Article: S. Jacob Scherr
In December 2015, the eyes of the world will be on Paris when the nations of the world gather for COP21—the twenty-first annual meeting to talk about updating and implementing 1992 treaty promises to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are heating up our planet. Sadly the treaty has failed to stop global warming, and we are already experiencing a changing climate with more intense and erratic weather.
What is encouraging is that Paris will be different from previous UN climate mega-gatherings because of the women and men featured here. They are developing and advocating for a new global architecture to drive the transformative actions we need to deal with the climate crisis. It is an “all hands on deck” approach with national, state, and local governments, businesses, universities, and citizen groups all taking action. And each of us has an opportunity to contribute, as you will see from the responses that Climate Changers give to the question “What can we do now to deal with climate change?”
So what does this new global architecture look like? Coincidentally it is like the Eiffel Tower—the symbol of the City of Paris, on the logo for COP21, and a monument to revolution. Like the tower, the “Paris Alliance” expected to emerge this December needs a top-down vision (a post-fossil fuel world by 2050 and stronger national plans for 2030 within an improved framework), but equally essential is the bottom-up engagement in the next critical five years of thousands of our leaders and millions, if not billions, of the world’s people.
We can put the world on the path to brighter future. This is a moment for all of us to listen to the Climate Changers, and to become Climate Changers ourselves.
S. Jacob Scherr is a Senior Advisor to the Natural Resources Defense Council, where he initiated NRDC’s climate change advocacy twenty-five years ago. He is serving as Senior Editor for this issue of ORIGIN magazine.
30+ Climate Changers
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
President, Waterkeeper Alliance
New York, New York
Sometimes it’s more important to change politicians than light bulbs. Resurrecting American democracy is vital to averting climate catastrophe. We must first repeal the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which has flooded elections with billions of oily petrodollars from carbon tycoons. Mercenary politicians on petroleum’s payroll are currently working Congress and every state legislature to preserve obscene subsidies for deadly dinosaur fuels, derail taxes on carbon, and erode support for renewables, efficiency, and transmission. If we don’t cut carbon’s money pipeline, we will pay for their gasoline with floods, droughts, fires, super storms, drowned cities, mass extinctions, wars, and collapsing civilizations.
President, Natural Resources Defense Council
The Climate Revolution has begun, and the time for climate action is now. Time to join, as a nation, with the thousands of mayors, business executives, faith leaders, and student activists rising up to cut carbon pollution from our homes, workplaces, and cars. Time to invest in the clean energy of tomorrow and leave the fossil fuels of yesterday behind. Time to stand with those on the ragged front lines of a changing climate, those paying the highest price. Time to rally the world, in Paris, where revolutions are born. Time to advance the Climate Revolution.
Photo: Joshua Paul/NRDC
French Ambassador for Climate Change Negotiations +
Special Representative for CO P21
The outcome of Paris COP21 will be broader than the new agreement under the UNFCCC. This is why we have launched the Paris Alliance for Climate Action, which will include the new agreement under the UNFCCC, the INDCs (national contributions from countries), the finance package, and the actions and commitments by non-state actors, particularly businesses, investors, and local authorities. I think COP21 is going to be a success if it sends a loud and clear signal to citizens and businesses around the world that the transition to a low-emission, climate-resilient economy became inevitable, desirable, and already underway.
Photo: MEDDE – A. Bouissou
Los Angeles, California
Cities are leading the way on climate action. In Los Angeles, I have set ambitious goals through my Sustainable City plan: reduce GHG emissions by 80 percent by 2050, eliminate reliance on coal by 2025, and increase water conservation by 20 percent by 2017. And we’re not just making promises, we’re taking action: creating the largest pure EV battery fleet in America by 2016, piloting the first EV car-sharing system in the US for low-income communities, and cutting water use by 16 percent already. Join me in making sure that your city is acting on climate and that your mayor is a #ClimateMayor.
Cities are confronted with major challenges in the fields of energy, transport, waste management, mobility, etc. But innovative solutions that have a lesser impact on the environment exist and are developed every day: developing sustainable energy, implementing circular economy or soft means of transportation. Just think of Vélib’ and Autolib’ now everywhere in Paris! Importantly, by acting together, cities will be more effective in bringing concrete solutions to climate change. This is the reason why I will join forces with mayors from around the world during the Climate Summit for Local Leaders at COP21.
