Category Archives: Climate Change

Why I’m Off to Dubai & the United Nation’s COP28 Negotiations

I am pleased to share with you that in just a few hours I am off to the airport to spend the next two weeks at the 28th meeting of the world’s nations organized by the United Nations as its Framework Convention on Climate Change, something called the Conference of the Parties (since this is the 28th, it’s referred to as “COP28” for short), that this year is being held  in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. COP28 is historic in that it will be the first such meeting to be located within an Arabian country and follows last year’s equally historic session, which I also attended, that was held in Egypt and that marked the first time these meetings were held in an African nation (you can read about my COP27 trip in 2022 by visiting posts here, here, and here).

The first COP meeting took place in 1995 and followed 1992’s creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This year marks the 28th meeting since COP was created and will have an estimated 70,000 delegates representing 197 nations in attendance. Although all of the parties signed the 1992 framework document that called on the nations of the world to “protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind,” that framework did not actually include the details or steps on how they would meet their goals. Ever since the framework was created, the COP negotiations have been designed to implement the actual steps, milestones, and monitoring devices needed to meet its goals.

As I have shared in the past, I’ve been honored to work with the United Nations on several occasions over the last nine years, including having addressed the entire General Assembly in New York in 2017, but being able to participate in a conference of the world’s nations negotiating a global climate treaty designed to address the most important issue my generation will ever face (our climate crisis) in person is an amazing, humbling opportunity. As with my trip to Egypt last year, I am headed to Dubai with a contingent of professionals from the School of Law I attend here at the University of Miami and would like to thank my professors Dr. Jessica Owley and Dr. Daniel Suman, as well as President Frenk and the entire University of Miami family, for making our climate crisis a priority for our university, community, and the world beyond.

I am especially grateful this year to share that I have been awarded an Environmental Law Fellowship by the School of Law and have also been appointed as the Head of Delegations for the University of Miami for the conference. In addition to my work and research obligations for the School of Law I will also be giving a speech on Climate Activism at one of the Pavilion’s during the second week of the Conference and on December 1st will be taking over the various social media accounts for Our Children’s Trust, the youth focused environmental non-profit law firm I’ve long worked with, live from Dubai. It’s going to be a busy two weeks and I will do my best to keep you informed while also working on the solutions that we so desperately need to solve our climate crisis.

Every “COP” session led by the United Nations is an important opportunity for the nations of the world to debate and try to decide how mankind collectively wants to address our climate crisis but this year’s session and location is especially critical and perhaps controversial. If we are to truly ever solve our climate crisis then it is essential that society must transition global energy use away from fossil fuels such as oil and coal and to sustainable energy such as wind, solar, and hydrogen power. A core question to consider is whether mankind, the nations of the world, and the global oil industry can or will transition to sustainability before it’s too late? With this in mind, a few of the issues that will define COP28 and will be major focuses of my own time here include the following:

1. Are the World’s Oil Producers Honestly Interested (or Able) in Transitioning Away From Fossil Fuels?

The United States currently leads all nations in daily oil production at about 12,900,000 barrels of oil per day followed by Russia at 9,480,000 barrels and Saudi Arabia, one of the 13 members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries known as “OPEC,” at 9,060,000 barrels. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is also one of the 13 members of OPEC and is, today, the seventh largest producer of oil per day at about 3,250,000 barrels but has announced plans to significantly increase its oil production by 2030, to an estimated 5,000,000 barrels per day and to continue producing oil until its reserves are exhausted in about 2050. Since becoming independent in 1971 from the United Kingdom, the UAE – a federation of the seven emirates of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Al Fujairah, Dubai, Ras al Khaymah, Sharjah, and Umm al Qaywayn – has been largely dependent on its oil and natural gas resources to support its economy.

Collectively the 13 OPEC nations (Algeria, Angola, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Venezuela) produce nearly 60% of the world’s oil. That figure along with the UAE being the first OPEC nation to host the world’s climate talks make this year’s event especially fascinating. Is it, for example, logical to think that the largest fossil oil producers of the world have any real interest (or ability) to shift away from that major source of economic revenue and to sustainable energy?

“The oil and gas industry is facing a moment of truth at COP28 in Dubai.
With the world suffering the impacts of a worsening climate crisis, continuing with
business as usual is neither socially nor environmentally responsible.”

Faith Birol, Executive Director
International Energy Agency

In 2023 our planet’s human population surpassed 8 billion people for the first time ever and along the way mankind’s thirst for fossil fuels only ever seems to grow and grow. In fact, according to a new United Nations Environment report focused on the gap in fossil fuel production cuts and what’s needed to meet climate goals, global fossil fuel production by 2030 is likely to be more than twice where we need to be to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement’s climate goals. Twice!

