Saturday, July 8, 2017

Is There Any Hope for the Climate Future?

As I have previously written (see the Real Ecology Manifesto at this permalink), I believe that there is no hope for the world to avoid climate catastrophe, from which the human species will survive, but human societies will not; and from which the Earth, even though minus many of its species, will recover. Nevertheless, I also believe that we need to live in such a way that, as individuals, we do the best work we can at avoiding this catastrophe. That is, even if there is no hope, we can feel that we have lived in the right way (and we can stand before God, if there is one, in the knowledge that we have done the best we could).

We cannot do this if we know our actions to be utterly futile. But what if I am wrong, and there is hope? Or, what if the good things we do will reduce the intensity of the inevitable catastrophe? What we need is some good news, even if the news is not good enough for us to be fully optimistic. But this news has to be factual, not just a fleeting hope.

The Citizens’ Climate Lobby (which consists of citizens who want to effect federal-level policies that will reduce the risk of climate catastrophe, and who know that the apostrophe belongs at the end of the word citizens’) had an online national meeting today, in which Drew Jones, the co-founder of Climate Interactive, gave us some reasons to be optimistic. I happen to believe these reasons are not good enough, but they are verifiably true. I hope that I am wrong in my cynicism, and if I am, these will be the reasons. Here are some of them.

  • While Trump has pulled America out of the international climate accords, many cities and states have declared their intention to follow the Paris guidelines. More than half of Americans live in cities or states (or both) that have declared their willingness to cooperate with the rest of the people in the world by reducing carbon emissions.
  • World carbon emissions have actually stabilized in the last three years, after decades of not only increasing but accelerating. In 2013, global carbon emissions increased by 2.0 percent over 2012; by 1.1 percent in 2014 over 2013; and actually decreased by 0.1 percent in 2015, compared to 2014, in a report prepared by the Netherlands for the European Union. It is not enough to just stop increasing our carbon emissions, but this leveling-off of carbon emissions has happened seldom since records have been kept. Meanwhile, global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels (not the same thing as carbon emissions) continue to increase, from 405 ppm in 2015, to 409 ppm in 2016, to 413 ppm in April of this year.
  • As of today, the Climate Solutions caucus in the U. S. Congress, in which members of both parties agree to do something to reduce carbon emissions, has 24 Democratic and 24 Republican members. (Anyone who joins needs to partner with a member of the other party.) Of course, these few Republicans are easily ignored by the leadership of their party. (John Huntsman said “Call me crazy, but I believe what the scientists say about evolution and global warming.” Guess what. His party called him crazy!) But at least a few responsible Republicans exist!
  • China’s use of coal has declined slightly.
  • The Paris Agreement still has 194 signatories even after the United States has pulled out.
  • Perhaps the most important point is that long-term social change looks impossible until it happens. For example, state bans on interracial marriage seemed like they would never be lifted until the 1967 Loving v. Virginia case, in which the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision that interracial marriage must be permitted. If you were a black person in South Africa in 1985, it might have seemed that apartheid would never end, but within a decade it ended. A social consensus that we must do something about global climate change is building, and could quickly become the norm. As Gandhi said, “First they will laugh at you then they will ignore you then they will fight you then you will win.”

I must point out, though, that social change doesn’t always work. As explained by Peter Watson in The Great Divide, a quixotic attempt to summarize all of world prehistory and history, human sacrifice used to be the norm in all known prehistoric societies. In the Old World, in separate locations, human sacrifice was replaced by animal sacrifice and finally by the elimination of physical sacrifice, as religious awareness grew. In the New World, however, human sacrifice grew at a dizzying pace, so that the Aztecs carried out entire wars just to get sacrificial victims; they captured tens of thousands of victims each year, cut their hearts out, threw the hearts in a bowl, tumbled the bodies down the pyramid steps, and made stew out of the bodies. There was a brief attempt by one Mayan leader, Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl, starting about 968 CE, to bring the vicious cycle of human sacrifice to an end. But he failed. Human sacrifice ended only with the conquest of the Aztecs by the equally brutal Spaniards—brutal, but at least they didn’t carry out human sacrifice.

I will add one of my own to Drew’s list. The other major economies of the world recognize that Trump’s refusal to cooperate on climate issues makes America an outsider. Some of the G20 nations now refer to the group as the G19 + 1. It is possible that international pressure will make enough people rethink their position and at least cooperate with the rest of the leading nations of the world. This is extremely unlikely; I think America will cooperate with the rest of the world only if forced to do so. But, again, I hope I am wrong.

What will NOT happen is that Christian Americans will suddenly feel the Spirit of God calling them to show love to their fellow humans and to God’s Creation by preventing climate catastrophe. Some Christian Americans feel this way; most do not, and are in fact furious at their fellow Christians who do. To wait for this to happen would be like waiting for a decomposing bone to turn back into a cow.

Join with me in trying to make the world a better place for everyone, even if this effort fails, and just in case it succeeds!

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