As the world marks Earth Day, more than 60 heads of state meet at the United Nations headquarters to sign the Paris climate agreement aimed at slowing climate change. Many countries still need to formally approve the agreement, which will only enter into force when it is ratified by 55 nations that account for 55 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Experts say the cuts promised in the deal are insufficient to avert dangerous global warming. This comes as Gulf Coast communities marked the sixth anniversary of the BP oil spill by demanding no new drilling. For more, we speak to reporter Antonia Juhasz. Her new report in Rolling Stone is “Six Years After BP Gulf Oil Spill, Residents Demand ‘No New Drilling.'” Her most recent book is “Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: As we move on right now, today is Earth Day. Climate is on the world’s agenda as more than 60 heads of state will meet at the United Nations headquarters to sign the Paris agreement aimed at slowing climate change. Many countries still need to formally approve the agreement, which will only enter into force when it’s ratified by 55 nations that account for 55 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. This comes as the first three months of 2016 broke temperature records, and 2015 was the warmest year on record. Experts say the cuts promised in the deal are insufficient to avert dangerous global warming. On Thursday, demonstrators gathered in Paris to highlight the oil industry’s role in climate change.
—AURELIE: [translated] So, we are gathering outside the Meridian this morning because it is the International Oil Summit, a yearly summit which gathers major oil industries and some organizations such as OPEC, as Paris’s climate agreement will be ratified tomorrow in New York. And we wanted to underline the fact that there is a huge contradiction there, since the climate agreement plans to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, which was the commitment of all countries. But if the oil industry continues that way, we are going to overpass 3 degrees, which is the climate imbalance threshold. And that is when the situation will become difficult to deal with.
AMY GOODMAN: Here in the United States, Gulf Coast communities marked the sixth anniversary of the BP oil spill by demanding no new drilling. Last month, they held protests outside the Superdome in New Orleans, which hosted an auction by the Interior Department for 45 million acres in the offshore Gulf of Mexico for new oil and gas drilling.
For more, we’re joined here in Denver by reporter Antonia Juhasz. Her new report in Rolling Stone headlined “6 Years After BP Gulf Oil Spill, Residents Demand ‘No New Drilling.'” And she has a piece in Newsweek; its headline, “Paris was Just a Way Station in the Climate Change Fight.” You can read her feature article in Ms. Magazine about women taking on climate change. And her most recent book, Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill.
It’s great to have you back with us, Antonia, here in Denver, Colorado, today.
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Thanks for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, these three things are converging. It’s Earth Day. You’ve got the Paris climate agreement going to be signed at the U.N. today. It’s the sixth anniversary of the BP oil spill. Put it all together for us.
ANTONIA JUHASZ: OK. I think the most important thing for the six-year anniversary of the oil spill is that, you know, at this point, government, industry, the public have learned the lessons of this disaster. Unfortunately, those first two categories—government and industry—aren’t implementing any of those lessons. So, President Obama is expanding offshore oil drilling dramatically in the Gulf of Mexico, a proposal to expand it in the Arctic, continuing production, where I live, in California and the Pacific, and hoping to continue to expand drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, as well. And that is in this—in face of the Interior Department trying to put in place new regulations to make offshore drilling safer, including 500 pages’ worth of new regulations released just last week. But every expert I’ve spoken to, including the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, has said these regulations just do not go far enough, and the lessons have not been implemented. The likelihood of another Macondo-like blowout is still very, very real.
The good news is, of those groups, the groups that have learned the lessons, increasingly so, is the public. So, you know, in my six years of covering this disaster, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that protest at the Superdome, just the numbers of people from the Gulf Coast, from all across the Gulf Coast, coming out to say, “You know what? We just don’t want any more of this.” The costs are too high—the environmental costs, but also the economic costs, with the collapse in the oil industry and that roller coaster ride of being dependent on this resource, and, of course, the climate costs. And what we’re seeing in the Gulf Coast is reflected all across the country and all across the world, where polls are showing really dramatic changes in public opinion, not just globally, but also in the United States, with almost 75 percent of Americans now preferring to pursue alternative energy instead of oil and gas development. And that includes, for the first time, a majority of Republicans proposing alternative energy to oil and gas, which means that, for example, the Republican candidates for president are not reflecting the views of the Republican population, but instead what we’re seeing is a population that is saying—embracing the idea of “keep it in the ground.”
AMY GOODMAN: What’s happening at the United Nations today? Some 60 heads of state will be there to sign the Paris agreement. Its significance?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah, so, this was—196 countries agreed in Paris in December that we’re going to make a global commitment to reduce carbon emissions and aim to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. That commitment is important. There was money behind it. There was some legally binding portions to it.
But the key point missing is this point that I said the public is getting, which isn’t—which governments are not getting and is not in the agreement, which is the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. So the United Nations itself has said, at a minimum, three-fourths of existing fossil fuels need to stay in the ground to avert the worst of climate catastrophe. The Paris agreement, nowhere in it do the words “oil,” “natural gas,” “coal,” “fossil fuels” appear. It’s all about stopping emissions, not stopping production. And that allows, for example, the government of Saudi Arabia to have a plan, within the climate agreement, which is that they’re going to increase domestic production of oil and gas, export it out of the country, and use that money to fund alternative energy development at home. That’s just backwards.
AMY GOODMAN: Interesting that President Obama was in Saudi Arabia this week, this Earth Day week.
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, obviously, you know, our relations with the Saudis encompass a lot of things. Oil is certainly one of them. And there is a lot of debate right now about trying to get, for example, Saudi Arabia to choose to reduce that production to help address the price of oil, at the same time as agreeing, in the Paris climate agreement, to allow them to produce more oil and gas to save the climate.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ve just got 30 seconds. On this 46th anniversary of Earth Day, what are you celebrating, Antonia Juhasz?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: I’m celebrating this movement, the Keep It in the Ground movement. All across the United States this week, there have been protests trying to halt new leasing of oil and gas development, including, you know, as I said, in the Gulf of Mexico, and, really, this global movement that is getting much, much, much larger to keep it in the ground and see those answers, even in response to a non-appropriately responsive government and industry.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, Antonia Juhasz, for being with us. Her new report in Rolling Stone headlined “6 Years After BP Gulf Oil Spill, Residents Demand ‘No New Drilling.'” Her piece in Newsweek, “Paris was Just a Way Station in the Climate Change Fight.” We’ll link to all her pieces, including her one in Ms. Magazineabout women in the climate change battle.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Boulder is debating whether to become a sister city to Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. We’ll host a debate. Stay with us.