Draft GPUS Platform Amendment Climate Change

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The need for drastic action to deal with the climate crisis is becoming increasingly obvious by the day. Due to climate change, we live in a world of expanding deserts, vanishing polar ice, melting glaciers, increasingly severe weather, deepening droughts, and rising oceans.

No one can escape the effects of climate change, which will become increasingly severe over time, but its impacts fall disproportionately upon poor people and people of color. The responsibility for climate change, however, lies with the relatively rich. The release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the source of human-caused climate change, is directly associated with wealth on both national and individual levels. Climate change, in other words, is a result of over-consumption by those who can afford more than their fair share.

Greenhouse gases heat the earth by trapping heat energy in the atmosphere. Much of that heat energy is initially absorbed by the ocean, creating roughly a 30-year delay in the impact of that heat at the surface of the planet. Practically speaking, that means that the melting glaciers and expanding deserts of 2009 were the result of greenhouse gases dumped into the atmosphere in the late 1970's, when the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was below 350 parts per million (ppm). In order to return to a safe level of greenhouse gases in earth's atmosphere, we must reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases as quickly as possible to levels that existed before 1980, well below 350ppm carbon dioxide.

A variety of suggestions have been offered about goals for greenhouse gas emission reductions: 45% reduction from 1990 levels by 2020 and 95% by 2050 are among the most aggressive mentioned. However, when we compare those goals to the safe level of greenhouse gases discussed above, it is clear that the reductions offered have little to do with protecting life on earth and everything to do with protecting the political and economic status quo.

We passed the safe level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere before 1980 and emissions have risen dramatically since that time. The only rational action to take if we value a planet friendly to life as we know it is to expend maximum effort to not only curtail greenhouse gas emissions, but actively remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere through reforestation and other climate-friendly strategies. Nothing offered by either Congress or the President has come remotely close to the level of ambition required.


• Support an aggressive international climate treaty under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. We missed an opportunity to capitalize on worldwide momentum in support of climate action at the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December 2009. We cannot let that type of potential go to waste again. The United States must do massively better than the 4% below 1990 greenhouse gas emission reduction it offered in Copenhagen. Support for 45% reduction by 2020 and 95% reduction by 2050 is inadequate, but it is a good place to begin the discussion.

• Support a financial transactions tax to repay the United States climate debt. We became wealthy burning massive quantities of fossil fuels and dumping the resulting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere shared by all life on the planet. The United States and other wealthy nations must meet their obligations to repair the damage caused by paying the bill for adaptation to climate change in countries with less responsibility for climate change, and by providing a carbon neutral development path for those countries that can no longer be permitted to develop in the same way we did - by burning cheap fossil fuels.

• No "dirty clean energy". Many of the "solutions" offered in climate legislation aren't real solutions. Biomass incineration (trees, crops, construction debris and certain types of waste), landfill gas and many types of biofuels will dump massive quantities of toxic pollutants into the air and water, and some of these energy sources produce more greenhouse gas emissions than coal. Natural gas is primarily methane, which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Consequently, when pipeline leakage is considered, the clean-burning characteristics of natural gas can be lost, resulting in a fuel with climate impacts as bad as coal. Biomass and biofuels will also increase deforestation, contributing to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

• No nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is massively polluting, dangerous, expensive and slow to implement. Our money is better spent on wind, solar, geothermal and small-scale hydro.

• We can do better than carbon pricing. A variety of approaches to greenhouse gas reduction that try to shift demand away from fossil fuels by increasing the price of carbon have been suggested: Cap and Trade, Cap and Dividend, Tax and Dividend. All three share a common problem - perverse incentives (an unintended incentive to take action with negative consequences). By putting an increased price on carbon, all energy sources that do not have the carbon price imposed look relatively more attractive: nuclear power, biomass and biofuels are all in that category. Carbon pricing could easily result in massive deforestation to produce additional biofuels that have suddenly become relatively cheap and economically attractive. Instead of pricing carbon, we should simply mandate real clean solutions.

• Adopt energy efficiency standards that reduce energy demand economy-wide by 50% over the next 20-30 years. A variety of studies have suggested that we can make massive reductions in our energy use through a combination of conservation and efficiency measures. We don't actually need any additional power. We can and should instead reduce our consumption of power.

• Adopt a Clean Energy Portfolio Standard that rapidly replaces our combustion-based power sources with wind, solar, ocean, small-scale hydro, and geothermal power.

• Build an efficient, free, public transportation system. The best incentive we can provide to live closer to work and reduce the use of private vehicles is to make the alternative free and convenient to use.

• Remove subsidies from fossil fuels, nuclear power, biomass and waste incineration, and biofuels. We must also acknowledge that the bulk of our military budget is, in fact, a disguised subsidy for oil and gas production. At least half, and probably more, of our military budget should be redirected to positive purposes like building a carbon neutral energy economy.

• Adopt a national zero waste policy. The less we consume and throw away, the less we will need to produce and replace.

  • Rapidly phase out confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has reported that the livestock sector is one of the most significant contributors to our most serious environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.

• Make the shift away from industrial style chemical-based agriculture to local, organic food production. Fertilizer and pesticides are produced using fossil fuels and our globalized food production system burns massive quantities of fossil fuels to transport our food. Localized, organic food production eliminates most of that fossil fuel usage and also contributes to healthy, living soil that sequesters more carbon dioxide, further reducing the impact of agriculture on global warming.

• Use some of our savings from reduced consumption and military expenditures to create a retraining program to prepare workers for the new, clean energy economy. Prioritize the creation of green jobs in communities of color and poor communities.