Allen Hershkowitz, Ph.D.President, Green Sports Alliance
No single initiative by itself can solve the climate crisis. The ecological challenges we face are the result of billions of ecologically ignorant decisions made by billions of people over centuries. To address the climate crisis, we now need billions of people to make ecologically intelligent decisions. Small things lead to big
changes. Indeed, all we can do are small things. Nothing is too small to matter. What do I suggest individuals do? First, eat less meat. Second, use less energy powered by fossil fuels. Third, buy products and packages made from recycled content.
Photo: J. Henry Fair
Our electricity system was developed by big companies, building big power plants, financed by big banks. To sustain a safe climate for the next generation, we need a new paradigm where we all pitch in with our own zero-emission energy production, enough to replace all the fossil fuels we’re burning today. The good news is that today solar power isn’t just good for the climate, but it saves money too, which makes it an easy choice. Socially responsible finance is a key that will unlock the possibility of everyone benefiting from owning their share of this new energy revolution.
National Director, Green For All
Climate change aggravates the existing problems in struggling communities. Global warming increases the likelihood of extreme weather patterns, which hit low-income communities hardest. Droughts cause higher food costs and loss of jobs in agriculture. Pollution aggravates health problems, including asthma, heart disease, and stroke. Poverty and pollution are interconnected and must be addressed together. Solutions can include financing solar for low-income families, electric vanpools for migrant farmworkers in the Central Valley, placing affordable housing by transit-accessible areas, and planting trees in concrete jungles. By doing this, we will build a green economy strong enough to lift all boats.
Gary E. Knell
President + CEO,
National Geographic Society
Many people see only the enormity of this crisis and feel hopeless (or worse, indifferent), thinking they can’t do much of anything alone. The truth is each of us can do a lot. In November, timed with the global climate conference in Paris, we are focusing on the role of the individual. There are steps—many of them simple—that we can take to reduce our own carbon footprints. Businesses can make an even bigger impact by reducing water usage and investing in renewable energy. If we can inspire individuals to take action, it can turn into communities, countries, and industries taking action.
Photo: Mark Thiessen/National Geographic
United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change
We, the older generations, simply cannot leave a world for you, the younger generations, in which climate change impacts become ever more threatening to your survival. Still more public attention and action are needed. Solutions like renewable energy or energy efficiency need to fully power our collective future! So how can you take action? Think global, act local. Connect with people, visibly and loudly showcase initiatives that reduce greenhouse gases emissions, nurture youth leaders, or spread the message by raising awareness through campaigns. I am convinced that your contributions will ensure that climate change solutions safely power our—and especially your—future.
While climate change is a global problem, solutions are local. Cities are where hope meets the streets on climate action. Atlanta is the first city in Georgia to pass a climate action plan, and Atlanta recently joined cities from the US and China in committing to 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. We will accomplish this through energy and water efficiency programs, utilizing an electric vehicle fleet, solar power installations, hiring an urban agriculture director and chief bicycle officer, and other strategies. With cities acting as powerful incubators for change, we can make a difference.
Thomas Hale, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Global Public Policy,
Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University
Oxford, United Kingdom
When I was in fourth grade, countries promised to negotiate a global deal to stop climate change. Twenty-five years later, I’m a professor of international relations, and my students ask what’s taken so long. Countries are finally moving in the right direction, but what most excites me is not the glacial negotiation. It’s the groundswell of concrete, immediate steps that tens of thousands of cities, companies, states, provinces, regions, and others all over the world are taking to reduce emissions. These new players are showing how everyone—not just countries—can act right now to stop climate change, global deal or not. And in the process, they are rewriting the rules for how we tackle global problems.
Photo: Beth Crosland
Author, The Winning of the Carbon War
Chair, Carbon Tracker Initiative
London, United Kingdom
We all need to do what we can within our circles of influence to fan the flames of two revolutions currently underway. An energy revolution is unfolding around us, heading in the right general direction: a 100 percent renewable-powered future. A second revolution is fomenting among many categories of people, from the world’s poorest to the world’s richest, who seek to redesign modern capitalism from root to branch. As Pope Francis and other religious leaders have told the world, counting emissions and regulating accordingly will not be enough to win the carbon war. We need to seek prosperity without greed, short-termism, and hence fossil fuel addiction.