To solve our climate crisis we must bring mankind’s use of fossil fuels to an end as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the countries and companies that produce those fossil fuels and the profits that come with them appear to have a far different plan. The new UN report studies 20 major fossil fuel producers from all over the world, countries that collectively produce 82% of all fossil fuels, and consume 73% of all fossil fuels. The study found that those countries plan to produce 110% more fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with the Paris Agreement’s aspiration goal of a 1.5 degree increase above pre-industrial global temperatures and 69% more than 2% above pre-industrial levels. The report also noted that none of the 20 countries studied have committed to reducing coal, oil, or decrease production in ways to meet the 1.5 degree goal while nearly all of these countries continue to support, promote, and subsidize expanding fossil fuel production. IF we are to ever fix our climate crisis then all of this must change.

2. How Much of a Threat to Our Future is “Greenwashing,” Lobbying, and “PR” Efforts by Oil Companies at COP?

The Global Witness recently published an interesting blog (which you can find here) entitledCarbon Capture: The Oil Lobby’s Trojan Horse at COP 28″ with the subheading “How Fossil Fuel Lobbyists Are Skewing Climate Talks Towards False Solutions” that shares some alarming insights. The post explains that the fossil fuel producers are using the promise of something called carbon capture (also sometimes called “Direct Air Capture”) and effectively hijacking the young carbon capture industry trade associations, namely the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, to suggest that they have embraced solutions that are actually not likely viable on the scale needed to solve our climate crisis while continuing their polluting business as usual. The article notes that more than 80% of carbon capture projects to-date have failed and that the technology is more often used to harvest more oil than solve clean our climate. Or, as the author states,ultimately carbon capture is much more likely to safeguard the future of the fossil fuel industry than it is to safeguard humanity.”

While fossil fuel producers are heavily investing in carbon capture and touting these investments in their “PR” and climate presentations as “proof” of how committed they are to decreasing or eliminating carbon pollution, or that that is even possible (again, thus far these technologies can’t and don’t seem to work on anything close to the scale that would be needed), the fact that they so often tout it as a solution to the climate crisis, much less do so under the banner of COP, gives them the appearance of legitimacy while continuing to produce the product causing the pollution. What they are doing by increasingly inserting themselves into climate negotiations, while strategically wise to protect their own businesses and bottom lines, has many concerned that it will slow or stop the actual steps needed to try to fix the problem (mainly, eliminating fossil fuel use).

The post also recalls an article (you can read it here) from the Climate Change News on carbon capture within which oil company Occidental Petroleum CEO Vicki Hollub was quoted as saying that carbon capture would “preserve our industry.” And here is what she touted to her colleagues at an oil industry conference in March 2023:

“Direct air capture is going to be technology that helps to preserve
our industry and gives it a license to continue to operate for the next
60, 70, 80 years that I think it’s going to be very much needed.”

Vicki Hollub, CEO
Occidental Petroleum

Not only is this concept being touted within the oil industry and at climate talks like COP as a viable solution, it’s also being used to recruit young people who might have understandable reservations about working for an oil company. Here’s what Ms. Hollub had to say about how touting this technology helps her company recruit and retain younger workers on the podcast Outrage and Optimism:

“The employees love this, especially our earlier
career employees who now had questions about
whether or not they should be working for an oil company.”

Vicki Hollub, CEO
Occidental Petroleum

While I would also love to think we can vacuum carbon out of our atmosphere at the scale needed to stop the pollution, much less earth’s warming, such scalable technology is neither available nor appears on the horizon in a time frame that will help us address earth’s warming. And yet the oil producers are promoting this technology as if it is “the” solution and that’s also happening at COP negotiations. I expect to see and hear oil producing nations and oil companies here in Dubai amplify their hope for this technology but for a dose of reality would ask everyone to consider the science and scientists. Say, for example, IPCC author and Berkeley Earth scientist Zeke Hausfather who had this to say about carbon capture and what we actually need to do to solve the problem (spoiler alert: dramatic reductions in fossil fuel emissions):

“Carbon dioxide removal is an important part of getting
to net-zero and stopping the world from warming. But it cannot
be used as an alternative to deep emissions reductions.”

Zeke Hasfather
IPCC Author & Climate Scientist

One of the growing related concerns at COP negotiations is the massive increase in oil industry stakeholders, whether companies that produce oil like Exxon, Shell, and BP to name three well known examples, or oil producing countries such as the United States or this year’s host, the UAE, lobbying within this United Nations event to slow or stop a transition away from fossil fuels, much less use their attendance at COP to control the narrative while seeking to avoid the type of fossil fuel reductions we actually need in order to solve the problem.

