Thursday, February 3, 2022

The Context of Politics

The general consensus, regardless of which source of news is your channel of choice, is that we are as a nation severely divided. Not only divided but divided in a way that seems to be unmovable.  The more we try to unite, and those attempts are becoming less and less frequent and made with a growing sense of futility, the more we see to stay apart.

Democrats vs. Republicans, Liberals vs. Conservatives, Constitutionalists vs. Authoritarians, Right vs. Left, Blue vs. Red, even divisions among the camps themselves - Progressive vs. Moderate Democrats. Even bipartisanship, the holy grail of idealized "working together" brings at its best the chance for US to "get along" with THEM.

What's missed in the mix of all this is what is at the core, underlying everything and shaping not only how we see the situation but determining all that we do in our attempts to remedy the situation. The fundamental universal context of humanity - US vs. THEM. Nothing personal about it, nothing specific about it. IT doesn't care who or what the US or THEM happens to be at the time, ONLY that whatever or whoever is there, they will be there in the world of US and THEM.

And until we confront and deal with, REALLY deal with this business of our dividedness at the level of root cause, the level of context, we will continue to chase our tales from one failed attempt at unification to another. 

We here at Context News look forward to this exploration in the days ahead, to engage with you as stakeholders in the future, for what that brings to politics as a new context and not merely the next situational fix.


Monday, February 18, 2019

Climate Crisis Empowerment!

by Laughlin Artz
Editor, Context News

As you are well aware (if you've been watching!), most of the recent efforts of CN have been devoted to the work of climate change and in specific the empowering of humanity to make a critical impact in the matter. Real actions taken in real time to produce real results. Housed in the campaign that is 2030 or Bust.

It was Context News that got us into this mess. It was only when we set out to do some reporting on climate change that we discovered the deep doo doo we were in and turned our searchlight into the heart of the matter of the climate crisis, the contextual underpinnings of not only what brought us to this precipice of extinction but also our response to the crisis. We supported the instigation of a global campaign to offer what we saw as critically missing - the opportunity for the ordinary person to take responsibility for the whole enchilada and take the direct actions to bridge the gap between the cliff we're predictably marching over and a sustainable future for all of life.

But make no mistake, it is ALL CONTEXT. As we laid out in the episodes we did on the climate crisis, the real crisis is not carbon or politics or science: the real crisis is the context in which the situation exists for people, a context that renders them/us fundamentally powerless.

So Context News will continue to bring you all the news that's fit to upset, disrupt, confound and instigate! Our mission is intact - to provide everyone the opportunity to explore the critical issues of the day at the level of root cause, to leave you not only informed but empowered.

It's great to be at work in partnership with you. Let's keep up the great work together! We bring you the opportunity to act, and without you taking those actions, we're just another information service, and not the distinct phenomenon that is Context News!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Why Donald Trump Will Never Be President

by Laughlin Artz
Editor, Context News

Donald Trump will never be President of the United States because Donald Trump will never stop being Donald Trump.  His whole campaign was built on Donald the Personality, Donald the Outsider, Donald the Winner, Donald the Billionaire, Donald the Savior.  This is a drum that the Trump folks beat loud and often, most notably when Candidate Trump got into trouble at various points and his advisers reminded us as he reminded them:  "You have to let Trump be Trump.”  

We were all simply wide-eyed spectators, watching in amazement and disbelief this phenomenon of “Trump being Trump.”  And with each subsequent disaster, we were reminded that this is the way he is, and nothing or no one is going to change that.

If there is one lesson of real value that America might learn from that train-wreck of a campaign, that careening dumpster fire that people just couldn’t stop watching, that seemingly endless barrage of bizarre instances of  “Trump being Trump,” it is that Trump can’t stop being Trump.  Not only can’t this man stop being Trump, but even more problematic, he has assigned the root of his power to just that – “being Trump.” That alone, without all the other more obvious horrors of this election, should scare the shit out of us.

What got elected was not a man humbled and hungry to be reinvented into the distinct and unique entity that is President of the United States of America; what got elected was a personality vindicated by the screaming crowds and righteous voters, more steadfast than ever to being exactly what he already was: Donald Trump. 

This man sees his election as a mandate for “being Trump,” not as the Constitutionally-designed opportunity to be our President. 

