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Going ‘Inside Out’ on Climate Change

May Boeve NYC PCM 2014

With May Boeve of 350.org at the People’s Climate March, October 2014

In the wonderful film “Inside Out,” human emotions are simplified to just five: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear.

After seeing “Inside Out” as the Paris climate talks were concluding, I got to wondering: Which of these five emotions are the most appropriate response to this new agreement? And did it matter for Vermont?

In Paris, all 195 nations signed on to an agreement that committed nearly all of them to substantially lowering carbon emissions over time. Because carbon is the primary gas causing climate change and its attendant dangers, that kind of agreement is potentially a Very Big Deal – and therefore cause for Joy.

But as skeptics have said, the new emission limits are voluntary. And even if they are fully met, they will get us less than halfway to where we need to be.

The latest science indicates that if we are to avoid climate chaos, the rise in global temperatures needs to be limited to about 1.5 degrees Celsius. “1.5 to Stay Alive.”

And even these new emission limits will still result in a 3.5-degree rise in overall global temps. So: Fear, with a little Anger and Disgust mixed in.

And definitely Sadness. Because we need to do so much better.

Because we now know that the effects of climate change aren’t just a “maybe someday” kind of thing.

Global warming drives massively destructive flooding that is now an everyday phenomenon. Drought in Syria has already fueled civil war and mass migrations.

So despite whatever got done in Paris, are we basically doomed to stew in our own carbon juice?

Au contraire. I’m going with another emotion in response to the Paris agreement.


It’s usually impossible to get every nation on earth to agree on what time of day it is. So to get every nation to commit to a framework that will meaningfully lower the planetary temperature – well, that’s a small miracle.

Give thanks, then, for Pres. Obama’s commitment to a broad program to lower American carbon emissions, and to dare the Chinese and the Indians into saying they will do the same.

Say a blessing for Secretary of State John Kerry’s stubborn, skilled diplomacy that found a counterpart in the French.

Most of all, though, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the activists who put climate change at the top of the world’s agenda. Starting with 350.org, which was founded here in Addison County.

Less than a decade ago, a group of climate activists took a week-long walk from Ripton to Burlington to dramatize a little known phenomenon called global warming. On the first night of that march, the through-walkers camped out in my meadow.

Among that group were a somewhat-known writer named Bill McKibben along with May Boeve and Jamie Henn — two unknown young adults in their early twenties who had gone to college here.

For the past two weeks in Paris, interviews with Bill were regularly flashed around the world. Jamie led 350.org’s communications effort from Paris. And May – well, she was one of the speakers at a press conference with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and a guy named Al Gore.

So, Respect.

Another reason for Hope: Five years ago, Obama and other world leaders walked away from the Copenhagen talks without a meaningful agreement. They paid no political price for it.

But they didn’t dare play out the same charade last week. Because the political heat would have been too high if they had failed. And because now we know that we’re all cooking in the same kitchen and there’s nowhere we can go to escape the heat.

More reasons for Hope:

* Coal and oil stocks got crushed this week in the wake of Paris agreement – another sign that investors realize there are new limits on extracting fossil fuels.

* Ford Motor committed last week to spend billions more on electric cars. Goldman Sachs reports the combined valuations for solar and wind energy, along with electric vehicles, reached $600 billion last year – nearly the size of the U.S. military budget.

* By vetoing the Keystone XL pipeline – itself a big step — Obama became the first world leader to end a project because of its impact on the climate.

* While every Republican presidential hopeful is skeptical about American action to stem global warming, let’s face it: The GOP can stay unhinged from physical reality for only so long.

*China, which has supplanted the U.S. as the world’s biggest carbon polluter, is moving rapidly toward clean energy production.

* The divestment movement continues its massive growth, with funds totaling more than $3.4 trillion that have committed to stigmatizing fossil fuel companies by refusing to invest in them.

* Here in Vermont, the cost of fossil fuel investments is becoming painfully obvious. A rigorous new analysis shows the state left $77 million on the table in unrealized gains, by investing in fossil fuels as shares of those companies plunged over the past three years.

Yes, it’s painfully true that the Paris accord didn’t go far enough. But the successful Montgomery bus boycott didn’t immediately end racial discrimination, either.

For now, it comes down to the direction in which we’re headed.

As May Boeve put it in a post-Paris tweet, “Millions of people have mobilized, negotiated, cared, and risked it all to build today’s climate movement. We can close the gap that remains.”

And that, one might say, is cause for Joy to the World.

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