Note to the Obama Administration: Let's Get Past the Stock Talking Points and Have Some More Passion... Like Prince Charles
Prince Charles speaking at the launch of the Rainforest SOS campaign. Photo: Princeofwales.gov.uk
For we mere mortals who haven't received a Nobel Prize, the convening of the Nobel Laureates Symposium on Climate Change at St James's Palace, London probably didn't even register as something that existed. But the occasion was used by Energy Secretary Stephen Chu to get an opinion piece in The Times of London and for Prince Charles to give a speech at the event itself.
The reason I bring this up is because the tone of the two pieces is so different: While the Prince delivers something from his heart, Secretary Chu delivers what might as well be PowerPoint notes:Here's a representative excerpt from Chu's piece:
Stock Talking Points A-Z
Under Mr. Obama, America is embracing a leadership role in addressing the world's energy and climate change problems. At home, we are committed to reducing our carbon emissions by more than 80 per cent by 2050, and a key committee in the US Congress passed a Bill last week to do just that. Abroad, the United States has pledged to do its part to ensure a successful outcome when the world meets in Copenhagen later this year.
To achieve our carbon reduction goals, the world will need both to reduce the demand for energy and increase the supply of energy from clean and renewable sources. The good news is that there are enormous opportunities for progress on both sides of that energy equation.
The quickest and easiest way to reduce our carbon footprint is through energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is not just low-hanging fruit; it is fruit that is lying on the ground.
In the end Chu calls on scientists to "step up and do our part in this great effort" to prevent climate change. Which is odd, if only because it's really not scientists that have a problem stepping up to the challenge, but politicians and policy-makers who continually bow to the go slow attitude of polluting industry. But enough negativity...
We Must Tackle the Structural Economic Issues Leading to Ecological Degradation
Compare Chu's remarks to these passages from Prince Charles, where he really cuts to core of why we should be acting to stop deforestation, combat climate change and build a more just future:
The second dimension which I hope you might address is the bigger picture of human interactions with Nature. This is obviously an immense subject, but whilst climate change is undoubtedly the greatest challenge of our age, it is far from being the only global ecological challenge we face. It has been described as a "threat multiplier" and in large part the threats that it multiplies are those which arise from our wilful destruction of the ecosystems that provide the essential ecological services on which we all ultimately depend. For what it is worth, I doubt if we can effectively tackle climate change without first ensuring that those ecosystem functions and services are protected. As you again know far better than I, those services are all inter-related. They depend upon a vast array of interactions between different forms of life, the way in which energy flows and the many ways in which Nature recycles waste. We have been taking them for granted for far too long and, as a consequence, many are under intolerable strain.
â€¨â€¨In our human-centred world, with its emphasis on economics, and following decades of apparently unending material 'progress', it has become all too easy for us to believe that we can continue to take what we wish from natural systems on the assumption that somehow they will indefinitely replenish themselves. Unfortunately, as we are discovering, in the real world it doesn't quite work like that. The dictum, so beloved of economists, of 'ceterus paribus', or 'all things being equal', is regrettably a thing of the past as, from now on, they aren't and may not be again. Climate Change has fractured that essential equilibrium.
After talking for some time about the need to preserve forests, and the motivation behind The Prince's Rainforests Project, he concludes by saying,
That is why it seems to me that the opportunity we have for saving the forests could be a powerful example of the kind of vision we should embrace for the future — in which economic development, improving people's lives and saving the natural capital and ecosystem services on which we all depend go hand-in-hand, rather than being seen as choices. And in this regard, I know there are many wonderfully innovative, appropriate and beneficial projects being carried out around the world by voluntary organizations, charities and N.G.O.'s that demonstrate such an integrated approach. What it needs, if you will forgive me for saying so, is for these erstwhile "alternative" projects to become more mainstream, thereby creating a genuinely human, community-based form of globalization — "from the bottom up", if you like, — rather than the current model which is increasingly unfit for purpose and too often contributes to the destruction of many people's cultures and identity, as well as going against the very grain of their existence.
â€¨â€¨I fear that our grandchildren will not care very much about whether in these early decades of the Twenty-First Century we managed to sustain Twentieth Century-style economic growth. What they will be far more concerned about, I suspect, is the state of the Earth's climate; about whether there is sufficient food and water; about the security measures and economic resources needed to cope with millions of environmental refugees. That, in turn, will require a different, more holistic way of looking at economic growth. We will need to see the emergence of a genuinely sustainable economy. An economy that not only takes care of both people and planet, but also breaks the conventional mould in terms of how we look at the world. And we will need to develop a form of globalization that empowers local communities and local cultures, with all their accumulated wisdom, to maintain their own environments. Enabling these things to occur seems to me to be not only our most urgent priority, but also our greatest opportunity.
I Want More From the Obama Administration
The prime reason I make this comparison is my growing concern that the rhetoric coming out of the Obama administration is starting to sound disturbingly like rehashed talking points. I don't doubt the commitment, but I'm simply not seeing the passion and deeper level of commitment expressed publicly.
Perhaps the Prince can say things that Chu or Obama can't, fair enough. And maybe I'm wishing for US politicians to say things that politicians anywhere simply can't. But every once is a while I'd like to hear less of point one: green jobs, point two: dependence on foreign oil, point three: low hanging fruit, and more of frank talk about the utter lack of sustainability embodied in the fetishization of 20th century-style economic growth.
Read the full text of both pieces: Prince Charles' speech, Stephen Chu's opinion piece
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