While many such companies and countries like to promote feel good thoughts about the progress they are making to become “green” the reality is often far different than the public relations. That “PR” and the limited steps such stakeholders are taking is often called “greenwashing” and typically involves providing the public with misleading or false information about the environmental impact that its products, services, or operations are having.

Consider a recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) that explains that the fossil fuel industry currently accounts for only about 1% of global investment in clean energy while it continues to produce the polluting products that are warming our planet’s atmosphere. According to the IEA, there have been, for example, 27 direct air capture plants built around the world that capture 10,000 tonnes of CO2 a year (about the equivalent of the emissions from 2,000 petroleum fueled cars).

Let’s all keep that figure, 1%, in mind the next time you see an oil company advertising how much they are doing to produce and promote “clean energy” or when an oil producing nation tells the world at a venue such as COP how “committed” they are to eliminating the very pollution they profit from as earth warms hotter and hotter.

3. Carbon Trading: Are Carbon Credits & Offsets a Legit Way to Reduce Warming or a Bamboozle to Continue Fossil Fuel Production?

One of the fascinating (and troubling) stories related to COP28 will focus on the steps that many nations, oil companies, and others have been taking to purchase truly massive amounts of forested land around the world to then sell rights to that land in the form of carbon credits (I wrote about the controversial use of carbon credits while at last year’s COP27 in Egypt and you can read about here). Needless to say, protecting the world’s forests is critically important. In fact, by some estimate’s deforestation is linked to about 12% of all global warming emissions.

The controversy, however, centers on the fact that oil rich nations and others are purchasing forests only to create tradable carbon credits as if they were game tokens in exchange for not cutting down forests. Those credits are then used to offset the pollution that a given country or company creates from fossil fuels while still producing those very same products.

It has, for example, been recently reported that nearly 20% of the entire African nation of Zimbabwe was sold in such a transaction with the intent of conserving forests that otherwise run the risk of being logged which, in turn, would have led to vast amounts of carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere had cutting down those trees been allowed. And Zimbabwe is not alone; similar deals have been announced in recent months  in several other African nations including Kenya, Liberia, Tanzania and Zambia.

Such conservation deals, while certainly helpful to protecting the world’s forests, are highly controversial because these businesses then sell carbon credits to companies and governments to, in my view, artificially “offset” the  pollution they generate by producing fossil fuels while allowing them to continue to produce and/or burn the same planet-warming fossil fuels. The polluters continue their business-as-usual approach while touting how they have “invested” in reducing their carbon footprint by buying carbon credits. It seems like a bamboozle on a global scale likely never seen before in the history of earth, yet appears an artificial transaction that still leaves much of earth’s environment at dire risk from warming.

4. Transitioning to Clean Energy: The First Ever “Global Stocktake”

For the first time since the Paris Agreement was announced at COP21 in Paris (aka the Paris Agreement) in 2015, this year’s climate conference will take stock on the world’s nations’ “status” towards meeting its goals, what the UN calls a “global stock taking” or “Global Stocktake.” Over the last two years the UN has been collecting data on the world’s status (I do not believe using the word “progress” would be correct at this point) towards its 2015 Paris goals, where we are in reducing polluting emissions, becoming more resilient, and devising solutions to help developing nations pay their costs to address these important issues.

Unfortunately, the initial assessment by the UN is not good. In his comments in recent weeks, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has explained that “we can no longer kick the can down the road” because we have run out of road” (meaning time). In recently speaking about the Global Stocktake, the Secretary General is asking the world’s nations to quickly:

  1. Triple renewable energy capacity
  2. Double energy efficiency
  3. Deliver clean power to everyone by 2030
  4. Phase out all fossil fuels, with a clear time frame connected to the 1.5 degree Celsius goal within the 2015 Paris Agreement
  5. Identify where climate action is deficient and create a plan to get the applicable countries on track.

In its November 20th, 2023 Emissions Gap Report (Emissions Gap Report 2023 | UNEP – UN Environment Programme) entitled Broken Record” the United Nations makes clear that while global temperatures reached new highs in 2023, records that are likely to soon see 2023 deemed the hottest year in recorded history, that theworld fails to cut emissions” and concludes that mankind is on a course to fail to reach 2015’s Paris Agreement’s aspirational goal of a 1.5 degree Celsius increase in earth’s temperatures as compared to pre-industrial temperatures.

In fact, the new report suggests that an increase of 2.0 degrees is more likely, but that without the nations of the world quickly taking dramatic steps and becoming far more serious about our climate crisis, that we are now on track for an increase in the range of 2.9 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The report notes that predicted 2030 emissions must decrease by between 28% and 42% for society to have a chance to see temperatures only increase between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

5. How Does the World Help Smaller Nations?

COP28 will also focus, as was the case last year in Egypt, on finance including ways to pay for the transition away from fossil fuels and especially how smaller nations that produce little of the world’s pollution but are subjected to the damage from our warming climate will pay for resilience projects and the shift to sustainability.