His whole existence - his name on the buildings and airplanes and steaks and clothing lines, the TV shows, the casinos and beauty pageants - all of that feeds his insatiable appetite for “being Trump” and keeps his existence as Trump in place for himself and for the world.  His election to President of the United States was the ultimate bump, the global fix, the electoral shooting up of Trump junk.  The heart of democracy has been mainlined by this man’s addiction to “being Trump.”     

What makes someone the President of the United States is not qualities or characteristics or engenderings of liberalism or conservatism.  And no, not even the act of being elected.  That will get you the title, and title alone doth not a President make. What has the President be the President is one thing – the sacred honor of the promise, the oath, the word that is the Oath of Office of President of the United States:
I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

There is no Donald Trump in that oath.  There is no individual, no personality, no morality, ideology or anything of the sort in that promise.  There is only the promise. 

With that oath and its honor comes a distinct way of seeing the world that is the worldview of the President.  The deal made as a matter of that oath is that from the moment of its taking, that oath, that promise will be the determining factor in how the promiser acts, lives, thinks and “be’s.”  The honoring of that oath is what gives one that unique way of being which is “being the President of the United States.”   

The problem here is not Donald Trump as Donald Trump him/itself, as abhorrent and disgusting as that/he might be.  The problem is the insistence on the part of this man to keep being Donald Trump.  

It is impossible to be Donald Trump and be the President.  That is the point of the oath - not to give that man or woman an additional promise to keep, but that in the making of that promise, in the taking of that oath, to retire that which one has been and become that which the oath requires for its fulfillment.

How much time do you think Donald Trump has spent really dealing with what it actually takes to honor, to uphold that promise which is the Oath of Office of President of the United States?  Predictably about the same amount of time he has taken dealing with the oaths of his marriages or the commitments of his business contracts.

In looking over the history of Trump’s relationship with his promises, it is clear that when push comes to shove, what gets honored in his world is not the promises he makes, but the “Trump” that he is.  The big difference now is that the promise he will be making in January is to us. 

We should not kid ourselves, we should be very clear that what will walk up to that podium on Inauguration Day will be Donald Trump (what in his world got elected), and that what will walk down will be that same entity, fully intact.

The Inauguration will not deliver to us a President of the United States, but rather the antithesis of the Constitution and the democracy it holds sacred: Trump being Trump.

That is the real unconstitutionality of the Presidency of Donald Trump.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Opportunity of Climate Change

As we prepare to launch our 5-year project to Bridge the Gap such that in 2020 a future of sustainability is predictable, I think it’s important to create the full scope of what this is.  In one sense, yes, it is a project with a clear intent of bridging the emissions gap of approximately 8 Gt of annual greenhouse gas emissions between what is predicted in 2020 and what is required to put us on track to not exceed the safety window of a 2 degree C temperature increase above pre-industrial level.

However, if all we do is close the emissions gap, then I suggest we will have missed the boat, we will not have mined the climate change crisis for the full opportunity it offers.

One of the most illuminating aspects of having engaged in this situation for the past two years is the dichotomy of everyone involved wanting the same thing, and at the same time, of not being able to impact the situation consistent with ending the crisis and ending it in time.

Person after person, scientist after scientist, diplomat after diplomat, activist after activist, business person after business person, etc. have all told me why what needs to happen, can’t., that we are doing the best that we can, given “the way things are”.  What they say (and these are incredibly committed, hard-working, brilliant people, many of whom have dedicated their lives to this cause) is what comes after “You have to understand.”  “You have to understand that the markets simply won’t support this kind of radical change, that the current political climate won’t allow for us to move any faster, that this issue is just too complex to nail the solution down in any kind of specific time-frame, that this is just how X country works, etc.”

What is glaringly apparent as a matter of having ventured into the belly of the beast and watched and listened is that the real crisis here, the real issue, is not carbon, it’s not emissions, and it’s not methane or the ozone layer.  The real crisis is a crisis of context.

The crisis before us, the one I suggest as the one with the biggest possibility and opportunity, the crisis for us to foment is that we are faced with a circumstance (and greenhouse gases are a very real circumstance) that our current context, the current condition that gives us who we are for ourselves, who others are for us and who we are for others, what the world is, how the situation of climate change is there for us, etc. is insufficient for what is wanted and needed.  The future is calling for whole new ways of being and acting, distinct from the ways of being and acting that got us where we are.

