Sunday, August 30, 2015

COP21 Paris isn’t the end of anything, whether it is successful or fails miserably

While Rochester worries that our gasoline prices may not drop nearly as low as nearby communities, we should be mindful of the particular teapot in which this gas price-tempest is occurring. Our addiction to fossil fuel is wreaking bloody havoc on our climate. (And, if you noticed the 1,000 point drop at the stock market this week, our addiction will increasing cause mayhem on our finances and investments too. See: “Oil means turmoil as world’s markets nosedive”.) Accordingly, the backdrop for our local obsession for more fossil fuel burning is a world burning up. A world that is desperately trying to bring down greenhouse gas levels before the window of opportunity closes under the framework of the COP21 Paris 2015.  

(COP21/CMP11), otherwise known as “Paris 2015” from November 30th to December 11th. COP21 will be a crucial conference, as it needs to achieve a new international agreement on the climate, applicable to all countries, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C. (WHAT IS COP21/CMP11?)

Instead of obsessing over artificially low gasoline prices, Rochester should be more engaged with this worldwide movement towards a more sustainable world. There are few hopeful signs, but here’s one. Next month, we hope to see a debate between local candidates on green jobs for green energy:  

Building an Economy for Climate Stability: Candidate Forum 2015 | Click here to register! Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC) and League of Women Voters are excited to bring climate change into the conversation at area elections, as we cosponsor a Candidate Forum on green jobs and a sustainable economy. Building an Economy for Climate Stability: Candidate Forum 2015 will be an opportunity for those running for public office within Monroe County to present their vision on a greening economy. The event is free and open to the public. Wednesday, September 16 7:00-9:00 PM at the Harley School, 1981 Clover Street (from Rochester People's Climate Coalition.)

However, there should also be debates and media attention on how our local candidates will lead on adapting to Climate Change. We will have to adapt to the consequences of Climate Change in our region, and the buck stops at our leaders’ offices. When our waters rise and overwhelm our waste water systems, our leaders will be held accountable (just as officials were blamed recently when a sewage spill closed Honolulu's Waikiki Beach). When a climate disaster like Hurricane Katrina strikes again, our leaders won’t be able to use the perfect-storm excuse, where many catastrophes are triggered at once. This is because the invocation of Murphy’s Law will be more likely to accompany more weather-related disruptions as Climate Change gets worse. Our leaders must make sure we adapt, and we must make sure they connect the dots so we aren’t overwhelmed when the shit hits the fan. 

We are hard-wired to adapt—even climate deniers. When a fire gets too close, we quickly back away. The tragedy of Climate Change is that we have to start backing away from a fire that is coming much slower than our senses have evolved to detect. That’s why we must plan now, not when the next climate disaster leaves our leaders groping for excuses and us without a future.

Next door in Buffalo, the “Rise Up for Climate Justice! Rally at Niagara Square on September 24“ will help spread the message Pope Francis gives to Congress about the need to make Paris a success. Paris comes at the end of a long line—United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (1972) , Brundtland Commission (1983-1987), United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) Earth Summit Rio de Janerio (1992), Kyoto Protocol (2008), Copenhagen Summit (2009) (just to name a few as there were many more)—of attempts to right humanity’s course for sustainability.

This Conference of Parties (COP) in Paris is trying to solve Climate Change on a level of human action that cannot be achieved individually nor separately by nations. Individual actions won’t be enough. Ad hoc national efforts will likely step on each other’s efforts by giving priorities to local concerns instead of the world’s ecosystems. Yes, past attempts to direct humanity’s efforts towards a more sustainable environment have floundered, but it would be truly insane to conclude that therefore we should leave our fate to market forces (which have historically treated our environment as an externality).

This doesn’t mean there aren’t any viable options; it means we need to readjust our priorities and fix our attention on our life support systems—instead of forcing our desires and beliefs into what sustainability means before we even understand the full implications of Climate Change. It means that while we may not be able to predict the outcomes of our climate actions in a world that has already been greatly disturbed by our past developmental abuses, we can and should change course towards sustainability—betting on our penchant for problem solving.  

Climate Change is happening. It is caused by humanity. It is not hopeless. It is in fact an incredible opportunity.

Paris isn’t the end of anything, whether it is successful or fails miserably. It will be but a point on a continuum towards our absolutely compelling need to adapt. If we fail at Paris in the sense that nations give up trying to work together (as the world did with the League of Nations after World War I), we will eventually be back at the table, much as we did when we began the United Nations. The horrors of World War II cleared a lot of doubt about the need to work together on global problems. 

If Paris succeeds beyond our wildest dreams by creating a binding agreement to keep global warming at 2C, provides a monitoring system to track each nation’s emissions efforts, and adequately compensates the poor countries so they can thrive without destroying their resources, this success would only bring us a little closer to the Holy Grail. We would still have a long way to go for a sustainable world. We still have to adapt to the warming already baked into our atmosphere and oceans. Sea level rise, droughts, destruction of our food producing regions, the loss of biodiversity, pollution, public health issues, and the conflicts resulting from a world in disruption will all have to be dealt with—probably simultaneously. 

But a successful Paris framework, sooner rather than later, where we work together on the same desire for a sustainable future, will increase the likelihood of our survival. That ain’t nothing.
Locally, if we can move our attention from getting cheap gas to our full engagement with this worldwide crisis, we here in Rochester can be a part of the solution.

Time passes.

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