COP27 produced an agreement that created something called a “loss and damage fund” (you can read about this topic from my post from Egypt on it last year here) to help the world’s most vulnerable people and nations address climate change and disasters caused by our warming planet. In Dubai how to equitably finance the costs for such programs will again be a major focus of debate for all nations.

It’s an understatement to say that there is much work to be done to solve our global climate crisis but only by working together as citizens of the world will we ever fix the problem. I look forward to attending this year’s historic session in Dubai, to learning and, I hope, in helping play a role in finding the solutions our environment needs before its too late.

Giving Thanks to my Dear Friend Dick Jacobs

With the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday around us, I am so very thankful for my friends and family, as well as those who support my environmental work. I am grateful for all of the love, kind comments, and guidance that you provide to me that saying thanks does not nearly seem sufficient but please know it’s mostly sincerely appreciated.

And speaking of being thankful I’d like to especially dedicate my thoughts this Thanksgiving to someone in my life that recently passed away: my dear friend Richard (Dick) Jacobs, who I miss deeply.

I met Dick nearly 10 years ago while working with the youth-centric environmental law firm Our Children’s Trust. Dick quickly asked me to visit St. Petersburg to share my thoughts within his community in hopes that some of the initiatives I was involved with might be replicated there. From the very start he was enthusiastic about my work and despite a near eight-decade age difference, he quickly became a trusted friend. You see, Dick lived a storied, incredibly impactful, 92 years of life and along the way was a brilliant businessman, father, grandfather, lawyer, author, environmentalist, champion of democracy, and world traveler extraordinaire many times over. By the time of his passing, he was not just a friend but had become a mentor to me and an incredible inspiration on how to live an impactful life.

We spent countless, hundreds I dare say, hours discussing the law and legal topics in person, on the phone, and via zoom. We talked about family including his health battles and those my own mother faces. We talked about his extensive travels, as well as my own and our mutual affection for learning by getting our “hands dirty and feet wet,” as he liked to say, by getting out in nature. And we talked a lot about politics, especially the threats and opportunities that the future of democracy faces. While I am grateful for the decade I had to get to know Dick so well, I miss him every day.

Why do you write like you’re running out of time?
Write day and night like you’re running out of time?
Ev’ry day you fight, like you’re running out of time
Keep on fighting. In the meantime-

Why do you write like you’re running out of time?
Ev’ry day you fight, like you’re running out of time
Non-stop!

“Non-Stop” by Lin Manuel Miranda, Hamilton

The last time I saw Dick in person, in May 2023, when he energetically picked me up from my hotel and took me to his beloved Stetson University to meet his colleagues on campus and then sat down with me for an extended interview, is a time I will always treasure. There he was, fully 92 years of age, driving all over town with me in tow, rapidly talking about one topic after another, fully engaged in how to make our planet, society, and country better. That day, like all of the other days I knew Dick, he embodied the brilliant words from Lin Manuel Miranda’s song “Non-Stop” from his magnus opus Hamilton.

Dick accomplished so much during his time here on earth that he truly lived like he was “running out of time,” as the song says, and along the way accomplished more than most of us could in several lifetimes. Dick’s son John shared with me that his father’s passing in August happened, thankfully, quickly over just a few days and that he was surrounded by loved ones. Not surprisingly he was working on a range of important projects right up to the very end.

As a tribute to Dick and as I continue to reconcile his loss, allow me to end this Thanksgiving post by sharing the text from the comments I made at Dick’s recent memorial at the Stetson University School of Law where he and his wife Joan created the Jacobs Public Interest Law Clinic for Democracy and the Environment as a lasting legacy. I am grateful to Joan, Julie, and John for honoring me by allowing me to speak at Dick’s memorial service that day and can only hope that my comments were worthy of our friendship and the life of such an impactful person.

Honoring Dick Jacobs

Good afternoon everyone.

I’d like to begin by thanking the Jacob’s family, especially Mrs. Jacobs, Julie, and John for inviting me here today and allowing me to speak. While losing Dick is profoundly painful to all of us I want you and your family to know that while he’s not with us in person today his lasting legacy as a Force of Nature will be with each of us forever.

As you heard, my name is Delaney Reynolds and I think I can help celebrate Dick’s life in a somewhat unique way, a way that illustrates how the work he was so passionate about later in his life allowed him to be a key mentor, an inspiration, and, I dare say, a good friend and colleague over the last decade of his life and during a formative time in my own life.

