Monday, August 24, 2015

100 Days to Save the World

Imagination is not a talent of some men but is the health of every man.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

It's a hard time to be hopeful.  ISIS wantonly destroys the sacred elegances of the past, while beheading and raping innocents of the present.  Terrorists and psychotics use easily obtained and operated lethal firearms to massacre innocents in any ordinary place, while political cynics make sure they remain well-armed. Fearful fanatics seem to dominate all politics; racism and other reactionary passions are seemingly ascendant, making trump cards out of what would ordinarily be jokers.  There are alarming examples of destructive fanaticism on what our impoverished dialogue insistently calls the Left as well as the Right. There is a smell of chaos, caught and eagerly exploited by proudly evil and cowardly trolls in cyberspace and beyond.  It seems that where evil, insanity and cynical greed do not reign, debilitating distraction does.

In short, civilization seems to be falling apart at the moment when it is most needed, when it is most urgent to face up to crisis conditions in the larger contexts of all life on Earth.

But there are contending forces also rising to confront these challenges, to try to save the world and its civilizations, although in better form.  There are visions, organizations, heroic individuals, movements, projects; there are designs in the practical, physical world that offer the hope of new energy systems, new economics and so on.   Many of the books I've mentioned here and elsewhere before (like Down to the Wire, Eaarth, The Great Disruption, America The Possible, and a later entry I haven't mentioned, Klein's This Changes Everything)  that delineate near and far future challenges of the climate crisis, also suggest that meeting these challenges could make the world a better place in other ways--healthier, more just and sustainable, in which humanity flourishes in a world made safe for life.

All of that remains the work of generations.  For this moment, the upcoming and urgent task is to get some international agreement that gives the planet a chance by limiting and phasing out greenhouse gases, in the quantities and in in the timeframe that today's best science suggests will give us a fighting chance to save the future.

An excellent article by John Sutter at CNN entitled "100 Days to Save the World" outlines the reasons, the tasks and especially the reasons to hope that this time when nations meet in Paris in November and December, they will meet this challenge.

Much is moving towards this moment.  The encyclical by Pope Francis, endorsed by leaders of other Christian sects,  preceded the recent Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change   which asserts that for Muslims, addressing the climate crisis is a religious duty.  It calls for a future of 100% renewable energy, and specifically for a climate treaty this year.

“To chase after unlimited economic growth in a planet that is finite and already overloaded is not viable," the declaration said.

To underline the factual claim behind this moral imperative, also last week:

We’re not even nine months into 2015, but by Wednesday humans had consumed an entire year’s worth of natural resources since Jan. 1, according to the Global Footprint Network.

Global Overshoot Day is perhaps a too-cute marketing moniker for what is the most ominous fact of all, for this is the kind of deficit spending that really can't go on.  It is of course not the first such day--though it comes almost a week earlier this year than last.  According to GFN: "Earth Overshoot Day is meant as an approximation rather than an exact date. Still, the data shows that humanity’s demand on nature is at an unsustainable level — one year is no longer enough to regenerate humanity’s annual demand on the planet.”

Not only are humans living beyond the means of the planet to sustain that kind of life, even more evidence arrived last week that humanity has become the most destructive predator on the planet, wiping out predator animals also at an unsustainable rate, with consequences all along the food chain--up as well as down.

The climate crisis makes all of this worse, and even in the near term (another study finds) will likely lead to the most political volatile condition: "food shocks," meaning food shortages and price spikes.

So there is plenty of motivation available for leaders from all nations to meaningfully address the climate crisis, which is the bare minimum but could be the change that opens opportunities for much more, as other factors (especially the advancing technologies and falling costs of renewable energy) move in a positive direction.

Within the US, where support for addressing the climate crisis is substantial but below many other rich nations, there are fascinating findings outlined in an earlier CNN post by John D. Sutter.   In the form of a quiz, he reviews these findings: though 97% of the world's working climate scientists affirm the reality of the climate crisis and its greenhouse gases emissions cause,  only 10% of the American public knows that they do, the fact of this stunning unanimity.  Yet 70% say that they trust climate scientists above all to give them the correct information.

The US doesn't score high on the percentage of people that "believe in" the climate crisis, but on the other hand, only 9% are "sure" it doesn't exist.  And 70% support strict emissions regs on power plants.

There is an opportunity for everyone in these stats, Sutter points out: 67% of Americans surveyed say they strongly or somewhat trust family and friends on this issue.  Currently, 74% say they rarely or never talk about climate change.  This is the denialists' second greatest victory (after buying the Republican party and its obstructionists), for clearly people aren't anxious to get into what they fear will be violent arguments.  In 2008 that number was lower, at 60%.

What will reverse that? President Obama will do his part, as Pope Francis and the UN Secretary General visit in September, and the climate crisis is sure to be talked about.

But it will likely take friends and family as well, although it might start with more controversy than calm. Nobody wanted to talk about the Vietnam war or the draft in the 1960s, until their children demanded it by making a lot of noise.  Climate organizations are making their demonstration plans, so there will more noise made in this next 100 days.  To save the world.