President, Union of Concerned Scientists
The most important thing we can do is to push for the rapid and widespread deployment of technologies we already have at hand—energy efficiency, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy, and electric and hybrid vehicles. “De-carbonizing” our electricity-generating system with renewables and efficiency and “electrifying” our transportation system with EVs and hybrids is the fastest way to lower the emissions of heat-trapping gases. All of us can do our part. Get a home energy audit and a rooftop solar evaluation and take advantage of tax credits for solar that may expire in 2016. And when you buy or lease a new car, look at the great new electric and hybrid cars that are out there.
Founder + CEO, Christensen Global Strategies
Founder, Sun Valley Institute for Resilience
Sun Valley, Idaho
Together we can build resilient communities, in part by reducing our energy use and generating local renewable energy. I am most excited by solar because it’s everywhere and can directly power our homes, schools, businesses, and government buildings, and we can build community solar. We’ll also save money and create jobs.
Individually the most impactful—and fastest—thing we can do is to reduce (or even better, eliminate) eating meat and dairy. The 2015 (U.S.) Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended more plant-based diets, which is great news for the climate as well as for our health and the animals.
Founder + CEO, Track 0
London, United Kingdom
Climate change can’t be solved by each of us doing a little more recycling and adjusting our heating or cooling dial. I believe we must end our dependence on fossil fuel energy systems, with every country in the world phasing out dirty fossil fuel emissions and switching to renewable energy – making sure that the poor benefit first from this transition. Every individual, company and city should divest from fossil fuels and commit to zero greenhouse gas emissions. Politicians must stop using taxpayers’ money to subsidize wealthy fossil fuel companies and must now limit the influence of fossil fuel lobbyists. Our leaders have to send a strong signal at the Paris COP21 climate negotiations that the age of fossil fuels is over.
Executive Director, UN Environment Programme
In our interdependent world, our neighbors are not only on our street, but can be ten thousand miles away on an island in rising seas. We have a responsibility to first understand how climate change impacts all peoples of the world. Then, we must consider the individual and collective choices and actions that can move us toward a sustainable future. These range from rethinking individual consumption patterns that exacerbate climate change to demanding of our political leaders a strong and ambitious agreement at the Paris climate conference. Real results will emerge when we realize the power of combined individual actions and voices to effect change.
Photo: Blake Gordon
Angel Hsu, Ph.D.Assistant Professor, Yale-NUS
College in Singapore + Yale School
of Forestry and Environmental
New Haven, Connecticut
Working at the intersection of science and policy, I see firsthand the need for better data to address our climate crisis’s most difficult and complex challenges. With no internationally set targets for carbon reduction, a major gap exists between what countries have pledged and what is needed to avoid irreversible, catastrophic climate change. We need better information, transparency, and next-generation tools to track and incentivize all actors to take ambitious climate actions now. Young people can encourage their local governments, community organizations, and businesses to examine their practices and identify areas where they can reduce their carbon footprints.
Chief Operating Officer, NextGen Climate America
San Francisco, California
Each day brings more bad news about climate change: carbon pollution at the highest level in history, the hottest month on record, deadly wildfires. It would be easy to despair, but I’m more optimistic than ever. Why? Because we know how to solve climate change and there is a growing movement working to do just that. We have the technology to build a healthy and prosperous clean energy economy. Now we need to demand that our leaders embrace climate solutions and lay out a specific plan to achieve 50 percent clean energy by 2030, on a path to 100 percent by 2050.
Photo: Matthew Neikrug/NextGen Climate
president + CEO, World Resources Institute
We can stop choking our cities with fossil-fueled cars and polluting factories and power plants and start doing things that lead to environmentally sustainable rowth, more and better jobs, and healthier people, including more public transport and more renewable energy. To get there, we should depoliticize this issue. This has nothing to do with big government or small government. It has everything to do with a decent economy and smart government. We’ve got to stop this political overlay that says we must maintain a massively inefficient fiscal system that encourages the practices that got us into this corner.
Chief Sustainability Officer, IKEA Group
This is the century where we can have society and our economy in step with the planet, where we can end pollution, grow more forests than we fell, and have clean water in our lakes and rivers and clean air in city streets. We can be the generation to end global warming—but this needs every business, every government, and every citizen to play their part. We will end global warming one solar panel, one LED light bulb, and one veggie meal at a time. With our best efforts we can create a world of plenty for everyone.