As many of you likely know, Dick was a great many things including a devoted husband and father, esteemed lawyer, successful businessman, author, defender of democracy, and world traveler.

He was, right to the day he died, a Force of Nature for sure.   

I met Dick nearly a decade ago as a result of our mutual passions to protect our environment and our dire concerns about earth’s climate crisis. My work at the time led me to connect with Julia Olsen at the Oregon-based environmentally focused law firm supporting youth all over the country intent on fighting for climate justice, Our Children’s Trust, and they in-turn introduced me to Dick.

From our first conversation it was a match made, as they say, in heaven.

Dick seemed to truly appreciate my passion for a subject so important to him and often told me that he believed that I could help carry on his mission and message when he no longer could. In those early years I was not exactly sure what he meant by such comments but the more I grew to know and work with him, the more adventures we shared together, the more it became clear how truly similar our thoughts, concerns, and passions were.    

Dick quickly became a trusted mentor, advocate, and passionate supporter of my own environmental work and concerns. His enthusiasm for working with youth and saving the environment was both humbling and motivational. He was far too generous in his comments about my work, the videos he’d seen of me speaking, my blog postings and on and on but it also instantly occurred to me that if the thoughts I was sharing with the world resonated with someone so esteemed, so special as Dick, then perhaps I could truly make a positive difference and help make things better. So, from the start, Dick’s friendship was not only an honor but highly educational and motivational and as time passed I became certain that it was also intentional on his part to pass on some of his wisdom to me.

For the time and effort he invested in me I will always be grateful.  

Never one to be idle, each of our many adventures had a purpose and those purposes were always to produce an impact.

When I tell you that the Dick Jacob’s I know was serious about being a Difference Maker and a Force of Nature, I am not kidding. Our time together, especially when we were together in person, was a powerful time to get our hands dirty and feet wet together as Dick would say. I have so many such adventures that I could share but a few that standout in my mind include:

  1. The time he invited me to the Vinoy in St. Petersburg to speak at an insurance conference, to take my concerns and the science of climate change right to one of the industries, insurance in that case, at the center of the crisis. It was pure Dick Jacobs, attacking the issue and industry by arranging to have child educate the adults in the room about the science of climate change. 
  2. And in true Dick Jacob’s form, the very next day he arranged to have he and I speak to the St. Petersburg City Council, to tell them about a mandatory solar power law that I had written for the City of South Miami. The purpose of my talk was to educate the city leaders about my new law, but Dick and I privately hoped St. Pete might be inspired to want to implement a similar law. 

    And I will tell you that it nearly did do just that until some of the political leaders up for re-election got cold feet when a few voters pushed back on the idea. If anyone is here from the city today it sure would be a lovely legacy to Dick if you would implement such a law very soon! 

  3. He and I also sat on numerous panel discussions together. One memorable one was the USF St. Petersburg OPEN Conference where we both took joy in sharing our mutual concerns from two vastly differently generational points. Dick resonated with older folks and I with youth. That day and the impact we had was and remains something I am very proud about. 
  4. As many of you may know, Dick was a prolific writer, and not only did I love his books, but his frequent blog postings are a treasure that will last well beyond his life. With his kind permission he was frequently a guest writer on my own climate change-related blog and was always generous and eager to allow me to share his brilliant thoughts about environmental or political matters. 
  5. Much of our work however was not out in the public and instead related to discussing and researching legal strategies concerning the historic climate case, Reynolds versus Florida, that I led a few years ago or my more recent work on our successful Florida Department of Agriculture sustainable energy rules Petition. Dick was not just a lawyer, but a true legal scholar and it was an amazing experience to work with him on these important matters. 
  6. And speaking of our work together and adventures, I will never ever forget the last time I was with Dick in person. In May of this year at his invitation I travelled to St. Petersburg and spent an entire day with Dick. 

    Despite being 92 his energy level as he picked me up at my hotel and drove us around town was, as always, infectious and his mind was racing with one idea after another. 

    He proudly gave me a tour of the Stetson University College of Law, introduced me to faculty as if I were family, and then facilitated my meeting Jackie Lopez so that she and I could discuss the Jacobs Law Clinic for Democracy and the Environment that he and Mrs. Jacobs had created. 

    And, as if that were not enough adventure for one day, Dick graciously then sat with me for over two hours and allowed me to record an interview with him about his life’s work, travels, thoughts on a range of topics, and experiences for a book that I am writing. 

    I am deeply grateful for that special day with Dick and will never, ever forget it nor how he supported me over the last decade of his life.

Allow me to end my comments by thanking Dick for not only being a mentor to me in a traditional sense, but for being a guiding light, a source of inspiration, and a source of unwavering support.

