Why We Prioritize Addressing Climate Change

The Re-evaluation Counseling Community has recognized the challenge presented by the rapid changing of our climate.  Several years ago we adopted a goal to help guide us in our work taking on the challenge presented by this situation. Just recently, we wrote a Draft Policy statement on Care of the Environment.  The situation continues to change rapidly and more and more information is becoming available. Here is our appraisal of the current situation, and the research that supports our appraisal.  We hope that you will find this useful as a resource in leading on these issues.

Diane Shisk and Tim Jackins

Distress recordings are the biggest obstacle to solving all of society’s problems. Therefore, because of what we know as RCers, we can play a pivotal role in solving the problems facing humanity. Climate change is one of the problems.

Climate change calls for immediate good thinking and effective action. Unless our society can dramatically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within the next several years, dangerously destructive global climate change will result. (Climate change is already having a damaging effect on every continent). While other problems facing humanity are extremely harmful, none (other than the possibility of nuclear war*) pose such an immediate and large-scale threat to humans and all other forms of life. For these reasons, we prioritize addressing climate change in our Communities and in the world.

Indigenous people, poor people, and people targeted by racism have been burdened by some of the worst effects of environmental destruction. In fact, climate change impacts all oppressed groups and has become intertwined with their oppression. Ending all oppression is an important part of our work to end the destruction of the environment. And addressing climate change needs to be seen as an important part of each of those struggles. United we can stop and reverse climate change.

Climate Change Is Happening, and There is Irrefutable Evidence that it is Caused by Human Activity

The Earth is warming because of a growing accumulation of GHG emissions that have formed a warming blanket around the Earth. The most dangerous of these emissions is carbon dioxide (CO2), although other emissions and substances (methane, nitrous oxide, and black carbon, among others) are also dangerous and together contribute about 50% of the warming of CO2. (1)(2) Human activity is pumping almost 40 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually. (3)

Scientific measurements show that the rise in GHG results primarily from burning fossil fuels. Scientists have measured the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere over time by drilling ice cores in Antarctica. This data shows us that the average level of CO2 in the atmosphere for the past 800,000 years has been between 180 and 260 parts per million (ppm) of CO2—reaching a high of 300 ppm in some periods between ice ages. In 1750, at the start of the Industrial Revolution (when humans started using fossil fuels in large quantities), atmospheric CO2 was at 278 ppm. In 2016 it reached 406 ppm. (4) Most human-caused CO2 emissions (80%) result from burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas). Since 1988, more than half of global industrial GHGs can be traced to just 25 corporate and state producers of fossil fuels. (5) Other significant sources are industrial agriculture and deforestation (20%). (6) 

The planet has warmed by more than 1° Celsius in this same time period. (7) Half of that temperature increase has occurred in the past 35 years, the fastest rate of temperature increase in recorded history. (16 of the 17 hottest years on record have been since 2001; and 2014, 2015, and 2016 each set a record for the hottest year.) (8)

The damaging results of climate change are already a reality in some parts of the globe. Climate change is causing (a) droughts and crop loss (a temperature increase means fewer rains, and rains at the wrong times of the year), (b) severe weather events and the consequent habitat damage and flooding (a warmer atmosphere holds more water and results in bigger storms), (c) sea level rise resulting in erosion of coastline and salinization (destruction by salt) of crop land and coastal forests, (d) increased acidification of the oceans (damaging marine ecosystems), (e) wildfires, and the number is increasing as the fire season becomes longer, (f) deterioration of the Arctic permafrost as it thaws (fortunately methane levels are still stable), (9) (g) an increase in diseases and infestations (as warmer temperatures foster a multiplication of disease vectors, such as mosquitos, and pests, and expansion of their habitat). As the global temperature rises, these problems are multiplying in number and intensity. (10)

These climate changes can be reversed. They can be reversed by a rapid transition away from fossil fuels, by reducing consumption, by improving land based storage of GHG, and by changing our diet and agricultural practices—all attainable goals.

