The United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP21, is to be held in Paris in December 2015. That’s where we (humanity) will try to adopt a legally binding agreement to keep global temperature increase below 2°C. (Many climate scientists believe even 2°C is too high.) If this conference doesn’t work, and we fail to start the serious work to get greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions down by 2020, what will accomplish that? Business as usual? The invisible hand? Denial? Despair? Irrational exuberance? Magical thinking? Alien or super-person intervention?
Many believe that climate talks are a dead end; that grassroots efforts are needed instead. Their efforts make sense in an emotional sense (we have to do something). But I cannot think of anything other than a worldwide binding agreement that would actually manage to bring down an entire planet’s atmospheric concentration of GHGs to a sustainable level. Proof of this are the myriad efforts around the world to green our economy and reduce emissions that are working, but not quickly enough. We are already passing the point where the lower emission scenarios (where, for example New York’s climate resembles Virginia’s) will no longer be viable, just the higher ones (where New York’s climate resembles Florida).
“With negotiations on ice, temperatures outside and the levels of carbon dioxide, the main cause of climate change, are on an upward trajectory. A recent report from the UN’s IPCC climate science panel said CO2 emissions need to be halved by 2050 to have a chance of avoiding temperature rises of 2-4C by 2100.” (May 8, 2014) Responding to Climate Change
There are many reasons why the Paris climate talks will probably fail. We’ve failed twenty times already. One reason is high-profile and influential Climate Change deniers like Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, who even ‘scoffs’ at our military worrying themselves about warming:
Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and a vocal skeptic of the established science that greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming, scoffed at the idea that climate change is linked to national security threats. “There is no one in more pursuit of publicity than a retired military officer,” he said of the report’s authors. “I look back wistfully at the days of the Cold War. Now you have people who are mentally imbalanced, with the ability to deploy a nuclear weapon. For anyone to say that any type of global warming is anywhere close to the threat that we have with crazy people running around with nuclear weapons, it shows how desperate they are to get the public to buy this.” Climate Change Deemed Growing Security Threat by Military Researchers (May 13, 2014) New York Times
Deniers like Inhofe have become so straight-jacketed and invested in their ideology that they find it appropriate to impugn the character of those we have trusted to lead others into battle: “There is no one in more pursuit of publicity than a retired military officer.” Really, retired military leaders are ranting about the dangers of Climate Change so they can go on TV?
We understand that Sen. Inhofe and his compatriots have committed themselves to their denial zealotry such that they cannot admit they are wrong. We must ask ourselves at what point will they be held accountable for their actions to thwart the rest of us in addressing Climate Change?
Yet there’s reason to believe that this time around climate talks might work. For example, there are signs that pre-Paris negotiations between the US and China are going on so that some of the biggest players are making critical agreements on lowering GHG emissions. That’s hopeful; China and the US are pivotal to a successful treaty. And President Obama’s campaign to leverage the National Climate Assessment to convey the urgency of addressing Climate Change might gain him the political capital to make significant contributions to the Paris talks. (BTW: President Obama will need your support if this strategy is to work.)
So sure, there are hopeful signs. But hope is not enough. It’s climate talk agreements (actually implemented) or mass delusionalism while we boil. I know, the rich think there’s wiggle room because they can air condition themselves out of this.
However we manage to set our priorities—making a living, raising a family, serving our country, teaching others, finding meaning—we as a species are going to have to include solving this worldwide crisis or none of our other priorities will matter. The specter of a world too warm to thrive is upon us. A future that we have always assumed, that others will survive our own personal death (“the collective afterlife”), so integral to our existence that we probably never think of it, may be in jeopardy.
Quite astonishingly this ‘collective afterlife’ is probably the faith we all share. All of us—regardless of our religious faith or lack thereof. We believe that what we do and think will somehow matter in the end; but that cannot happen if no one is around.