President, Friends of the Earth U.S.
Climate change is a transformational opportunity. We must encourage President Obama to show critical U.S. leadership before December’s climate negotiations by halting all fossil fuels development in public lands and oceans. Families should consider eating less meat. Animal agriculture accounts for 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Individually, understand the linkages between social, racial, and economic justice and the environment; then fight—not just for environmental rules and regulations, but for the basic rights of seven billion people to clean air, clean water, and systems in which they are valued instead of exploited and polluted.
President + CEO, The Climate Reality Project
What young people can do is vote. The most important thing you can do to address climate change is vote. Around 70 percent of Americans and an even larger majority of millennials say they want action on climate change. Yet too many politicians are afraid to take a stand on climate change since far too few people vote on this issue and far too few millennials vote at all. So if you want action—if you want to protect your future against climate change—become a climate voter. Contact The Climate Reality Project and become a Climate Reality Leader to push the climate conversation forward.
President, Earth Day Network
Bring in more voices. Climate change is an issue that will affect everyone. That is why we all need to be part of the solution. The fight against climate change is tied to social movements you may not expect, like the Black Lives Matter movement, because low-income communities of color will be most affected by the effects of
climate change. We need people to recognize the connections, because when we get more people talking about climate change, we can think more inventively about how to solve it. So, let’s open up the conversation and shift our actions together.
Photo: Earth Day Network
Sarah Shanley Hope
Executive Director, Solutions Project
Excess carbon dioxide is the scientific source of climate change. The larger human systems breakdown, though—police killing children, foods poisoning our bodies, and rampant natural disasters—has a deeper source. We can repair our relationship to self, to others, and to the earth, right now. Be 100 percent: Our wholeness is rooted in health and purpose, not consumption. Stand for 100 percent: End the pact between the dirty energy powering your lifestyle and the asthma or cancer taking away another’s life. Go 100 percent: Affordable, clean energy is here. Remove the political barriers that keep it from spreading everywhere for everyone.
S. Jacob ScherrSenior Advisor, International Program,
Natural Resources Defense Council
First we must deal with the reality and urgency of the climate crisis. We used to talk about stopping global warming, but now we still have hope that we can constrain and cope with a changing climate. We are already seeing a groundswell worldwide of public concern and concrete actions to move beyond the fossil fuel era and help our communities deal with climate change. All of us need to speak up and take action in our own lives to put the world on a path to a safer, healthier, and brighter future.
Mark R. Tercek
President + CEO, Nature Conservancy
I want to try to get beyond fighting, arguing, and fault-finding—these practices get in the way of progress. Instead, let’s seek common ground and help diverse interests work together. Even if we start small, one step leads to another and great progress can occur. We’re all in this together. For example, let’s focus on objectives with bipartisan appeal. Clean energy has many non-climate benefits. In Georgia, for instance, solar legislation expanded consumer choice, and in Pennsylvania, fracking taxes could boost K-12 education. If we continue finding respectful, inclusive, and pragmatic ways to collaborate, we can tackle the climate challenge.
Photo: Erika Nortemann /TNC
Head of Unit, Green Growth + Senior Research Fellow,
The Overseas Development Institute
London, United Kingdom
I’ve rethought my relationship to everyday things: powering my home with renewables (most utilities make it easy), avoiding meat (even one day off helps), and cycling to work (initially weird, now indispensable). I’ve also rethought my professional and political life. As a lawyer, I try to help get cleaner energy and infrastructure built and to influence public policy. Nearly all professions can help tackle the climate crisis. Politically, I’ve actually become less cynical. Cynicism means I’m not expecting enough; solving the climate crises means demanding more from our representatives and expecting them to deliver if we hold them accountable.
President, Oxfam America
Climate change is one of the biggest threats to poor people whose lives and livelihoods are most at risk. Natural disasters disproportionally disrupt the most fragile populations around the world—sparking civil unrest, disrupting food supplies, and destroying lives. Winning the fight against climate change starts with protecting them above all else. Together, we can build stronger communities, save lives, create jobs, and build global security by investing in climate adaptation. World leaders heading to the climate negotiations in Paris must address the injustice of poor people being hit first and worst by a global crisis.
