Is Convenient Political Realism Dooming Decent Climate Change Action?

COP16 head in sand demonstration photo

photo: The Sierra Club/Creative Commons

Bolivia has caught a lot of flak for consistently playing the fool during the COP16 climate negotiations (and during COP15 before that), speaking uncomfortable truths to those holding more power in the international arena. Bolivia's ambassador to the UN has just had an opinion piece published in The Guardian explaining why it's acted the way it has. One particular passage is really worth taking to heart:

Some claim the best thing is to be realistic and recognize that at the very least the agreement saved the UN process from collapse.

Unfortunately, a convenient realism has become all that powerful nations are willing to offer, while they ignore scientists' exhortations to act radically now. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that in order to have a 50% chance of keeping the rise in temperature below 1.5C, emissions must peak at 2015. The attempt in Cancún to delay critical decisions until next year could have catastrophic consequences.

It's that phrase 'convenient realism' that strikes a chord with me, being applicable (as something to always beware of) to so much of our discussions about environmental issues and the transition towards a more socioecologically sustainable future.

Let's make no mistake, we can't just overnight or even five year's time transform environmentally polluting power generation, transportation and civic infrastructure, and manufacturing into green ones. But at the same time it's not just polluting industry lobbyists but environmentalists who succumb to 'realistic' goal setting and measures of progress--the utter lack of progress on both enacting domestic and international climate change policy that even comes close to meeting scientific guidelines is illustrative of this.

We pat ourselves on the back for incremental steps too strongly (some back patting is in order for not letting the UN process to continue falling into disarray, it's true) failing to recognize that those conveniently, realistically, miniscule steps will not get us quickly enough to a place where temperature rise is kept sufficiently in check to avoid disaster. The same can be said for biodiversity loss, resource overconsumption, unsustainable water use, et cetera.

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More on Global Climate Change:
Copenhagen Accord Commitments Mean 4.2°C Temperature Rise & No More Coral Reefs by 2100
COP16: Cancun - Corporate and Complicit
Bolivia's President: "Capitalism Dies or Earth Dies"

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