Climate Change Disproportionately Impacts Frontline Nations and Communities

The harshest effects of climate change fall on people living in poverty (mostly People of the Global Majority and Indigenous people in countries long targeted by genocide, imperialism, and colonialism—called “Frontline Nations”) (map showing this here)(11). Hundreds of millions of people are currently struggling under the effects of climate change, such as food and water scarcity, extreme storms, and displacement. (12) The World Health Organization estimates 150,000 lives are lost every year due to climate change. (13)  By 2060, about 1.4 billion people could become climate change refugees. (14)

The frequency of climate-related disasters is projected to triple from 2009 to 2030. Disasters of equivalent strength kill between 12 and 45 times more people in poorer countries than in wealthy ones. (15) Declines in agriculture productivity of between 15 and 30% are predicted by 2080 in Africa, South Asia, and Central America. (16)

Poor people are disproportionately affected not only because they are often more exposed and more vulnerable to climate-related shocks, they also have fewer resources and receive less support from family, community, the financial system, and social safety nets to prevent, cope, and adapt. Climate change will worsen these shocks and stresses, forcing more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030. (17) 

Mitigating the impact of climate change on these vulnerable populations and nations is possible, but requires action sooner rather than later.

The Effects of Climate Change are Increasing

Each of the following effects increases over time. Warming temperatures have caused a 40% reduction in Arctic sea ice since 1978. Ice loss averages 134 gigatons (billion tons) a year in Antarctica and 287 gigatons in Greenland. Average global sea level is now rising approximately 1.3 inches every 10 years, (18) with a projected rise of between 2.6 and 6.6 feet by 2100. (19) The frequency of severe coastal flooding is expected to double in the next decade. (20)

Our oceans absorb more than 90% of the planetary temperature increase. But this buffering effect is weakening and may not last much longer, leading to more atmospheric heat. (21) The rising ocean temperatures and sea levels and endangers coastal inhabitants and marine ecosystems such as coral reefs. Oceans also absorb 33% of CO2 emissions, which leads to acidification that further endangers ecosystems. (22)

Climate changes causes migration. With the 2° Celsius (C) rise in temperature predicted by 2050, scientists anticipate 200 million refugees on the move annually. With migration comes suffering, including human trafficking. (23)

It is not too late to reverse these effects. By reducing carbon emissions, planetary warming will, over time, stop and slowly reverse itself. Ice sheets and glaciers will reestablish themselves, atmospheric and ocean temperatures will drop, the seas will recede, and weather patterns will stabilize.

What We Can and Must Do: Stop Emissions to Limit Temperature Rise

Temperature rise should be kept to well below 2° C (hopefully 1.5°) to avoid the most drastic, life-threatening global climate change. (There is almost unanimous agreement among the scientific (24) and international (25) community on this point.) To reach this goal, global emissions must peak by the year 2020 at the latest. (26) If commitments made under the Paris Accord are met, emissions would still be rising in 2030. (27) The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that we are most likely headed toward an increase of 3.7° to 4.8° C by 2100 unless we undertake aggressive measures to reduce emissions. (28) New research taking into account the warming of the ocean confirms that the upper end of the range is more likely. (29)

This requires a phase out of fossil fuel use by mid-century, releasing no more than 353 gigatons of CO2 between now and then. (30) (Coal mines and oil and gas wells already in production contain 942 gigatons of CO2.)   Other emissions must also be reduced significantly. (31) If we begin immediately, this requires just over 6% carbon pollution reduction annually. If we wait until 2020 it will require 15% annual reduction.

Ninety-six percent (96%) of electricity would need to be low carbon by 2050. This would require $3.5 trillion in energy-sector investments on average each year until 2050. (32) Renewable energy contributed 40% of the total increase of world energy power generation in 2016. (33)

Fracked natural gas was once seen as a “bridge fuel” to renewables because fewer CO2 emissions are released. But when methane emissions are included, the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas is significantly larger than that of conventional natural gas, coal, and oil. (There are other significant and harmful effects to the local environment as well.) (34)

Nearly 60% of global CO2 emissions come from the world’s 6 largest economies—the United States, China, Russia, India, the European Union, and Japan—and must be reduced immediately. (16% of the emissions are from the United States alone, while the U.S. population is only 5% of the global population.) (35) Each of these countries (except Russia) has signed the Paris Accord and committed to reduce GHG emissions and some good progress is happening. However, more reduction is needed to meet the stated goals. (The Trump administration is withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Accord. Twenty-two states and Puerto Rico, and hundreds of U.S. cities express support for the Accord.)

