At the start of the new year, many of us ponder ways to better ourselves and our lives. This year, let's resolve to fight. Fight against a crisis that, if unaddressed, will have catastrophic and irreversible impacts on communities across the globe. Let's resolve to fight climate change and to challenge the corporations and policymakers that have led us into the climate crisis while protecting their, not our, interests.
2011 was disastrous -- literally. Forty-six states in the U.S. alone experienced weather-related catastrophes, according to the American Red Cross. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently reported that 2011 set a record for the number of U.S. disasters costing more than $1 billion each. Last year the 12 most costly U.S. disasters totaled approximately $52 billion and resulted in the loss of nearly 650 lives. Data from Munich Re indicate that the world economy experienced a record-breaking $265 billion in economic losses from disasters in just the first six months of 2011. These are just the consequences we can numerically count. The resulting human suffering is not quantifiable.
It is likely that many of these weather-related tragedies are directly related to or exacerbated by climate change. Yet we are failing to address the climate crisis, the root cause of many increasingly severe, frequent, and costly disasters.
On the world stage at the recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change summit in Durban, South Africa, leaders again failed to take the steps necessary to contain global temperatures to safe levels or to raise the money needed to help poor countries and communities pay for the soaring costs of adapting to climate impacts and transitioning to clean-energy economies. In the U.S. the Obama administration sided with big business (most notably the airline industry, but also, through its failure to act, with many other polluting industries) and failed to take the steps necessary to meaningfully address climate change.
In 2012 we can and must seize an opportunity to change course. If we turn our disappointment into anger, and we turn our anger into action, we can achieve the change needed to reverse the course of climate change. Virtually all major successful social justice struggles have been won through public mobilization. The struggle for climate justice is no different.
Innovative solutions to address the climate crisis exist, but we need to pressure our leaders to implement them. In November 2011, both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and philanthropist Bill Gates proposed a number of ways to generate significant new public funding to fight climate change and poverty. For example, the IMF and Gates found that levies in the polluting aviation and shipping industries could reduce emissions and generate up to $37 billion each year. This is just one of many approaches that can generate significant resources to help countries confront the climate crisis. Yet, the Obama administration continues to ignore such solutions.
There are signs of hope for a better 2012, and that hope lies in building on public mobilizations of 2011. For example, the environmental movement came together and successfully rallied against the building of the Keystone XL pipeline in 2011. The proposed pipeline would have transported the dirtiest fuels -- tar sands oil -- 2,000 miles, from Alberta, Canada to Texas, threatening water supplies along its route. The movement opposing this pipeline is an example of the public action that is needed to confront the climate crisis.
The Occupy Wall Street movement is another sign of hope. The Occupy movement has created space for the environmental movement to highlight how the 1 percent are using the natural resources and generating the pollution for which the 99 percent -- those who have done least to create the climate crisis -- are suffering. In 2011 three of the five biggest U.S. corporations were oil companies. Exxon Mobil, the most lucrative U.S. corporation, made profits of over $30 billion in just one year. It is time for these and other corporations to own up to their fair share by drastically reducing their emissions and compensating communities for the damage their pollution has caused.
Also in 2011 nurses, workers, participants of the Occupy movement, and environmental activists came together to call for Wall Street to pay its fair share. A fee of only half of one percent on big bankers' financial trades could generate billions to stimulate job growth and support efforts to fight poverty and climate change at home and abroad.
It is movements like these that give me hope that we can change the tide in 2011. This decade will be critical to changing the course of catastrophic climate change. This year, let's resolve to stand strong, stand together, and fight for climate justice.