World leaders have gathered in Paris to hold critical talks on the issue of climate change and the trillion-dollar question, “What to do?”
Heads of 147 state and government — including the leaders of the world worst polluters, such as the U.S. and China — arrived for the conference along with members of the private sector, labor groups, members of the scientific community, indigenous leaders, and environmental activists…
The two weeks of COP21 negotiations are aimed at cementing a deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The U.N. says the world is on track for 3 degrees C warming by 2100 if no action is taken, and scientists warned this month that the Earth was already halfway to that critical threshold at 1 degree C warmer than pre–Industrial Revolution temperatures.
Speaking in Paris, Obama said that the U.S. accepted its responsibility to help limit global warming.
“As the leader of the world’s largest economy and the second largest emitter … the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it,” Obama said.
We recognize our role and embrace our responsibility, sounds pretty reasonable, no? No way, that right thar is enviro-whacko alarmism at its worst, or something. I don’t know. I’m not the guy to ask. Turn on Fox News; they’ll tell you.
Meanwhile, it seems like every glossy and fishwrap in the country today has some “big think” angle on the Paris conference from some guy with pleats in his pants “questioning the science” of climate change.
They dig though the weeds on thresholds, the difference between 1.5 degrees Celsius and 4.5, the meaning of consensus, and what happens when we go down the “climate change rabbit hole.” They hem. They haw. Mostly, they piddle about with meaningless excuses for not manifesting meaningful change.
My view on this question is simple: If we want human civilization to survive and thrive on Spaceship Earth we must apply our extraordinary brains, our unparalleled ingenuity, our astonishing knack for accomplishing engineering miracles, and find a way to live in sustainable harmony with nature on this planet.
This should’ve been done yesterday. We have no time to waste. It really is not too much to say that millions of lives are at stake—in the long run, probably hundreds of millions. And solving the energy question is the only way to propel human civilization toward a future of boundless potential.
We must become like George Hanson’s Venusians, despite the shock to our antiquated systems. A whole new way of looking at the day. Sure could use that. Sure could use a little of that.
But I’m pantheistic, so this is kind of common sense to me. The native peoples of our lands had some tremendous proverbs on the subject: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children,” “What befalls the earth, befalls all the sons and the daughters of the earth.” “The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth.”
The thing is, it’s not so much about “saving the planet” as it is about saving our ability to continue to exist on the planet, at least, in any way resembling the way and the extent to which we do now. To paraphrase George Carlin, “The Earth will be fine. The people are fk’d.”
Also to paraphrase Carlin, “there’s a big club, and you’re not in it. You and I are not in the big club.”
I’m sure those who are in the “big club” have a plan for themselves. So call me sentimental if you must, but I’d like a plan for the rest of us, and I’d like to see it start to take shape in Paris.
Already we are seeing thousands of people die on this planet every year from the effects of climate change in the form of floods, drought and wildfires. The same things that historically kill off large swaths of the population will continue to do so: Natural disasters, disease, war and famine, and climate change will exacerbate all of them. It already is.
So then, indeed, what to do?
The Atlantic recently published an interview with Bill Gates, who is in the “big club,” but also has some big ideas.
This article became a starting gun for all sorts of howls about capitalism v. socialism, much to my chagrin because those howls missed the point entirely, and a great opportunity for a much deeper—dare I say intellectual and adult—conversation.
Here are the real key lines:
“Gates is on a solo global lobbying campaign to press his species to accomplish something on a scale it has never attempted before. He wants human beings to invent their way out of the coming collision with planetary climate change, accelerating a transition to new forms of energy that might normally take a century or more…
Gates thinks that our best chance is to vault over natural gas to a globally applicable, carbon-free source of energy is to drive innovation ‘at an unnaturally high pace.’”
Now that’s throwing down the gauntlet in a way only comparable to the race to the moon but drastically more impactful.
Gates is now in Paris to launch an “Energy Innovation Fund,” a first step in this massive undertaking.
The science historian James Burke talks about how we have more brain power and educated minds alive today than all of ever before in human history.
Is that brain power strong enough, with total commitment and investment, to bridge a century’s worth of energy research and development in, say, a decade, to save the planet as we know it? To save civilization as we know it?
Shall we dream, work together, innovate, and transform our world as a global community?
Perhaps not. There are plenty of moneyed interests to work against it. But it’s a helluva lot more interesting an intellectual quandary than the tired old schtick being played out in the usual dreary places about whether the problem is really real. It’s time to move well beyond that.
D.C. DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He is the Associate Editor of The Athens NEWS in Athens, Ohio. DeWitt can be found on Facebook and Twitter @DC_DeWitt.