law.

A law-enforcing insurgency goes a step further. It declares a set of laws and policies themselves illegal and [that those who create and enforce such laws and policies] are themselves violating the law under what’s known as “color of law,” or the false pretense of authority…. Social movements that engage in civil disobedience often draw strength from the claim that their actions are not only moral, but that they represent an effort to enforce fundamental legal and constitutional principles flouted by the authorities they are disobeying. And they strengthen a movement’s appeal to the public by presenting its action not as wanton law breaking but as an effort to rectify governments and institutions that are themselves in violation of the law….

Why Climate Destruction is Illegal

The Justinian Code, issued by the Roman Emperor in 535 A.D., defined the concept of res communes (common things): “By the law of nature these things are common to mankind – the air, running water, the sea and consequently the shores of the sea.” The right of fishing in the sea from the shore “belongs to all men.”

Based on the Justinian Code’s protection of res communes, governments around the world have long served as trustees for rights held in common by the people. In U.S. law this role is defined by the public trust doctrine, under which the government serves as public trustee on behalf of present and future generations. Even if the state holds title, the public is the “beneficial owner.” As trustee, the state has a “fiduciary duty” to the owner – a legal duty to act solely in the owners’ interest with “the highest duty of care.” The principle is recognized today in both common law and civil law systems in countries ranging from South Africa to the Philippines and from the United States to India.

On Mother’s Day, 2011, the youth organization Kids vs. Global Warming organized the “iMatter March” of young people in 160 communities in 45 countries, including the United States, Russia, Brazil, New Zealand, and Great Britain. Concurrently, the Atmospheric Trust Litigation Project brought suits and petitions on behalf of young people in all 50 U.S. states to require the federal and state governments to fulfill their obligation to protect the atmosphere as a common property. Speaking to one of the rallies, 16-year-old Alec Loorz, founder of Kids v. Global Warming and lead plaintiff in the Federal lawsuit, said:

“Today, I and other fellow young people are suing the government, for handing over our future to unjust fossil fuel industries, and ignoring the right of our children to inherit the planet that has sustained all of civilization. The government has a legal responsibility to protect the future for our children. So we are demanding that they recognize the atmosphere as a commons that needs to be preserved, and commit to a plan to reduce emissions to a safe level.”….

The sad fact is that virtually all the governments on earth – and their legal systems – are deeply corrupted by the very forces that gain from destroying the global commons. They exercise illegitimate power without regard to their obligations to those they claim to represent, let alone to the common rights beneficiaries of other lands and future generations to whom they also owe “the highest duty of care.”

But protecting the atmosphere is not just a matter for governments. Indeed, it is the failure of governments to protect the public trust that is currently prompting the climate-protection movement to turn to mass civil disobedience. Looked at from the perspective of the public trust doctrine, these actions are far from lawless. Indeed, they embody the effort of people around the world to assert their right and responsibility to protect the public trust. They represent people stepping in to provide law enforcement where corrupt and illegitimate governments have failed to meet their responsibility to do so…

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Excerpts from
Climate Change Threatens Retirement Savings
By Alex Kirby and The Daily Climate

Investment funds may be exposing their investors to future losses by mismanaging climate risk

LONDON – The Asset Owners Disclosure Project asked 1,000 of the world’s largest asset owners what they were doing to guard against the possibility that their investments in fossil fuels could, in future, become worthless.

Together, the owners manage more than $70 trillion. The Project found that only 27 of the 458 investment funds replying to its request are addressing climate risk at what it considers a responsible level.

Only five of the 458 achieved the AODP’s top score, AAA. An additional 22 rated A or above. Only these groups, says the Project, “will survive a carbon crash in any kind of good shape.”

Of the responding asset owners, 80 percent are either D rated (abysmal) or X rated (doing nothing). Funds not responding did not receive a rating….

The survey looked at several categories of investment behaviour, including transparency, risk management and low carbon investment. Asset owners examined came from 63 countries, in all regions of the world.

Those the AODP approached included more than 800 pension funds, 80 insurance companies, 50 sovereign wealth funds and 30 foundations or endowments. The survey findings are published in the Project’s second Global Climate Investment Index.

The risk to investors from climate change is that a stringent and effective global agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions – which does not yet exist – would mean massive amounts of coal, oil and gas reserves, listed as assets by energy and mining companies, would have to be left in the ground.

As a consequence, the value of investments in those companies would fall sharply which, among other things, would lead to considerably lower levels of retirement savings for individual stakeholders.

While the AODP says many investment funds are threatening investors with potentially massive losses through exposure to climate risks, it believes the Index shows the world’s investment system can drive the transition to a low carbon economy….

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Excerpts from
Extreme Weather Worries Insurers, Farmers
VICTOR EPSTEIN – The Des Moines Register/USA TODAY

DES MOINES, IOWA — Insurance and agricultural officials in Iowa say extreme weather is having a more pronounced impact on their industries as rising global damage payouts temper insurance profits and unusually heavy rain accelerates soil erosion.

Both industries are critical parts of the state’s economy, and the size and scale of the challenges confronting them were outlined Tuesday at a University of Iowa panel on extreme weather….

State Insurance Commissioner Nick Gerhart told participants that global insurance losses due to extreme weather have averaged $70 billion a year since 2010, an increase of 75 percent from 2000 to 2009 and 367 percent from 1980 to 1989.

“Some insurance carriers have unequivocally said it’s from climate change,” Gerhart said, noting that one Iowa woman is now fighting an increase in her home’s flood insurance from roughly $700 a year to $5,000 as the National Flood Insurance Program seeks to bridge a $25 billion shortfall.

“Right now, too much money is being paid out,” he said.