You see, in 2021 I was finishing up my senior year of undergraduate school and in the midst of that was considering my future, a topic I frequently talked to Dick about and a subject he always asked about whenever we spoke. My sights, at the time, were set on pursuing a Ph.D. and yet, my legal work with Dick, my friend Mitch Chester, and the team at Our Children’s Trust certainly including my dear friend and another inspiration, Andrea Rogers, weighed heavy on my mind. Dick was never shy about saying that I was destined to go to law school.

As I was pondering all of this I learned about a unique graduate program at my beloved University of Miami where I could earn both a law degree, my Juris Doctorate, and science-based Ph.D. And when I discussed the idea with Dick he was, to say the least, ecstatic. After that first conversation many others followed and the more we talked the more sense that path made as I realized that so many of the solutions to our climate change crisis are at the intersection of policy making, the laws and associated politics that will help solve the problem and the science related to what is happening and why its happening.  

I am pleased to share with you that today I am finishing my third and final year of law school and the second year of my Ph.D. studies. And, needless to say, I really do have Dick to thank for encouraging me to embrace this crazy educational adventure of mine. Thank you, as always, Dick for being an inspiration in so many ways small and large.

As we reflect upon Dick’s incredibly well lived life, let us remember his warmth, wisdom, and the countless ways he enriched our lives. Dick’s legacy will continue to live on in our hearts and minds as he has left an indelible mark on this world through the lives he touched. That’s most certainly the case with my own.

Let us honor Dick’s legacy by carrying forward the lessons he impaired upon us and let us find comfort in knowing that his legacy should forever inspire us to strive to work for a better environment and a better world.

I’d like to end with a quote from Dick’s wonderful book, Wanderlust, where he explained in beautiful words and pictures taken from his own adventures all over the world as a Wonderer and a Wanderer, as he called himself:

My Life will be my argument.

I will be a Difference Maker.

I will be a Force of Nature.

Dick, your argument, your remarkable life, speaks for itself. Bravo.

And Dick, I will, I promise, do my best to be a Difference Maker and a Force of Nature and most importantly, to make you proud.

Thank you.

To learn more about Dick and his work please consider enjoying one or more of his books including Democracy of Dollars or Wanderlust (both available on Amazon) or his exquisite blog “The Brutus Papers” which you can visit by clicking here. To learn more about the Stetson University Jacobs Public Interest Law Clinic for Democracy and the Environment, please visit here.

A Cacophony of Chaos

If you live in a place like I do, Florida, you get used to chaos.

Lots of chaos.

Florida’s natural environment is one of the most fragile on planet earth. For six months every year the tropical cyclone (aka Hurricane) season rightfully has everyone on edge over when the next “big” one might strike and what it might destroy. Rising water temperatures breed monster collections of algae that attack countless living creatures, while simultaneously killing an entire ecosystem in the form of our precious coral reefs. And if those rising temperatures were not bad enough, the resulting rising sea levels from our climate change crisis increasingly place vast parts of the state such as Miami, Miami Beach, the Florida Keys, and the Everglades to name just a few, at the real risk of extinction for future generations. The chaos our natural environment faces includes corruption, a legislative agenda dedicated to protecting antiquated polluting industries and over-development just about everywhere while the common sense needed to protect what’s left before it’s too late is increasingly in short supply or nonexistent.

And then there is the political environment, a part of our daily life that’s truly become a cacophony of chaos as will likely be in evidence this week when leading Republican Presidential primary contenders arrive for a national debate or, in one case, an evangelical type rally. In recent years it’s become a way of life here in Florida (and, I dare say, increasingly elsewhere in America) to witness political factions and fanatics attacking books, enlightened education, civil liberty, and science, much less humiliating or assaulting far too many of our citizens simply for being themselves. And all of this fabricated chaos appears designed to lead only to political donations, social media fame, talking head television appearances, and public division rather than solving the real issues of our time. While those that broker in this type of discord should be ashamed of themselves there even seems to be evidence that the chaos they have built by propagating fear, relentlessly manipulating electoral rules, diminishing historically sacred institutions, much less the rule of law our society is based upon, is feeding their follower base (beast?) in ways that make me wonder if we are approaching a point of no return.

Consider how our environment is being attacked by political ideology consciously intent on weaponizing fear, embracing greed, diminishing science, and overlooking what’s obvious to anyone who just opens their eyes. For about half of my life, for example, a Florida governor has either denied that our climate change crisis is real by failing to even discuss the topic or address its core cause while missing a profound opportunity to lead America into a sustainable energy future from a place called “The Sunshine State.” It is a fact that former republican governor, and current senator Rick Scott, spent eight years infamously refusing to discuss the topic and even outlawing mention of terminology like “climate change,” “global warming,” or “sea level rise” within state documents and public discussions. It is also a fact that our current republican governor, Ron DeSantis, a man running for President who will be a focal point in this week’s debate, paints any mention of the cause of the climate crisis as “woke stuff” that he refuses to even discuss and whose dystopian energy policy (Energy Rollout | Ron DeSantis for President – Official Website) should he be elected, will put our country at dire risk by simultaneously protecting the polluters and missing an incredible opportunity to embrace a historic sustainable energy transition that promises to not only offer a lasting benefit to our environment but economy as well.

