Climate Crisis Coalition Office Opening
Ross Gelbspan, South Lee, Massachusetts, November 22, 2005


It is hard to get people focused on climate change today, not only because it has been misrepresented as a future problem, but because there is so much competition from other problems.

We are under attack from terrorists. This trick or treat economy is as unnerving to investors as it is cruel to workers.  We are apprehensive about the aftermath of the Iraq war.

So I think it’s very important to understand that climate change is not just another issue in this complicated world of proliferating issues.

It is the issue which, unchecked, will swamp all other issues.

Conversely, I deeply believe that the solutions to the climate crisis may well contain the seeds for solutions to some of the most threatening problems facing humanity today.  The solutions to climate change have the potential to begin to mend a profoundly fractured world. 

That belief is shared by all of us in the Climate Crisis Coalition.

Today's opening of the office of the CCC here in Lee represents the opening of another front in the crucial battle against this country's denial. The CCC's mission is driven by what we have learned from more than 2,000 scientists from 100 countries reporting to the UN in what is the largest and most rigorously peer-reviewed scientific collaboration in history: that we must cut our use of coal and oil, worldwide, by 70 percent in a very short time.

Given its diverse membership, the CCC also provides a critical ally for the country's major national environmental groups -- many of whom are laboring under too many constraints to effectively address the climate crisis in its full scope and urgency.

The role of the CCC is especially appropriate given the fact that global warming is much more than just an environmental problem.  It is a full blown civilizational crisis.

Central to the formation of the CCC is a recognition that the climate struggle involves arenas as diverse as international development and relief, corporate accountability, public health, labor, campaign finance reform (we won't get clean energy without clean elections), human rights and environmental justice.  Ultimately, of course, the issue cuts to the core of our moral foundations -- which is why the religious community has gotten involved in a very big way.  We need the energy of activists from all these constituencies to come together in common cause.

The signals are profoundly alarming.  Unintentionally, we have set in motion massive systems of the planet with huge amounts of inertia that have kept it relatively hospitable to civilization for the last 10,000 years. We have heated the deep oceans.  We have reversed the carbon cycle by more than 400,000 years. We have loosed a wave of violent and chaotic weather. We have altered the timing of the seasons. And all over the world, birds, fish, insects, animals and whole ecosystems are migrating toward the poles in search of temperature stability.

We are living on a very precarious margin of stability. And the evidence is all around us.

Several years ago, British researchers found that the climate is changing 50 percent more quickly than was previously assumed.  They project that by 2040 many of the world’s forests will begin to turn from “sinks,” which absorb carbon dioxide, to sources of it, as these forests die off and begin emitting more carbon dioxide than they can absorb.

Another other study, from the energy side, found that if the world is not getting half its energy from non-carbon sources by the year 2018, we will inevitably see a doubling -- and possibly a tripling – of atmospheric carbon levels by the end of this century.  And that will clearly be catastrophic.
Today some scientists are saying we may already have passed a point of no return and entered a new, more unstable regime with potentially runaway consequences.

The facts are simple. Carbon dioxide traps in heat. For 10,000 years, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has remained the same -- 280 PPM—until roughly the turn of the century when we began burning more coal and oil. That 280 is now around  380 – a level not experienced for 420,000 years.  It will double later in this century to 560 PPM which correlates with an increase in the global temperature of 3* to 10* F. By contrast, the last Ice Age was only 5* to 9* F colder than our current climate. Each year, we are pumping seven billion tons of heat-trapping carbon  into our atmosphere whose upper extent is only about 10 miles overhead.

As a result, the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 1990. 1998 replaced 1997 as the hottest year in human history.  It is now on track to be replaced by 2005. The decade of the 1990s is the hottest at least in this last millennium. And the planet is heating faster than at any time in the last 10,000 years.

The most direct evidence of this new climatic instability lies in the relentless succession of extreme weather events all over the world during the past few years.