Renewables can replace much of our fossil fuel use. The cost of renewable energy is now comparable to that of fossil fuel, and massive development of renewable energy should be supported. Globally 80% of energy now comes from burning fossil fuels (36). However, each year the use of new and renewable sources of energy (solar, wind, and hydropower) increases. (37) 

Carbon and methane sinks—natural ecosystems on land and in the ocean that absorb or hold GHG emissions, specifically plants, forests, soil, and the ocean itself—are crucially important. Today more than half of human-caused carbon emissions are captured by these natural ecosystems, keeping the emissions out of the atmosphere. We must preserve these ecosystems and create additional ones—by stopping deforestation, planting millions of trees, and adopting regenerative agricultural practices that trap rather than release carbon from the soil. (38)

These are achievable goals if we act now. Organizations worldwide are working toward these ends. By delaying, we increase the magnitude of future efforts we must make.

What We Must Do: Build a Worldwide Movement

Huge changes are required to end climate change, and to be successful we need a movement of hundreds of millions of people who demand the changes. No one can be left out. The movement must include the movements to end racism, genocide, poverty, sexism, and war. It must include the labor movement, students, parents, and religious and lay organizations—every group working for human liberation, justice, and the end of environmental destruction. 

Climate change is illuminating the global harm caused by the actions of a profit-driven society, demonstrating that it is in everyone’s interest to work toward a society that sustains all life and rejects exploitation of people and our planet. 

There is worldwide acceptance of this goal.

What We Must Do: End Profit as the Basis of Our Economies

Our economic systems have driven for growth and profit with little regard for people, other life forms, and the Earth. They keep people struggling for survival. They rely on oppression to keep people divided from each other and therefore unable to unite in working for change. Climate change is exposing the destructiveness of these systems in new and unprecedented ways. As people see and face how destructive these systems are, they understand the need for a system that supports all people without exploiting them or damaging the planet. Such a system is in the interest of all people, including those now carrying out the current mistaken and destructive policies (and it is in the interest of their children).

More people are questioning our economic system and its exploitation of people and the planet.

What We Must Do: Support International Efforts

The United Nations has played a leading role in addressing climate change globally. The Paris Agreement, which entered into force in November 2016, is the first global climate change agreement. Signatory countries each pledged to reduce emissions and report on their progress. But the Paris Agreement is not binding and the total pledged reductions if fully implemented, would still allow a 2.7° C rise, which would be catastrophic. Additional reductions are needed. (39) Nonetheless, the Agreement is a global acknowledgement of the reality and destructiveness of climate change and an important step toward resolving it.

Wealthy nations are most able to help Frontline Nations adapt to climate change and gain access to renewable energy. Much of the wealth of the wealthy nations comes from their exploiting the resources of Frontline Nations. The Green Climate Fund was established by the United Nations in 2011 to raise $100 billion from the wealthy nations per year by 2020, but to date only $10 billion has been pledged. (40) Significant funds must be raised and allocated to developing nations. These nations have not created the problem and will continue to suffer its most harmful effects. 


“If the global mean temperatures warm by more than 2° C, risks to ecosystems and livelihoods will surpass tolerable levels. It is likely that humans will no longer be able to inhabit many previously hospitable regions. We will suffer from increasingly variable and extreme weather conditions with disastrous consequences that are already occurring in stark preview. With present warming already at 1° C, we are hurtling towards an irreversible climate crisis.” (41)

While the situation is grave and big effects are unavoidable, it is not too late to turn the tide to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The sooner we can take needed action, the less harm will result and the sooner we and our planet will recover.

What We in RC Can Do

Most of us are numb, scared, and detached about climate change. A starting point is to connect with and discharge the early hurts underlying our distresses (the heartbreak, fears, and defeats). It is important to do this if we are to take on climate change as part of our lives. We can go back to and discharge these early hurts as we challenge their hold on us in the present. 

We can learn from what worked to change society in the past, and we can find new solutions. We can come together to discharge and think freshly about a new course for our society. We can create the conditions for the changes to occur. We can organize and take action in ways that we haven’t before. 