As the national political stage (and “stage,” as in a theatrical production, sure seems like the right word) returns to South Florida this week one can only hope for some deep, serious discussion about our climate change crisis during the debate. I realize that it’s likely wishful thinking to expect a serious discussion take place given how the topic has been handled in the first two debates, much less the constant chaos the Republican party seems to prefer over serious problem solving, but this week’s location, Miami, logically demands that the moderator and host network (NBC) make climate change the centerpiece of the event. At least that’s my hope.

Reality, however, suggests that the event will likely be a chaotic circus/carnival-like atmosphere on the stage that has become the State of Florida led by an ensemble of members of the Republican Party at a time when our futures desperately need serious solutions and leadership. Florida Governor DeSantis will refuse to discuss solving the cause of the climate crisis. The Chaos King himself, former president Trump, who now lives full time in Florida while facing 91 felony counts in various jurisdictions, will simultaneously hold a Rally of Lies across town intent on amplifying the chaos. And let’s not forget Florida’s very own US congressional Representative Gaetz (a man rumored to want to run for, of course, Florida Governor), recently spearheaded the weeks-long vacancy of the Speaker of the House in the middle of the current legislative session, something that has never happened before in the entire history of the United States. I could go on, but it all makes my head spin while spending years wondering why must this cacophony of chaos always seem to be in and from one (the Republican) political party?

Thankfully, there is good news and, no, I am not talking about the news in recent weeks that the month of September set alarming temperature records in our air and oceans and, as I wrote earlier this year, make it nearly certain that 2023 will be the hottest year in recorded history. And no, I am not talking about the alarming conclusions that many of the world’s leading climate scientists published last week, as outlined in the Oxford Open Climate Change Journal (Earth will cross warming threshold this decade: Study | The Hill), forecasts that earth will reach its climate tipping point of 1.5 degree Celsius by the end of this decade and 2 degrees by 2050 (versus prior estimates of 2035 and 2055 respectively). Both of these facts further portray the truly urgent need for America, for every person and every party, to take and embrace the serious solutions needed to slow and then solve our climate crisis before it’s too late.

The “good news” amidst all of the chaos that I am writing about is that horrific increases in temperature, along with record low sea ice levels, rising seas, and all of the other climate change indicators caused by mankind’s love affair with fossil fuels has the attention of young people all over the world. And that includes young, conservative, republicans. Yes, you read that right, the youngest members of the republican party increasingly want to see their elected leaders address the core cause of our climate crisis (fossil fuel use) and transition our current energy system into one based on sustainable sources of power.

Recent polling makes it clear that young people, most certainly including young republican voters, want to solve the climate crisis. In growing numbers these young people are, as we should all be, serious about both protecting our environment and the economic benefits to our economy. Consider, for example, the PEW Research Center’s polling just this summer, that found the following:

  1. Currently 31% of all American adults want the use of fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas) phased out of use in favor of renewable energy while 68% of those asked want a mixture of renewables along with fossil fuel solutions.
  2. The youngest responders (the group between 18-29 that has the distinction of growing up learning about the negative consequences of fossil fuel use more than any prior generation and will soon inherit the responsibility for solving the problem), are evenly divided with 48% wanting fossil fuel use phased out and 52% wanting a combination of renewable and fossil solutions.Conversely just 20% of the oldest American’s polled, those over 65 and who have spent a lifetime using fossil fuels, want to phase out fossil fuels while 78% prefer a combination.
  3. Likewise, an even number of registered democratic voters, 48%, want to phase out fossil fuels while 51% want to see a combination of fossils and sustainable energy.Only 12% of registered republican voters currently favor phasing out fossil fuels while a whopping 87% prefer a combination.
  4. The good news and our hope for the future, however, lies within how various generations are split in their thinking. While only 12% of all republicans currently favor phasing out fossil fuels some 29% of younger republicans aged 18-29 favor phasing out fossil fuel use (it’s 58% of similarly aged young democrats). Compare that 29% to just the 9% of republicans 50-64 years old or just 3% of those 65+ that feel polluting fossils should be fully phased out and you can clearly see a shift in thinking along generational lines.