An amazing thing about the climate change situation and what makes it so ripe as an access to a world that works for everyone is that it hits so much of what is there that gives us our “world.”  Agriculture, economics, natural resources, energy, human conflict, our relationship to ourselves, each other and the world, education, politics, business, all those and more are at play in the dynamic of the situation, both in how we got into this mess and what is being called for to effectively deal with it.  And I suggest it is a new order of effectiveness wanting to emerge, not effectiveness as we have known it.

If we stay in the current context (a context built of unchallenged myths, sayings and assumptions) and work harder, faster or more innovatively, then I suggest we will miss the real opportunity that is there for us to seize.  The real opportunity of climate change.

This crisis gives us a real chance to do a critical investigation of the contexts that leave us constrained in the matter of climate change (and not limited to this situation), doing the best we can in a world of “the way it is,” a world that’s fixed and unmalleable.  Those unexamined constructs that keep the actions necessary to sufficiently impact this situation out of reach.

This current situation, climate change, gives us our shot at transforming ourselves and  our world far beyond the situation itself.  To call forth a new future, a future of a different order, not some version of what has been.  A future that begins with a critical examination of the contexts that give us life as we know it.

For example, the current context of economics.  Not that our economic models are  inherently good or bad; simply that they exist and operate as a function of “sayings” that constitute their frameworks and that give the people who live inside those frameworks a particular view of the world, and with that, particular ways of being and acting.  Sayings that when examined can be seen as “matters of language” and not “matters of truth or fixed reality.”  Sayings like “Wealth is limited/scarce” and “For me to have enough of what’s important for an abundant life, you need to have less.”  As an aside, the world of abundance/scarcity  is a critical area of investigation and impact in this exposure and shifting of context.

This is only one example, one area of exploration and discovery that points to the work and the opportunity of the next five years, the work of investigating and altering context such that not only do we bridge the emissions gap, but we use this situation, the first situation in history that has called for 196 nations of the world to come together in alliance to address, as our opportunity to transform what it is that we are, and in that transformation to bring forth a world where the disconnect between what people want and what is actually happening begins to disappear.

That is the real gap we are out to bridge.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

COP21: CON21

by Laughlin Artz
Editor, Context News

Having spent the last two years covering exclusively the situation of climate change and for the last year the COP21 climate change negotiations, I find myself in a world that is shockingly surreal, given the gravity of the situation.

As I listen to the endless parade of heads of state, national delegates, humanitarians, artists, billionaires, scientists, and the occasional obligatory movie star, one thing strikes me above all else: No one is having the conversation that from my perspective is the only one that matters. That is, “What is it actually going to take to end the climate change crisis in time?” For my money, I think that’s all that really matters. And that conversation is glaringly absent.

What is the language here, since it’s not the language of what it’s going to take really to end the crisis in time? It is the language of generalization and rationalization, conversations based in best efforts, hope, “progress”, and optimism. The conversation here is not one of ending global warming, a conversation that would include hard data, specific actions, real strategies and plans, and straight talk about the gap between where the COP21 agreement leaves us and what is needed to resolve the crisis in time. 

Yes, there is the occasional “we realize that this agreement is not enough.” However, the person saying that never follows it up with exactly how “not enough” it is, or what the actual plan is to bridge the gap of that specific “not enough.” Instead, the speaker of the moment meanders into an eloquent story about the deprived child she/he met on the way to the conference who is counting on “all of us” to save her future. And by gosh, somehow since we’re all just such great folks with such big hearts and such noble intentions, why of course, we’re gonna do just that. Translation: “I have no real grasp of the situation, no idea exactly where we are, how much time we have until it all really hits the fan, and which actions need to be taken to produce what results by then, such that we have a realistic shot at keeping the climate’s temperature increase to a maximum of 2 degrees C above pre-industrial level.”

And so with that as the case, with no real confronting of the specific state of affairs, no true facing of the predictable future and what it will really take to end the crisis in time, we are expected to sit back and simply enjoy the endless litany of empty platitudes, political doubletalk, and optimistic propaganda.  

