COP16 May Fail to Stop Climate Change, But An Abolitionist Shift Would Succeed

system change ahead photo

photo: Jason McHuff/Creative Commons

For months now, indeed for nearly all of 2010, the hopes for a global climate deal coming out of COP16, now underway in Cancun, Mexico, have been downplayed again and again. In fact, on the second day of talks Marc Gunther over at GreenBiz produced a list of 10 reasons why the talks will fail. The list is pretty good (and I won't summarize it, they being mostly the usual suspects), but it's part of Gunther's conclusion that really grabs me: Talking about what we can do to actually fight climate change and create the conditions so future talks don't also fail, Gunther casts a wide net--geoengineering (as "an approach the could buy us more time to figure out how to get off fossil fuels"), voluntary national emission reductions ("countries aren't sitting on the sidelines waiting for a treaty"), technological change that can "out-compete coal or natural gas as a source of electricity..."

And then there's what I have consistently said is really the overriding solution, that informs every other one but all too often gets sidelined as it's just not as shiny as technological changes (the emphasis is the following quote is mine):

...we can try to transform the political and cultural climate by finding new ways to organize around the climate issue. Here we can learn from history--I'm thinking in particular of the anti-slavery movement, arguably the first and greatest global citizens movement of all time, which is chronicled in a fabulous book called Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild. Imagine a grass-roots, networked, distributed, moral-religious crusade against climate destruction...

Now, were certainly starting to see that grassroots movement around climate build, both in the run-up to COP15 in 2009 and throughout 2010, but frankly it just hasn't yet gotten to the levels required, both in breadth of support and depth of message.

Gunther is 100% right on in referencing the anti-slavery abolitionist movement. Despite peak oil (just passed for conventional sources according to the IEA) and peak coal (perhaps, at least prices may start climbing sooner than thought), and ongoing technological improvement (breakthrough is really an all too often overused word) of renewable energy bringing costs down, the fact of the matter is that there will still be enough coal and natural gas available for long enough to do in our familiar climate, create havoc with human civilization, and profoundly alter favorable conditions for life on this planet.

What is needed is an abolitionist movement around fossil fuels and unfettered environmental destruction (what lawyer Polly Higgins campaigns for to be the recognized crime of ecocide). We need to make it as unthinkable to unsustainably pollute, despoil, and consume the environment as it is to advocate for human bondage.

Until that is done, until the fundamental relationship between humans and the rest of the inhabitants on this planet (human, non-human, plant and animal) is changed, the same sorts of environmental problems that have risen to prominence in the past 60 years will continue in one form or another.

Which is why Gunther's use of 'moral-religious' also rings particularly true for me. Though it may not be fashionable in parts of the green community to say this openly, until we create a sense of sacredness and spiritualness in our relationship with all of creation, real lasting pro-environment changes will not happen.

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More on Global Climate Change:
Royal Society Paints Grim Picture of 4°C Temperature Rise
Climate Change, Like Slavery, Needs a True Cultural Shift to Stop It
India's First Environmental Tribunal Opens - 'Anyone & Everyone' Can Brings Cases Before It

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