Here is a summary of the PEW poll results:

And as further evidence that young republican voters want our climate crisis addressed, consider this recent article from the Chicago Tribune (the red-colored highlights are my own):

DENIAL OF CLIMATE CHANGE MIGHT BE A PARTY DEAL-BREAKER FOR YOUNG CONSERVATIVES

BY SUSAN ATKINSON, CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Benji Backer, a 25-year-old conservative from Wisconsin, was not pleased with a recent Republican presidential primary debate. The candidates either denied, ignored or downplayed the Fox moderator’s question on climate change.

Backer is not alone in his views. Founder of the American Conservation Coalition, Backer said of his peers: “Young people will never vote for a candidate that does not believe in climate change. We’re not going away; we are normalizing this as part of the Republican conversation. Republicans deserve to lose if they are climate deniers and don’t have a plan.”

Climate change is often seen as an intergenerational issue, with the younger generation expected to bear the brunt of the impacts. The GOP’s failure to articulate an adequate climate policy is alarming 18- to 38-year-old voters. The cost of inaction will have far-reaching consequences. Some young conservatives are concerned that their party’s reluctance to address climate change represents a failure to consider the interests of future generations.

The older conservative generations have broad influence and power over the current climate change narrative, though the time for change is ripe. And the time for climate denial and inaction has passed. The younger conservative generation isn’t buying the old narrative.

Young or old, we can see the escalating impact of drought, crop failure, wildfires, sea level rise and storm damage that will devastate future economic prosperity. The younger generations are coming of age and using their votes, which they demonstrated in record numbers in last year’s midterm election. Their votes could be crucial in swing states in 2024. They know that the problem is real, that it needs to be addressed now and that conservative policy solutions can make a difference.

GOP House Rep. John Curtis of Utah made a similar point to Backer’s. “I believe strongly that if Republicans don’t make (climate change) an issue, we will lose the upcoming generation of Republicans,” he said. “The upcoming generation will not be patient with us. This is a deal-breaker for them. They’ll leave the Republican Party over this one issue.”

Well-respected GOP pollster Frank Luntz said in 2019 that of all generations of current voters, “Three in four American voters want to see the government step in to limit carbon emissions – including a majority of Republicans (55%). Voters’ concerns simply aren’t being addressed.”

There are at least four reasons for young conservatives’ concern:

  1. Scientific consensus: Older conservatives were educated in a time before climate science; younger generations learned climate science along with reading, writing and arithmetic. Education is foundational to our worldview. Advancing policies based on evidence and scientific consensus is crucial for effective solutions. 
  2. National security: Climate change is increasingly seen as a national security threat due to its potential to exacerbate conflicts over resources, disrupt supply chains and create refugee crises. Addressing climate change is a matter of protecting national security and maintaining geopolitical stability. 
  3. Economic opportunities: Renewable energy and other climate-friendly technologies represent economic opportunities, including job creation and innovation. Supporting policies that promote clean energy fosters economic growth and reduces reliance on foreign energy sources. 
  4. Conservative values: Some conservatives may argue that addressing climate change aligns with traditional conservative values, such as responsible stewardship of resources, fiscal responsibility, and a desire to preserve natural beauty and landscapes. Solutions that are pro-market and involve limited government regulation exist – such as a carbon fee and dividend with a border tax adjustment. We need to keep American businesses competitive in global markets.

Republicans should develop a coherent and effective climate policy before they cease to be a politically viable party. The political will is mounting for serious solutions to climate change as public opinion shifts.

Increasing numbers of Americans – including Republicans – are expressing concern and support for action. We need all voices at the solutions table, especially ones that reflect long-standing conservative principles.

Susan Atkinson is a volunteer for the Citizens Climate Lobby, an organization that reaches across the political spectrum to find common ground for climate change action.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the old-fashioned chaos (and denial) that older generations favor will be front and center this week here in Florida but thanks to young people I continue to believe that our future is bright. Youth in my generation know that fossil fuel use is damaging our environment, economy, and people’s health. And we know that these impacts will only worsen over time. As I have written many times over the years, young people know that our climate crisis is the most important issue we will ever face during our lives and how we address it will define out time here on earth.  

So now the question is who amongst the adults in leadership positions today and those that aspire to them in America’s tomorrow will step away from the divisive chaos that currently reigns and help make the hard decisions to enact a meaningful transition away from fossil fuels and to our sustainable energy future? Frankly, our climate crisis is so profoundly important that one’s political party, as even the polls show, is increasingly far less relevant than understanding that it will take all of us to lead the world towards solving the problem.

Here’s to hoping for a serious discussion about our climate from at least some of those in Miami this week. And being ever hopeful, that perhaps, just maybe, one or more of the republican candidates will step out from under their carnival tent and into the real world where leadership is so desperately desired by the youngest amongst us at a time when the cacophony of chaos is no longer acceptable.

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