But why? Why has the UNFCCC convened the heads of over 160 nations and—instead of doing the real work of ending the crisis, or at least using this incredible assemblage of power to ring the alarm and tell the world the reality of the situation—chosen to put on what is essentially a two-week public relations extravaganza, complete with U2, a green Eiffel tower, and Al Gore?

Examining who’s in charge gives some insight into the answer. Who, after all is running COP21? Politicians, academics and diplomats. These are people who are not usually called on to actually make something happen, particularly something unreasonable. Their expertise is not in producing results; it is in politics, knowlege and diplomacy.

They study things, they meet about things, they create sub-committees to further study and meet about things. They negotiate, they debate, they express their views, they collect data, they argue, they convene, they caucus, they orate, they compromise, they compare one set of data with another set of data and write reports on their findings. They write and publish papers, they give talks, they sit on panels, they write policies, they learn things, they teach things, they vote on motions, they set agendas, they write and deliver speeches. Yes, they do many things, and there is a place in the world for all of that they do.

Unfortunately, the climate change crisis is not something that is going to be ended by any of these activities. This crisis will be ended only by people with a completely dispassionate assessment of exactly where we are, a full grasp of the predictable future we are headed into, a clear understanding of what needs to happen and by when (such that the necessary hard results are accomplished within the ever-shrinking window of opportunity), a full confronting of the gap between where we are headed and what needs to happen and by when, and a real plan with specific strategies to bridge that gap within the requisite time-frame.

The people you want in charge in this situation are people who can address those fundamental elements and address them with real specifics...and the people in charge of COP21 are simply not those people. They are clearly well-intentioned, very brilliant, wonderfully educated, and at the same time, ineffective and ill-equipped to tackle the real job of ending global warming and ending it in time.

Regarding the UN and the UNFCCC, I have gone out of my way throughout my investigation not to be critical of these organizations, to respect and honor the tireless efforts of these utterly dedicated individuals. Many of these people, after all, have spent the better part of their lives tackling this beast. 
So it is understandable that after decades of seeing little to no progress they would see cause for celebration now that things have started to move a bit, and would have a desire to promote the progress being made, both for what it represents in the world and for their own sense of accomplishment. However, to not at the same time make certain that the world understands the immense gap between where that progress has brought us and what is required to end the crisis is a grave disservice, leaving us to live post-Paris in the illusion of being on the right track to success.

Heads of state come out one by one to proclaim their “aggressive” pledges addressing global warming, and to the untrained ear, they do indeed sound like just that. For example, China declared that it will peak emissions by 2030 and then begin a reduction. In a historical context, that pledge could indeed be viewed as aggressive, but only as a function of China having done so little for so long.

My question is, “Why when China announced its pledge was there no one there to challenge it in the context of what commitment is required of China if we are not to blast past the critical 2 degree limit?” Who was there to peel away the rosy veil of historical progress and examine the pledge against the future of what is actually needed? No one.

In that light, the light of what’s needed, China will need to peak emissions by 2020 (10 years earlier than pledged) if we are to have a viable shot at staying within the safety zone. In the world of reality (not progress, optimism, politics, or diplomacy), China’s “aggressive” pledge to address global warming is in fact drastically insufficient.  How historically aggressive it is (or isn’t) is immaterial. But you won’t hear that here.

The same could be said for the United States, India, and several others. Different pledges, different stories of how great we are, how far we’ve come, what challenges lie ahead but blah-blah-blah no worries we can meet them, how creative we are, etc.—different in detail but shockingly similar in the stark absence of any real language of substance regarding the sizeable gap between what is being pledged and what is needed, and what the plan is to close that gap.

That’s the con, that’s the global con (whether consciously conspired or not) of COP21: Keep the world’s eyes focused on the shiny balls of progress, progress based in the past, and pay no attention to the future behind the curtain, the incredible, shrinking gap of time in which we still have the chance to take the actions necessary to end the crisis before that window closes.

It is amazing to consider that all that has been accomplished (and without question much has been accomplished), could actually be what sinks us, if we continue to insist on seeing it through the past-based context of progress rather than through the future-based context of what’s needed. This is a crisis that can only be resolved by working from the future, not the past. Progress is of no consequence, and will actually be a deterrent if it is not held in the framework of what is needed and by when.

