Whether we like it or not, the choice we have now is between perpetuating our destructive and unsustainable relationship with the natural world and fighting to re-form our society into one that is fairer, more just, and more sustainable. As you move into the new year, take a moment to think about how the world will change in the near future, and the role that you’ll have in changing it.
The Lima Climate Talks were an opportunity for the world’s governments to demand accountability from each other, an opportunity that world leaders conveniently chose to avoid.
Next year’s Paris Climate Conference will be the culmination of more than two decades of negotiations. It will be the moment when all the world’s governments decide what they will contribute to the fight against climate change.
In the lead-up to the Paris conference, all governments will submit a pledge explaining their commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Lima was where the format of those pledges was decided. The results, following a long and storied tradition of climate talks, were disappointing.
There were several ways that governments could have made the Paris treaty binding and enforceable. Most activists first point out the lack of sanctions in the Lima-agreed format. Without direct consequences, they argue, the emission-reduction pledges are nothing more than empty promises. Others, though, think that a sanctions-based approach could be harmful, potentially making countries less ambitious in their pledges. The governments instead opted for a “name-and-shame” approach, in which pledges are enforced by the publicly-released reports of independent researchers.
The more important point seems to be the fact that countries chose not to set any specific requirements for the plans themselves. Developing countries opposed a requirement for standardised metrics that would make pledges directly comparable. Moreover, negotiators could not agree on a fair standard for emissions reduction targets, and chose not to include targets at all. According the a New York Times article, the danger is that “countries can put forth weak plans that amount to little more than business as usual.”
What does this all mean? It means that the success of the Paris conference, and 20 years of negotiations, is dependent on a culture of urgency. It’s dependent on the citizens of these countries standing up and demanding that something be done. In short, it’s on us.
Other interesting perspectives on the conference:
It’s on us in more ways than one. It’s on us, because multinationals driven by quarterly profits aren’t going to ask the governments to act now, even if it’s in their best interests in the long run. It’s on us because our governments so far haven’t had the urgency to take meaningful action. And most importantly, it’s on us because we’re living in the last decade and a half in which we have any hope of slowing climate change. We’re the only ones who can stop it.
We’ve already seen the deadly consequences of climate change, from heat waves to polar vortexes to tropical storms. All were exacerbated by climate change. And we haven’t seen anything yet. We’re still discovering just how bad things could get (1, 2) and realizing that even our most ambitious targets hold danger and uncertainties.
Perhaps more alarming still is the NASA-funded study recently that reminded us that even complex and sophisticated societies can be toppled by the right combination of pressures:
“These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”
While much of the world outside the US has seen a rising middle class over the past few decades, it has largely been due to a series of manufacturing booms, and the advent of non-human labor (automation; see previous post’s video) could easily spell the end of that.
I don’t want to stray into alarmism. It’s important to stay grounded. But the world’s about to change in ways that no person, alive or dead, has ever seen. These are some really big potatoes.
Not only is climate change among the most important issues of our time, but it is absolutely urgent. The world is falling behind the emissions goal we set in 2010 to keeping global temperatures from rising more than 2 °C. In a recent consensus project, scientists warned that “human-caused climate change is happening, we face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes, and responding now will lower the risk and cost of taking action.”
That means you. Now. 2014 was the biggest year yet for the climate movement. People stood up and turned out, and the world’s governments listened. But it wasn’t nearly enough. In this excellent editorial, Renee Lewis tell it like it is: It’s on us. We need to do everything we possibly can, as soon as we can, to make our future on this planet sustainable.
At this time of change, giving, and new resolve, here’s what you can do:
- Donate. Use this link to help me raise $2,500 for 350.org, the vanguard of the climate movement
- Join Global Divestment Day on February. I will never invest in fossil fuels, and you shouldn’t either. Though your investment may seem small and unimportant, it’s like voting. Your vote may not count for much, but together that’s how things are decided. And as Fossil Free points out, this isn’t just a political issue, but a moral one. If it’s wrong to wreck the planet, then it’s wrong to profit from a system that does just that. Learn more here: http://gofossilfree.org/divestment-day/
- Get a household energy audit, learn how you can reduce your carbon footprint (install solar, and hop on your bicycle already!) More info here
- Write letters and make calls, especially in the US. Your representatives may receive campaign funds from the fossil fuel industry, but you are the one that votes, and if your representative knows that you’re a climate voter, it will make a difference. Getting any climate related bill has seemed impossible since we failed to ratify the Kyoto protocol, but we learned in 2014 that our voices can still be heard.
- Going along with that, get out and take action. Find your local 350 group (http://local.350.org/groups/), find out what they’re doing this spring, and get outside. Make a sign, dress up in your church clothes and go get arrested. It’ll be fun.