September, 2019: A Tipping Point Moment For The Earth?

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CleanTechnica has published hundreds of articles about global warming and climate change over the years, but it often seems like we are shouting down a well as far as getting climate deniers and those who are the fence to such things seriously. But now, thanks to the unceasing efforts of people like Bill McKibben, Michael Mann, Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion, the Sunrise Movement, and many others, there is a sense that attitudes toward global warming and climate change may be shifting.

The Los Angeles Times this week published a story entitled “The Climate Apocalypse Is Here. You Have One Last Chance To Stop It.” We can’t reprint the graphic that accompanies that story, but we can show you the tweet Bill McKibben published to promote the story. It’s a pretty bold graphic.

McKibben, who founded, has been busy bringing his patented brand of distressing climate news wrapped in easy to swallow format to mainstream news outlets like The New Yorker and most recently Time Magazine. His latest essay for Time is entitled “Hello From the Year 2050. We Avoided the Worst of Climate Change — But Everything Is Different.” It offers a sort of sci-fi analysis of how global warming was tamed and the changes that process brought to the environment and human society.

Bill McKibben and climate change

The watershed moment McKibben imagines is a powerful hurricane that wreaks havoc on the US mainland on Halloween, 2020, just days before the national election. That storm opens people’s eyes to the dangers lying ahead and propels a woman into the White House. The new president immediately reconfirms the commitments America made made at the COP 21 climate conference in Paris in 20915 but she goes much further, recognizing that addressing the challenges of climate change will require much stronger action.

“We know by now that Paris is nowhere near enough. Even if all the countries followed all the promises made in that accord, the temperature would still rise more than 3°C (5°F or 6°F). If we let the planet warm that much, we won’t be able to have civilizations like the ones we’re used to. So we’re going to make the changes we need to make, and we’re going to make them fast,” McKibben’s fictional president says.

McKibben envisions a popular groundswell of support for climate action which leads to a national carbon fee, closing America’s public lands and national parks to fossil fuel extraction, and the end of government subsidies for fossil fuels. He also envisions investment firms like BlackRock purging their portfolios of oil, gas, and coal stocks.

Which is interesting since just today, The Guardian is running a story about how BlackRock and Vangaurd are refusing to use their financial muscle to promote shareholder initiatives that would force companies to clean up their carbon emissions and enact more environmentally responsible business practices. BlackRock counters that it is working in the background at the board of directors level to encourage the companies it invests in to be more socially responsible. Maybe…

McKibben foresees residences and commercial buildings that are more energy efficient and use heat pumps rather than furnaces and air conditioners to heat and cooling. Electric vehicles replace gasoline and diesel powered cars and trucks. People began to eat less meat and dairy. And local microgrids connected to battery storage — some of it vehicle to grid technology — became the norm rather than centralized power plants and utility grids that operate primarily in only one direction.

McKibben describes this as picking the low hanging fruit — doing what comes easiest. But average global temperatures continued to soar, increasing desertification and drought, destroying traditional farming in many areas, and leading to shortages of fresh water. Despite taking bold action, the warming of the planet continues until, in 2032, the West Antarctic Ice sheet finally slides in to the sea, raising ocean levels by several feet.

Whole communities along both coasts of the United States move inland, abandoning trillions of dollars worth of homes and businesses. But saving them would have cost many more trillions of dollars to construct bridges and barriers and so in the end the decision is made to regroup inland.

In 2050, there remains much work to do, but McKibben says, “What’s changed most of all is the mood. The defiant notion that we would forever overcome nature has given way to pride of a different kind: increasingly we celebrate our ability to bend without breaking, to adapt as gracefully as possible to a natural world whose temper we’ve come to respect.

“When we look back to the start of the century we are, of course, angry that people did so little to slow the great heating: if we’d acknowledged climate change in earnest a decade or two earlier, we might have shaved a degree off the temperature, and a degree is measured in great pain and peril. But we also know it was hard for people to grasp what was happening: human history stretched back 10,000 years, and those millennia were physically stable, so it made emotional sense to assume that stability would stretch forward as well as past.

“We know much better now: we know that we’ve knocked the planet off its foundations, and that our job, for the foreseeable centuries, is to absorb the bounces as she rolls. We’re dancing as nimbly as we can, and so far we haven’t crashed.”

The September 20 Climate Strike

How close Bill McKibben is to accurately forecasting the future may be revealed this Friday, September 20, when millions of young people will take to the streets to demand immediate action to address global warming in a positive way.


As this story was being written, the news broke that the trustees of the University of California have voted to divest from fossil fuels. It’s one more sign that the world’s century-long love affair with fossil fuels may be coming to an end. Bill McKibben, with his relentless drumbeat for change, can be credited as being one of the key people who made this momentous change happen.

It wasn’t that long ago that electric cars and renewable energy were both seen as fringe technologies. Now every auto manufacturer in the world is racing ahead with plans to produce electric cars, and renewables are becoming less expensive than coal, natural gas, and nuclear for making electricity. Both developments were thought to be too much to hope for as recently as 2016.

Change comes slowly, but once it arrives, it can sweep away the past with incredible speed. Let’s hope that what we are seeing is the beginning of that rapid transition, a Kodak moment for the Earth. There is no time to lose.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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