Whatever the logic, the call here has clearly been made to leave people hopeful and optimistic, rather than give them the straight story. Do they think we are that weak that we can’t take it? Or is it just a matter of their own unwillingness or inability to confront reality and the impending consequences?  

I don’t fault the players at COP21. They are simply doing their jobs. The job of a diplomat or a politician is not to tell the truth or confront reality, not to give it to you straight, not to leave you with the way that it actually is and with some real sense of what it’s going to take to get us out of this mess. The job of a diplomat or a politician is to weave a wonderful tale, to spin a beautiful tapestry of prose and historical quotes and home-spun vignettes, tossing in a few easily digestible challenges, none too overwhelming mind you, and in the end, to leave you feeling good about yourself and the situation. Politicians live for votes and power, diplomats for diplomacy.  

When I dove into this situation two years ago, all I wanted to get for myself was some reality of the gap. I’ve spent that time speaking with scientists; studying reports; attending presentations; and questioning government officials, UN representatives, NGO leaders, and anyone and everyone with any hard data related to the core questions I think every citizen has the right to know the answers to. I conducted this investigation with no agenda other than to get the facts. I am confident I now have those facts.

We have five years in which to sufficiently reverse the track we are on to still have a viable shot at not surpassing the safety warming limit of 2 degrees C. And there is no real plan being implemented to have that happen. That is the way it is. No hope, no despair, no generalizations, no inspiring stories or tales of our demise: simply the way it is.

The next five years is our make-it-or-break-it window of opportunity.

No one at this conference is going to say that publicly (although several high-ranking participants over the course of my inquiry have expressed it privately). No one is going to break the green line and express to the world that not only is the Paris agreement grossly insufficient to ending the crisis; worse, it doesn’t even go into effect until 2020, when the window of opportunity to impact the crisis will be closing. So to say that the agreement is of limited value would actually be an understatement, since whatever it is will already be too late to make any real difference.

What matters isn’t progress or hope or pessimism or any of that. What matters is the gap between where we’re headed and what’s necessary to resolve the crisis. Let’s get our attention off the facade of the Paris conference and get it where it needs to be—square on the gap, and what it’s going to take to close it in time. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Climate Change - It's Not "Too Complex"

by Laughlin Artz
Editor, Context News

One of the words that is often spoken in the vocabulary of climate change is complex. The science is complex; the environmental factors are complex; the ways in which to measure climate status are complex, and so on.

It was certainly a popular word among the attendees at the two UNFCCC climate change conferences I attended in Bonn. The negotiations were complex; the politics were complex; the intricacies of the diplomatic process were complex; the economics were complex, etc.

The main questions I have been posing to climate change powers-that-be are:
    What is it actually going to take to end global warming?
    Why is it that there is no real discussion in the climate change community for what it will take to   end it and to end it on time?
    Why isn’t there an aligned global commitment to end the crisis before the window of opportunity     closes, and a corresponding strategy and action plan?

Almost to a person, a phrase used in response to those questions is, “It’s too complex.”

Wow, this complex must be one powerful force, to be able to block diplomatic progress, keep the world’s leading scientists, economists and activists in a state of "hopeful best efforts," and to thwart any real plan to end the crisis while there’s still time.

What exactly is complex? Not, what is it about this particular situation that’s complex, but what is this entity complex itself?
Difficult to understand for being intricate or involved; complicated: a complex problem
Synonyms: complex, complicated, intricate, involved, tangled
These adjectives mean having parts so interconnected as to hamper
comprehension or perception of the whole.
[Latin complexus, past participle of complectÄ«, to entwine; see complect.] *
What’s key in exploring this what-is-it-that-is-complex—that is, complex as itself and not as yet another characterization taking us further from the heart of the matter—is to first see that whatever it is, it isn’t happening. There is no complex happening. There is no complex in the world. You can’t look into the world and actually see complex existing anywhere. You can however look into the world, see something as complex, characterize it as complex, describe it as complex, conceptualize it as complex, but complex as complex is not what’s there.

So what happens when something becomes “complexed,” when what’s there in reality transitions from “what’s actually happening” to complex? A fundamental change is that what is there, in this case a particular situation related to climate change, is no longer there as the situation itself, it’s now there as its reconstitution as the characterization complex. This is critical, since the impact of this transition is for the most part obscured.  We don’t have an awareness of the phenomenon of the situation’s characterization into its new existence as it’s happening.  The nature of the situation’s existence is now one of characterization and its characterizational nature is not apparent to us, leaving us dealing with the situation as being complex, as if complex is actually there in the situation.