We can and will develop a clear policy and program that is understood to be in everyone’s interest. We can organize enough people that we can effectively say “no” to the present course. We will try things and learn from all of our efforts as we work to develop our program. A Draft Program for Care of the Environment is now on the RC website at: https://www.rc.org/tile/liberationpolicy

*Recent events raise the possibility of nuclear proliferation, reversing a long-standing trend away from the possibility of nuclear war.


(1) NASA: Global Climate Change, Vital Signs of the Future,

(2) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change, http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg3/ipcc_wg3_ar5_summary-for-policymakers.pdf

(3) Global Carbon Project, http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/

(4) Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet,

(5) The Carbon Majors Databaase, 2017, https://b8f65cb373b1b7b15feb-c70d8ead6ced550b4d987d7c03fcdd1d.ssl.cf3.rackcdn.com/cms/reports/documents/000/002/327/original/Carbon-Majors-Report-2017.pdf?1499691240

(6) Boden, T., G. Marland, and B. Andres, 2012: Global CO2 Emissions from Fossil-Fuel Burning, Cement Manufacture, and Gas Flaring: 1751-2009. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory,

(7) World Meteorological Organization, WMO confirms 2016 as hottest year on record, about 1.1°C above pre-industrial era, Press Release January 18, 2017,

(8) NYTimes 1/18/17, For Third Year, The Earth in 2016 Set Heat Record

(9) Global Warming Permafrost Study, https://insideclimatenews.org/news/27022017/global-warming-permafrost-study-melt-canada-siberia

(10) NASA: Global Climate Change, Vital Signs of the Future,

(11) Map of countries most likely to survive climate change, http://sourced.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2017/07/05/this-map-shows-the-countries-that-ll-survive-global-warming/?ncid=webmail

(12) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Climate Change 2014, Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, 12 

(13) Oxfam, Suffering the Science: People, Poverty, and Climate Change, https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/suffering-science

(14) Rising seas could result in 2 billion refugees by 2100, Cornell University, http://mediarelations.cornell.edu/2017/06/23/rising-seas-could-result-in-2-billion-refugees-by-2100/

(15) Oxfam, Suffering the Science: People, Poverty, and Climate Change, https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/suffering-science

(16)  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Climate Change 2014,

(17) “Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty,” World Bank Group. 2016.
https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/22787/9781464806735.pdf, p.2

(18) NASA: Global Climate Change, Vital Signs of the Future,

(19) Climate Change in the Pacific Islands, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,

(20)  Sea Level Rise will Double Coastal Flood Risk Worldwide, The Guardian, May 18, 2017,

(21) How Long Can Oceans Continue To Absorb Earth’s Excess Heat?, http://e360.yale.edu/features/how_long_can_oceans_continue_to_absorb_earths_excess_heat

(22) NASA Infographic, 

(23) UN Refugee Agency, Climate Change and Disasters,

(24) The world's biggest gamble, Johan Rokström and others,

(25) United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Paris Accord, 2015

(26) 2020 The Climate Turning Point, http://www.mission2020.global/2020%20The%20Climate%20Turning%20Point.pdf

(27) Setting the Path Toward 1.5° C, civilsocietyreview.org/organisations2016

(28) IPCC Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change, 8,

(29) Hope of Mild Climate Change Dashed by New Research, Guardian, July 5, 2017.

(30) Bill McKibben, "Recalculating the Climate Math," in The Republic

(31) The world's biggest gamble, Johan Rokström and others, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016EF000392/full

(32) International Energy Agency report, 2017, reported in Deep energy transformation needed by 2050 to limit rise in global temperature

(33) BP report: Global Renewable Energy http://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/energy-economics/statistical-review-of-world-energy/renewable-energy.html

(34) Methane emissions and climatic warming risk from hydraulic fracturing and shale gas development: implications for policy; http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/howarth/publications/f_EECT-61539-perspectives-on-air-emissions-of-methane-and-climatic-warmin_100815_27470.pdf

(35) U.S. EPA, Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data,

(36) International Energy Agency,

(37) Renewables Status Report, http://www.ren21.net/

(38) Toensmeier, The Carbon Farming Solution

(39) Climate Action Tracker,

(40) Green Climate Fund, Contributors,

(41) The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2014)






Last modified: 2017-08-07 20:02:32-07