It's been a whirlwind Climate Week to be sure. Between public grassroots events, the UN Summit on Climate Change, film openings, and demonstrations there certainly was a lot of activity. But did anything tangible come out of it? Have national positions really moved closer to what science says is required to keep global average temperature rise below 2°C? It doesn't seem so, and in some ways the entire week felt like a gigantic exercise in expectation management:Crossed Arms, Legitimate Constraints & Fidgeting Phone Use
The exercise began at the opening ceremony, where body language seemed to reveal the subtext of the speeches: From Tony Blair's nonchalance and statements on how establishing a path was more important that specific targets, to Todd Stern's crossed arms and not-so-thinly veiled reference to "legitimate constraints" in US politics, to India's environment minister seemingly frustrated by it all, at times resting his head on his hands or fiddling with his Blackberry, all with an air of 'nothing important is going to happen here', what wasn't verbalized was as important as what was.
Everyone clearly thought climate change was important and was on board with coming up with a solution, but no one, at least at this forum, wanted to go out on a limb and stake out an strong or at the least bit adversarial position.
National Leaders' Unambitious Statements...
This all really continued on to the UN discussions and statements themselves. Keeping in mind that there were some notable exceptions -- Sweden's prime minister calling for 25-40% reductions from developed nations, the Maldives president basically accusing the developed world of trotting them out like a climate change show-pony twice a year and then ignoring their plight for the rest of the time, Japan's new prime minister committing to bring about 25% domestic reductions -- the statements made by national leaders were largely absent of truly strong details.
A Low Bar Allows for Easy Success
The next day, when I spoke with Dr Rajendra Pachauri of the IPCC, he thought that everyone is still playing their cards close to their chest and that we could still see some strong emission targets come out of Copenhagen. I hope he's right.
Perhaps scientifically acceptable compromise can be reached, but the bar seemed to be deliberately be set low -- if the worst happens and no reputable targets are established then that's what we expected beforehand; if everyone (finally) puts the interest of humanity as a whole over interests of nationality and strong targets are set, then, well, 'what a success; the international process works.'
Negotiations Are Important, But It's the Human Impact That Matters
But what this all really comes down to -- if there was any doubt of this in my mind before this week, it's been erased entirely -- is the impact of climate change on our fellow humans. We in the green community have tried presenting the stats, the facts, the percentages and we're still not where we need to be in terms of science-based action to protect our changing planet.
We absolutely need to bring the stories of human impact to the fore. When you are sitting in a room with someone who personally is having to move to higher ground because of rising sea level (such as Ursula Rakova from the Carteret Islands) or whose family members are will personally have to evacuate as flooding devastates their homes (such as members of the Bangladesh Environment Network), the situation is right there in front of you. The effects of climate change are living, breathing, pleading, at arms length. Unless you are an automaton you cannot help but get fired up and help in whatever way you can.
The Grassroots Movement Must Now Lead
And if words from both the Ivory Tower and the frontlines of this battle are any indication -- at times both Rajendra Pachauri and TckTckTck chair Kumi Naidoo seemed to be reading from the same script -- the best way you can all help is getting out there and building grassroots momentum, both in the weeks leading up to the COP15 talks in Copenhagen, and continuing in the weeks, months and years afterwards.
As 350.org's Bill McKibben said in conference call Thursday morning,
What we need to fundamentally realize is that this is a debate between human beings, on the one hand, and physics and chemistry on the other.
We have a pretty good idea of what physics and chemistry demand if we want a planet similar to the one on which we now exist. They're unlikely, physics and chemistry, to compromise very much. That's why we need a clarion call in the direction of the science.
We collectively need to demand that there is no acceptable response to climate change other than strong emission reductions, ensuring that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are returned to 350ppm levels, global temperature rise is kept (at the maximum) 2°C and, even better, 1.5°C -- to do that, as was emphasized on numerous occasions, we need a F.A.B. climate deal: Fair, Ambitious, and (perhaps most importantly) Binding.
Only in that way can we truly build a world that is more just, more sustainable, more green and, most importantly, as habitable in 2100 as it was in preceding centuries.
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