Tracing the Implications of Things

            Some lessons to be learned from this story

Global Climate Change

The story of global climate change was updated in the summer of 2009.  Yet even in the short period since then, our understanding of climate change science and politics has evolved.  The science reports almost weekly new evidence confirming the reality and consequences of climate change — glaciers melting faster than predicted even a year ago, rainforests disappearing daily, ………..

The politics continues to move quickly, in different directions.  In 2008 the European Union (EU) was moving forward with a cap-and-trade program to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the Bush administration in the United States (US) undermined any serious efforts to address GHG emissions, China and India were manufacturing and exporting at ever greater levels with little acknowledgement of their role in global climate conditions.  Others — Russia, Australia, Brazil, Canada — took varying positions depending on who was in political control at any given moment.

At the beginning of 2009, a sea change seemed to occur.  Barack Obama succeeded George w. Bush, Australia seemed to be joining the global efforts to control GHGs, the EU Kyoto targets seemed within reach (in part due to the falloff in economic activity, and energy usage, because of the world-wide recession), and China and India were making noises as if they recognized the risks of global climate change.  Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth reach broader and broader audiences and the UN Intergovernmental  Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was awarded the nobel Peace Prize.  Things were looking up.

By the end of 2009, things were looking down again.   The climate deniers and skeptics, many funded and otherwise supported by fossil fuel industries and reactionary political groups,were everywhere and they were loud.  The world-wide recession was showing signs of a recovery, or at least a leveling off, but job losses continued to grow.  People everywhere were a lot more concerned about their mortgages and jobs in the here-and-now than some climate changes that would affect their children or foreigners 50 to 100 years from now, and in uncertain ways.  All the nations and political figures were posturing in preparation for the critical negotiation at the IPCC meeting in Copenhagen in December.  Few nations were willing to make binding commitments for GHG reductions.

What happened in Copnehagen?  Presdient Obama had little concrete to offer, except hope and he was running short on that.  China and India flexed their new-found economic and political muscles.  China indicated that it would reduce its GHG emission as a percentage of economic growth (much as the Bush administration touted) but by all accounts it seemed unwilling to even allow the developed countries to commit to specific GHG emission reductions over a period of decades, assumedly because it knew it would soon be one of the developed countries.  Indeed, the distinction between developed and developing economies got lost, as did the interests of many of the low-lying island countries.

Not much was accomplished at Copenhagen.  A small group of nations — United States, China, India, Brazil and South Africa — cobbled together, at the last minute, an agreement called the Copenhagen Accord.  The hundreds of other countries engaged for years in the negotiations were left out in the Copenhagen cold.   The Accord simply acknowledged the scientific basis for climate change, agreed to try to hold any increase in global temperature below 2º Celsius, promised to provide some specific targets for GHG emissions by January 31, 2010, and promised to raise substantial funds to support adaptation by developing countries to the effects of climate change.  The Accord lacked binding commitments.

Blame was quick and easy.  Many blamed Obama for not putting anything of substance on the table.  Many blamed China for stonewalling.  Many blamed the whole UN IFCC negotiation process as antiquated and unworkable.  The EU, which had taken a lead on concrete actions, was marginalized.

After Copenhagen many were left frustrated and asking, what do we do now?  We can’t ignore the need for global agreements and the difficult, complicated negotiations that go with them.  It is, after all, global climate change and what happens in one ecosystem, and economic regime, reverberates in many other places across the earth.  Whether the cumbersome IPCC process will be used or whether a smaller group of countries, as in the Copenhagen Accord, will lead the way remains to be seen.  If a smaller group of countries emerge as the main forum, analogous to the Security Council within the United Nations, then the threat is that the smaller, developing countries,  especially those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, will be left out of the process that determines whether they survive or not.

While nations sort out how to proceed on the global scale, the rest of us cannot wait around doing nothing. In the stories in this book, we learned that ordinary citizens fought to protect their families and their environment against the forces that continually attempt to abuse our natural resources for personal gain. Citizen activism is needed more than ever.   Parens patriae is an interesting notion — the leaders of a government act as the parents for the citizens, the children — but it is finally not useful.  We are our own parents, and our own children.  We need to take personal responsibility for what happens to us in the political arena.  With the specter of climate change hanging over us, and our children, we need to act now: reduce energy use, cut down on fossil fuel consumption, insulate our homes.  And demand that our politicians, local, regional and national, do the same.

Ultimately, the two tracks — global and local — have to merge.  As more and more individual citizens take responsibility and action, they will demand their elected officials do the same.  The more voters demand action from politicians, the more elected officials will do.

We are all in it together and we are all vulnerable on this Borrowed Earth.


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