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey said Iowa is receiving more moisture than before, which is causing faster erosion of fertile topsoil….
David Miller, director of research at the Iowa Farm Bureau, said farmers are using larger mechanized planters to maximize their ability to sow crops when the weather cooperates. They’ve reached a point now where they can plant almost the entire state in just three days of good weather, he said.

Miller estimated that Iowa has experienced one weather anomaly every four years – such as an unusually dry spring or wet summer – since 1980. That compares with a previous rate of one weather anomaly every 20 years….

Insurers are raising rates, hedging their possible losses via reinsurers and catastrophe bonds, and using data and technology to better identify the risk of weather-related catastrophes by area…. This year has been a moderate one for weather-related insurance payouts. It’s the first time since at least 2008 that insurers have paid out less in claims than they’ve taken from customers…

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Note from Tom Atlee: Using larger mechanized planters is only one agricultural approach to the droughts, floods, erosion, and unpredictability of climate change. It is, ironically, based on oil, which is needed to fuel those giant planters. Alternatively, agroforestry – the planting of grain and vegetable crops below or among trees – offers many advantages in meeting the weather variability and fierceness that will increase as climate disruption progresses. See this for a detailed and excellent, if somewhat technical, description of what agroforestry has to contribute to addressing climate disruption. I was new to this approach and very much encouraged.

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NOW FOR SOME SERIOUS HUMOR

One of the briefest and juiciest pieces of comedy that I’ve seen along these lines is Louis C.K.’s amazing skit “If God Came Back”, where God comes down to complain about humanity’s messing with His creation and abusing or ignoring all His gifts. You can watch all 2 minutes of it here.

On a somewhat more sober note, we have Steve Bhaerman’s piece below, which does not have nearly as many puns as the usual missives of his comedy alter ego Swami Beyondanda – a fact which some of you will be grateful for and others will lament! If you want more pure socially and spiritually engaged comedy – like Swami’s “Drive Your Karma, Curb Your Dogma” and “A 7-Step Plan to Heal the Body Politic and Cure Electile Dysfunction”, visit him at Wake Up Laughing.

Excerpts from
Institutionalized Insanity and Humanity’s Existential Crisis
By Steve Bhaerman
December 18, 2013

“I know what you’re thinking.
I am proposing a sane world — I must be crazy.”
— Swami Beyondananda

….Welcome to the world of institutionalized insanity, where Official Media selling Official Stories insist that we the people ignore our eyes, ears, and senses…

Indeed, many of those who allow themselves to pay attention see … what may be the beginning of the end of human life on earth, and even more likely the collapse of civilization as we know it….

Here is my sober assessment of the situation: Humanity has just received some alarming lab results that indicate we are suffering from a life-threatening condition that will prove fatal unless we take immediate, collective action….

We are in the process of choosing if we want to exist or not. As more and more of us are coming to see, to navigate the evolutionary passage in front of us, we will have to recognize ourselves as cells in one related organism. Having spent the past 5,000 years focusing on survival of the fittest,… we must now shift to thrival of the fittingest. If we fit into the web of life, we survive and thrive. If we don’t fit, we don’t survive. And for those of you concerned about the financial costs of making these fundamental changes, I offer this dire warning: If humanity goes extinct, there goes the GDP!…

So … what would it be like for a critical mass of the uncritical masses to “go sane” and declare the physical world our “sane asylum”?

First, we must face the dire prognosis with clarity, awareness, courage and resourcefulness…. We must now collectively (and individually, of course) face our demons, and work together to overcome steep odds. This means playing an entirely new game, and while the outcome of the new game is still undetermined, we do know that the old game will lead to death….

A certain percentage of patients who receive a dire prognosis and are told to “go home and get your affairs in order” miraculously recover. While their recovery might seem like some anomalous act of grace, it turns out that those who recover have something in common… “a change of story”….

Our positive choice is to write and then live into a new story. The dire prognosis is calling forth evolutionary change, where we gather under “one big intent” to use our collective intelligence intelligently and our resources resourcefully. We have the technological wherewithal to mobilize the global village. Now we need the “aware-with-all” and the will, and the willingness….

What would it be like to have the conversation about the true state of the natural world in community, in our churches and spiritual centers, in our schools, and of course in our families? What would it be like to break this conversation through the “soundless barrier” so the media has to report it?….

Patients who declare, “I want to live” are far more likely to survive and thrive than those who say, “I don’t want to die.”…. [So] along with change of story, one of the markers for overcoming life-threatening conditions is having a compelling future to live for. So what would it be like for Humanity to declare the future it chooses to live into? Seriously. What if there was a positive, proactive mission statement for Humanity, a vector pointing toward greater health, wellbeing and sanity?

Businesses write mission statements, as do individuals who are “up to something”. What if communities, nations and even our entire human community declared what they seek to bring to the world? Doesn’t it make sense that every region, every state, every nation has something that it does or creates better than anyone else? What would it be like for a billion or two billion or three billion people to declare they are choosing a world where there is thrival for all?

And then, what would it be like to actually create a structure and DO something to demonstrate this?….

So as we begin a new year, let’s recognize that the evolutionary upwising is fully underway. Let’s shoot way past apathy and despair, and let’s call forth the healing and transformational energy in our community and world…. Let’s take the bad news… as “karma fuel” to propel us toward what the Swami would call Humanifest Destiny … manifesting our destiny as a healthy and whole species.

[Note: Bhaerman’s full article focuses more on the unfolding Fukushima catastrophe as a warning regarding our existential crisis, as well as noting Japan’s recent criminalization of investigative reporting and critique of the government’s handling of the crisis (thus the term “institutionalizing insanity”). If by any chance you think that Fukushima is something that happened a while ago or “over there” or is being handled responsibly, see here for some current eye-opening news. I excerpted the article above to highlight the parts that relate to ALL our existential crises, of which Fukushima and climate change are but two… – Tom]

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