Let me note a few highlights just from this year -- 2005:

  • At the beginning of the year, two feet of snow fell in the hills outside Los Angeles.
  • In February, a 124-mile-an-hour windstorm shut down nuclear plants in Scandinavia and the UK
  • A severe, prolonged  drought in the Midwest dropped water levels in the Missouri River to their lowest on record this summer.
  • In July, the worst drought on record in southern Europe triggered wildfires in Spain and Portugal and left water levels in France at their lowest in 30 years.
  • That same month, a lethal heat wave in Arizona kept temperatures above 110 degrees for a week and killed more than 20 people.
  • In August, the Indian city of Mumbai received 37 inches of rain in one day -- killing 1,000 people and disrupting the lives of 20 million others.
  • Days later, global warming hit home with a vengeance in the form of Katrina, Rita and Wilma.


Let me just run down one more body of evidence which has nothing to do with computer models or weather extremes:

  • Warming expands water.  The president of Tuvalu, a small island nation in the Pacific which is going under from rising sea levels, recently called climate change “a form of slow death.”
  • Heat changes ecosystems. In Monterey Bay, ocean warming caused a turnover in the population of marine life, driving cold-water fish northward as warm-water fish and sea animals moved in to populate the area. As ocean warming pushed fish populations northward, atmospheric warming has pushed whole populations of butterflies from the mountains of Mexico to the hills of Vancouver.
  • Warming is also accelerating in the deep oceans. In addition to triggering more frequent El Ninos, that deep ocean warming also is causing the break up of Antarctic ice shelves— three pieces at least the size of Rhode Island have broken off in the last 10 years.
  • Warming waters also provide the energy for hurricanes. Katrina begin as a relatively small, category 1 hurricane off the coast of South Florida with winds around 70 miles an hour. But as it moved over the superheated waters of the Gulf, it swelled into a megastorm of enormously destructive proportions.
  • High above the oceans, most of earth’s glaciers are retreating at accelerating rates. The biggest glacier in the Peruvian Andes was retreating by 14 feet a year 20 years ago; today it is shrinking by 99 feet a year.  The biggest glacier on the planet – the Greenland ice sheet – since 1993 has been losing about three cubic miles of ice each year -- enough to cover Maryland with ice a foot thick.
  • The tundra regions in Alaskan and Siberia, which for thousands of years absorbed methane and CO2, are now thawing and releasing those gases back into the atmosphere;
  • And we have actually altered the timing of the seasons. Because of the buildup of atmospheric CO2, spring is now arriving almost two weeks earlier in the northern hemisphere than it did 20 years ago.

Finally, climatic instability is bad for human health. Recently, the U.N. predicted a worldwide doubling of heat-related deaths in the world's cities in the next 20 years.  Witness the 35,000 heat deaths in Europe in the summer of 2003.

Warming is also driving the spread of infectious disease by accelerating the breeding rates and the biting rates of insects -- and expanding their range so they live longer at higher altitudes and higher latitudes. As a result, mosquitoes are now spreading malaria, dengue fever and West Nile Virus to populations which have never previously been exposed.  Globally malaria quadrupled in five years.

Stripped to its political essence, climate change represents a titanic clash of interests that pits the ability of this planet to support civilization versus the survival of one of the largest commercial enterprises in history.  The oil and coal industries together generate more than a trillion dollars a year in commerce.  We welcomed these industries more than a century ago as agents of prosperity.  Today they have become agents of mass destruction.

The rest of the world is keenly aware of this challenge. In the face of U.S. inaction, a number of European countries decided to go it alone.  Holland is now cutting its emissions by 80 percent in the next 40 years.  Britain has committed to cut its use of coal and oil by 60 percent in 50 years.  Germany will be cutting emissions 50 percent in 50 years.  And recently, French President Chirac called on the entire industrial world to cut emissions by 75 percent over the next 45 years.

By contrast, the position of the Bush Administration is criminal. 

  • The White House has become the East Coast branch office of ExxonMobil and Peabody coal, and climate change has become the pre-eminent case study of the contamination of our political system by money.
  • In 2001, President Bush reneged on a campaign promise to cap carbon emissions for coal-burning power plants.
  • He then unveiled his administration’s energy plan – which is basically a shortcut to climate hell.
  • The Administration then withdrew the U.S. from the Kyoto process.
  • Subsequently, the White House ordered the EPA to remove all references to the dangers of climate change from its website.