Photo: Vanessa Parra/Oxfam America
Executive Director, US Climate Action
I have a Star Wars-obsessed child at home, so allow me to speak in those terms. In short, we must turn our backs on the dark side and embrace the light side. We must both resist and embrace. What should we resist? We must resist dark fossil fuel industry-funded lies and politicians’ claims
that we can go slowly. We must resist dirty technologies and embrace LED lights, bicycles, solar panels, electric cars, and wind turbines. It may be daunting alone, but it’s easy together. Come turn to the light side with us! Join one of the 150+ organizations of USCAN.
Hawaii Green Growth
Climate change is a multidimensional challenge that requires interdisciplinary solutions. The greatest opportunities lie at the intersection between public and private sector, between communities, industries, and technologies. I served at the macro and micro level, shaping energy and climate policy at the White House and then launching a company to catalyze investment in sustainable development. Now, as the executive director of
Hawaii Green Growth, I’m working with partners at the subnational level to achieve statewide sustainability targets, including in energy, water, food, waste, and smart cities. Get a seat at the table. Take responsibility for shaping policies that can drive concrete outcomes.
Photo: Paul Parish
president + CEO, United Nations Foundation
You probably don’t think twice about going into your kitchen and turning a few knobs to prepare a meal for yourself and your family on an electric or gas range. But for nearly 3 billion people in developing countries who depend on solid fuels to cook their food, the simple act of cooking results in 4 million premature deaths every year from exposure to toxic smoke. In addition to creating indoor air pollution, these fuels also have a
significant impact on the global climate, causing nearly 25 percent of black carbon pollution. Learn more about the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and join us as we help create a world where cooking no longer kills.
Executive Director, Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance,
Technology, policy, and finance—each is essential but none, by itself, sufficient to address the climate crisis Technology must be broad—from energy efficiency, renewables, and storage to natural gas, carbon capture, and advanced nuclear, plus greener approaches to transportation. Finance must be vast—measured in the tens of trillions of dollars over the next three decades, across earlier- and later-stage investments. And policy must be smart—implemented at the local, national, and global levels, with a serious ear to the market. Technology, policy, and finance—we must push each and integrate all three, and hard.
Jeffrey D. Sachs
Director, The Earth Institute, Columbia University
Director, UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network
New York, New York
To head off climate-change disaster, the world must act decisively to shift from fossil fuels to a zero-carbon energy system. Instead of coal, we need wind and solar power. Instead of cars powered by the internal combustion engine, we need cars that run on batteries, hydrogen, or advanced zero-carbon fuels. Instead of furnaces and boilers, we need heat pumps to warm our homes and buildings. Each country should now prepare a plan, called a Deep Decarbonization Pathway, to show its citizens, businesses, and the world how it intends to accomplish this transformation to get carbon out of the energy system within the coming decades.
President + CEO, World Wildlife Fund
I have the great fortune to help save our planet’s most magnificent places. They’re all under pressure—in no small part because of climate change. Leading to Paris, scientists point out that even strong pledges by national governments will get us only halfway there. Filling that gap depends on unexpected collaborations, like the world’s biggest companies pledging to remove deforestation from supply chains and governments helping each other to do more beyond current commitments. Every community has a part to play in making better choices about the energy, food, and transport they use. Paris offers us an opportunity to come together, to catalyze big solutions, and finally, to get it right.
I hope that we can unite our energies in dealing with climate change. I want us to develop a collective vision and turn it into immediate action. That is what I want to do during the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris this December. With a wonderful team and a terrific curator, I am creating the “HUMAN ENERGY” art installation under the Eiffel Tower. Thousands of people each day use their own power, in cycling, dancing, running, and playing, to light the Eiffel Tower each night with this message: Together we must and can take climate action now.
Photo: Yann Toma/Ouest-Lumière
Founder, Earth Vision Institute
Each of us can and must shift our behavior according to our ability. For some, that means changing diet, shopping locally, or putting solar panels on their house. For others, it means using their voice to inspire transformative change. The cumulative effect of each person making a change in his or her own life will make a difference. Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves an essential spiritual and ethical question: Are we the kind of people who take everything for ourselves and leave nothing for others, or do the angels of our better nature still live? I believe the angels are still alive.