I will be one of tens of thousands – hopefully hundreds of thousands – marching on the UN Climate Summit in New York City this Sunday demanding that the world's governments take decisive action to stop global warming.
I will also be speaking at the Climate Convergence on Saturday where I will argue that to deal with climate change we must replace the coal, oil, and gas companies and investor-owned utilities with a democratic public power system operated at cost for public benefit, not for private profit. We need system change, not climate change.
As the 2014 Green candidate for Governor of New York, I am calling for a Green New Deal for New York, the centerpiece of which is building a 100% clean energy system by 2030. It will create 4.5 million new jobs and cut energy costs in half. We will need a statewide public power system in New York implement the conversion to clean energy.
We march because our political leaders have failed us. Big coal, oil, and gas and their Wall Street investors have captured our government, which in turn has stymied past UN climate summits from making an effective international agreement to address climate change. They have put short-term profits before needs of the people and the planet. The bipartisan tag team of Republicans and Democrats has made the US the world's ringleader in alliance with petro-state like Saudi Arabia and Russia in preventing concerted action by the international community to stop global warming.
We must take action now. Climate change is already creating havoc. 400,000 people die annually in poor countries from hunger and communicable diseases due to climate change. Heat waves in Europe in 2003 killed more than 30,000. Climate scientists warn that over the next century it will be increasingly be dangerous to even be outside in parts of the U.S. due to excessive heat and humidity.
I called for a ban on fracking for natural gas as the Green gubernatorial candidate in 2010 at a time when most environmentalists urged a moratorium so that the health and environmental impacts of fracking could be studied. I knew then that expanding the use natural gas was a disaster for the climate. The drilling, transport, and burning fracked gas in New York would release massive amounts of carbon dioxide and, even more ominously, methane, which is 86 times more potent over 20 years in heating the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Aside from the question of whether fracking as an extraction method is safe, reliance on natural gas will accelerate global warming. Climate scientists warn us that 80% of the present fossil fuels reserves of coal, oil, and gas must never be burned into greenhouse gases if we are to stop global warming below the tipping point of catastrophic climate change.
Climate scientists tell us that have at best 15 years to convert to carbon-free energy sources if we are to stop runaway global warming. Every new report tends to find that global warming is accelerating faster than predicted.
The technology to build a sustainable, livable world already exits. The sun shines, the wind blows, the waves lap at our shores. Why we would not want to quickly create a renewable energy system that uses free wind and sun to cleanly power our society rather than using dirty, limited, and ever more expensive coal, oil and gas? Especially when clean energy creates many times more jobs than fossil fuels?
Do Americans really want to threaten the viability of human civilization in order to protect the profits of ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, oil barons and the sheiks and dictators of the petro-states?
We have to come to grips with why we can't solve climate change within a capitalist framework. As Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, has noted, "Industrialized nations have to start cutting their emissions by about 8 to 10 percent per year, which is incompatible with capitalism. You cannot reconcile that level of emission reduction with an economic system that needs continual growth.”
It has been more than 40 years and eight presidential administrations since the first Earth Day in 1970 and then the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74 made converting to clean, domestic, renewable energy sources a stated national commitment. The energy corporations and investor-owned utilities have not only failed to make the transition, they have actively obstructed it and bought the politicians to do their bidding.
We need energy democracy. We need to bring our energy infrastructure under democratic ownership and control as a public utility. The publicly-owned energy infrastructure we need would encompass strategic energy investments and technology choices; reinvestment in renewables of earnings from fossil fuels still sold for use during the transition; renewable base-load power plants including hydroelectric, solar thermal, and geothermal plants; a smart grid for distributed electric generation; and public transportation.
Within a publicly-owned energy infrastructure framework, there will be plenty of scope for small-scale private household and business solar and wind electric generation and geothermal heating and cooling. Private businesses, conventional or preferably cooperative, will manufacture, install and maintain these distributed renewable energy systems. But these private enterprises will operate within an overall framework of democratic public planning and priorities to meet the needs of the people and the planet.
New York State should set an example for the nation and the world by building a 100% clean energy system by 2030. A study by Cornell and Stanford researchers documents how that would create 4.5 million middle-income manufacturing and construction jobs and cut electric rates in half compared to continued reliance on fossil and nuclear fuels. Continued dependence on the 19th century fossil-fueled system will leave us battered by climate change, poisoned by pollution, technologically backward, and economically stagnant. Let's upgrade to a 21st century renewable energy system, protect the climate, and build a sustainable prosperity.