This is not political conservatism.  This is corruption disguised as conservatism.

One of the major motivations behind the formation of the Climate Crisis Coalition is to bring the US into step with the rest of the world. 

Our first formal effort involves a web-based signature gathering campaign for a People's Ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.  If you're inclined, please visit  and tell the world that the Bush Administration's intransigence may represent ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal -- but it does not represent you. 

The CCC, however, is not only about resistance. It also promotes real solutions.  I think much of the denial about the climate crisis is due to the fact that when people are confronted with an overwhelming problem -- and they don't see an apparent solution -- that leaves them feeling impotent.  The most understandable human reaction to that discomfort is simply to not want to know.  It's only when people see an intellectually honest solution that they'll let the bad news in on themselves.

That is why in promoting a set of three global-scale, macro-level "solutions" strategies, CCC is putting forth a critically important message of empowerment.

We need to take the $25 billion in yearly US subsidies (and the $200 billion in overall energy subsidies in the industrial world) away from carbon fuels -- and put that money behind clean energy. 

Global warming is also an overriding issue of equity. Climate change hits poor countries hardest -- not because nature discriminates against the poor, but because developing countries can't afford the infrastructures to buffer its impacts. We need to create a large fund -- perhaps through a small international tax on global commerce -- to provide clean energy to poor countries.

Finally, we need a global regulatory mechanism -- preferably within the Kyoto process -- to ensure that countries act in concert to replace their coal and oil infrastructures with clean, decentralized energy systems based on wind, solar, hydrogen fuel and tidal energy.

Here in the U.S. we must keep our focus on the political arena. Unlike some other environmental problems, climate change cannot be solved by lifestyle changes alone. Even if we all sat in the dark and rode bicycles, it would not stop global warming.

What we need to do is empower lawmakers who share the vision of Representative Olver, Senator McCain and others to pass laws that require automakers to sell us only hybrid and hydrogen vehicles; that require utilities to sell us only electricity from clean sources; that mandate that all our energy come from non-carbon, non-nuclear and truly sustainable energy systems.
When I talk to policy makers about this issue, I cast it in economic terms. Here are the coming financial impacts of climate change -- $300 billion a year in losses in the coming decades -- versus the economic benefits of a global transition to clean energy. 

But climate change is not basically an economic issue. It is, first and foremost, a moral issue.

To continue to ignore it means putting at risk billions of poor people around the world who are immediately vulnerable to its impacts. 

It means dishonoring all the work of all those generations who have worked so hard to create this civilization we enjoy today.

Ultimately of course, it means consigning our children to a future of chaos and disintegration. 

What is really missing from the climate debate is an insistence on the moral imperative of truly facing this challenge in all its dimensions. 

Surely our lives are more than the sum of our economic transactions.  Hopefully we have maintained enough of our capacity for appreciation that we can not let ourselves knowingly proceed with the ruination of our species home.

Were the U.S. to take the lead in this effort, it could accomplish more than a simple energy transition.

Not only could this kind of initiative stave off the most disruptive impacts of our inflamed atmosphere.

It could also bring all the nations of the world together in a common global project.  It could begin to put people in charge of governments -- and governments in charge of corporations. It could create millions of jobs -- especially in developing countries.  It could begin to turn impoverished and dependent countries into trading partners. It could begin to reduce the destabilizing -- and dehumanizing -- inequity between the North and South.  And in a very short time it could jump the renewable energy industry into a central driving engine of growth for the global economy.

The opening of this CCC office in South Lee today is one step toward such a future. 

Ross Gelbspan is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and the author of Boiling Point Two, an almost-hour-long DVD detailing the latest information about climate impacts, the history of obstruction and disinformation by the fossil fuel lobby and the intransigence of the Bush Administration. A founding member of the Climate Crisis Coalition, he maintains the website:, from which the header image was adapted.

P.O. Box 125, South Lee, MA 01260
(413) 637-2486