Global warming and climate change are coming at us faster and with more destructive force than most people realize. They are heading at us like a freight train while we play on the tracks, distracted by our daily wants and needs.
The question before us now is not whether that freight train will hit us, but with what force and effect. It is already clear that no matter what we do, the oceans lapping our shores in 2050 will be 1 ½ - 3 feet higher than today. And the earth’s atmosphere, which is about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer now than in 1880, is very likely to rise another 2 degrees by 2050. We will be experiencing heat waves, hurricanes and the like that will make today’s climate extremes modest by comparison. Unfortunately, we cannot do anything to stop this, and more, from happening.
If you would like to get a clear understanding of the crisis we are facing, please watch the recently released BBC documentary on YouTube entitled Climate Change – The Facts, narrated by Sir David Attenborough. It is balanced, frightening and hopeful at the same time – just as this blog seeks to be.
The good news is that the climate we create after 2050 is entirely in our own hands. We are not victims. We have choice. We have all the technological solutions we need to slow down the train and limit the damage. It is now up to each of us to choose how this story ends. The only thing we lack is the willingness to acknowledge the crisis we are facing and the will to address it head on.
At one level, our inattentiveness is understandable given all the distractions of our daily lives and the fact that it is difficult to see or understand what's coming at us. Our citizens, politicians and business leaders have never encountered a “frog in a slow boiling pan” situation like this before.
Our citizens focus on their own, near-term wants and needs despite their genuine desire to assure a good future for their grandchildren.
Our politicians pander to the near term wants and needs of these same citizens to get elected.
And, while many CEOs are well aware that the train is coming right down the tracks, in the final analysis, their first priority is to satisfy the near-term financial desires of their shareholders.
The net effect is that while we have the solutions we need in our hands, we are not showing the will to do all that is necessary to avoid climate catastrophe. Incremental actions may be politically expedient, but will fail to stop the train in time. Far bolder actions are required.
Does this mean that we are assured of the “Probable Future” laid out in chapter two of In Our Hands? I do not think so.
How, under these conditions, can we get the citizens, the government and businesses in the United States to mobilize, like they all did in the Second World War?
Buckminster Fuller provided us with an answer when he wrote:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes
the old model obsolete.“
At its core, this new model must call for the United States to transition off fossil fuels as fast as humanly possible and replace the jobs lost in the fossil fuels and related industries with jobs in the renewable energy sector. This sector includes solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, tidal, hydrogen, and if necessary, nuclear power. If we don’t get off fossil fuels and create a stable, “green” economy, we will have climate, economic and social chaos by the end of the century on a scale we have never seen before.
We must not accept the argument, which is certain to come, that our current contentious politics make it impossible to get off fossil fuels and move to “green jobs.” We have seen rapid shifts in our politics and in the behavior of our citizens and businesses before. On December 8th, 1941, one day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States mobilized for a war that 90% of its citizens were against entering just two years prior. Four years later, we and our allies had changed the course of history. We can certainly do that again.
So, what will it take to get us to wake up and mobilize now and not wait until we have a catastrophic wake-up call like Pearl Harbor?
My conclusion, to my surprise, is that our best hope now lies in the emerging activism of our children. They know that those in power are not doing nearly enough to avoid global catastrophe. They know that they have everything to lose.
Examples of this youth activism are emerging on a weekly basis all over the world. Sixteen year old Greta Thunberg of Sweden is taking action and speaking truth to power in ways that the established order can no longer ignore. Here are two of her poignant statements:
“We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. […] We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.”
“You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes. [...] We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. […] If solutions within the system are so impossible to find, then, […] we should change the system itself.”
The School Strike For Climate Action movement that Greta inspired already has hundreds of thousands of school children throughout the world staying out of school every Friday to protest. An estimated 1 million across 130 countries have demonstrated over the past twelve months at over 2,000 events worldwide. These actions, coupled with increasing climate disruptions, are major wake up calls that the establishments in democratic countries ignore at their peril.
Just as rebellious and effective is the Extinction Rebellion in Europe. When I was in London recently, thousands of young adults were blocking all sorts of economic activities in protest and getting the attention of government and business leaders.
The youth-led Sunrise Movement in the United States is focused on political activism. Their objective is to stop climate change and create millions of green jobs in the process. They are gaining momentum week by week. The Children’s Trust law suit against the U.S. Government brought by 21 youth between 10 and 21 is also shaking up the establishment. They accuse the government of depriving their generation of the right to life, liberty and property by not addressing global warming.
Since governments are the last movers, these young adults are leading the way. I am doing my best to encourage all elders to support these efforts. The young may feel angry about our failure to act sooner, but in some areas, the generations working together can accomplish much more than they can accomplish on their own. Retired professionals have financial resources, contacts and experience to offer. But it is clear that they must not lead this collaboration. They must be responsive to those in the younger generation who want their help. Elders Climate Action, a program of Elders Action Network, is taking a lead in this movement to inspire intergenerational collaboration and action. They are working to find opportunities for the generations to collaborate on initiatives to solve the climate crisis.
The mobilization of voters of all ages is an important action that individuals can take to bring a new model of the sort described above into being. Voters need to demand of their elected officials in 2020 that they make getting off fossil fuels and creating green new jobs their top priorities, Ask those running for national, state, county and local office what they will do about global warming and climate change. If they suggest that they do not take the crisis seriously, tell them you will do everything in your power to keep them out of office and vote for a candidate that will.
These twin goals of shifting from fossil fuels to renewables and creating green jobs must become national and bi-partisan. The role of the politicians in Congress is to debate and decide how these national goals can most effectively be implemented.
A good place to start would be to end the $26 billion in subsidies currently provided to the fossil fuel industry each year. These funds could then be reallocated to renewable energy solutions and green jobs.
Another good place to start is to use the government’s regulatory powers to encourage all businesses to take the lead in implementing this new model. Businesses need to be nimble and attentive to the demands of their customers, investors and employees. These corporate stakeholders are increasingly telling businesses what they think by who they choose to buy or not buy from, where they want to work, or not work, and where they will invest their capital, or won’t.
The tipping point may arrive far faster than one might expect. The people and organizations fighting against the the fossil fuel industries and their backers are finally winning the climate tug of war. (See previous blog). Already, 21% of is U.S. population are alarmed by global warming while another 30%, (100 million Americans), say they are “concerned.” With the momentum we now have, we will soon reach that “tipping point” when global warming and climate change become the main topic of conversation and action in the United States, including who one votes for.
This blog has been focused on the United States, for if we continue to drag our feet on this issue, humanity will remember us as the country that failed to act when the imminent threat of global warming and climate change was clear. History will remember the United States as the nation whose inaction at this point in our evolutionary path, led to global collapse for the sake of near term political and financial gain.
Let this crisis be an opportunity, not to grasp at what we're losing, but to create something new, something more meaningful. Few in the history of the world can say they were part of a greater quest on behalf of the human race.