What also happens is that you as someone out to do something that might actually impact the situation have been severely, if not completely, hampered. This is exactly what I have seen happening in the UNFCCC climate change negotiations, where delegates are dealing with characterizations rather than the situations themselves.  You have been taken out of direct contact with the situation and have now been relegated to being a second-hand, once-removed observer. You are no longer on the field of play, where the game is actually happening; you are now in the realm of description and characterization. And you can never get on to the field of play from where you are now located. Complex is a shield that has been erected between you and the action, thwarting any direct impact on the situation.

So the real impediment to effective action—actions that if taken would impact the real “what’s happening”—is not that the situation is too complex, it is that access to the situation has been blocked by the fog of its characterization as complex, that mode of existence which is kept in place by the current vocabulary. You can’t impact what’s happening when you can’t get at it directly.

The more insidious aspect of this characterization complex is that it leaves everyone involved with a readily acceptable explanation for the lack of impact one is making. If the situation is too complex, then my ineffectiveness is wholly justified. This is fine if what we want to do is adequately explain and diagnose the situation (which if you look, you will see that in fact that is much of what is happening in world of climate change).

However, if we actually want to accomplish something, something concrete and in reality, such as ending the climate crisis, and ending it in time, it will take the real thinking and courage to expose the characterizations in the climate change vocabulary  for what they are; and in that light of an acute awareness of what is actually happening, get to the business of taking actions informed by reality, and not by the “reality” shrouded in characterization.

The climate change situation is not “too complex.” Not really. It’s not really complex at all. It’s a combination of happenings and actions. Our ability to see those happenings and actions clearly (rather than through the cloud of characterization) is our only access to discovering the necessary actions that if taken, will impact the situation such that the result is a sustainable environment. Nothing complex or not complex about it.

*American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

COP21: A Hostage Situation

by Laughlin Artz
Editor, Context News

Having now attended both the June and September UNFCCC Climate Change Conferences in Bonn, I can now with absolute certainly report:
COP21 is a hostage situation.

Here is how it plays out.  Every conference attendee I have spoken with, which includes delegates, United Nations representatives and government officials, when posed the question, “Do you agree that what we really need to accomplish in Paris is an agreement that ensures that we will not surpass the critical limit of 1.5 degrees C warming above pre-industrial level?”, the response I got to a person was “Yes.”  To those same people, when I then asked “Is that the agreement we are going to get?” the answer was an equally resounding “No.”  

As someone witnessing this first-hand, in actual conversation with the key players in the COP21 proceedings, it seemed completely bizarre.  To find myself in the midst of a situation where everyone agrees what we need and everyone also agrees we won’t get it.  There are plenty of explanations available for why this is the case, and plenty offered by conference participants; however none of them actually get to the heart of the matter. 

It is only when you delve into the contextual underpinnings of the environment in which this is all happening that you can begin to get a glimpse of the logic and the design shaping the ways in which these people are thinking, being, and acting.  At that level, the contextual level, there is no mystery; it becomes very clear that it is all going according to plan.  The issue is that no one is copping to the plan.

Where this came into stark illumination was on Day 3 of the conference.  On that afternoon, there was an “emergency” meeting called to address a severe lack of progress in the negotiations.  It was labeled a “stocktaking” meeting, a meeting with a stated intention of taking stock of the current rate of progress, and determining a path forward that would increase the rate of progress.  Having witnessed first-hand several of the negotiation sessions, the lack of progress was no mystery to me, and I was interested to see how the lack of progress would be addressed in this emergency meeting. 

What got voiced in the meeting was complaint after complaint about the lack of progress and opinion after opinion as to who or what was to blame.   Had I had the opportunity to speak, I would have asked the question that no one was asking, and that wasn’t even on anyone’s radar to ask.  It was the question that could at least begin to address the elephant in the room that no one could see.  That question being: “Who here is accountable for progress?”  Or more specifically, in the matter of the progress objective declared by the co-chairs at the conference opening, “Whose job is it to ensure that the document progresses by the end of this conference from a compilation of positions to a basis of negotiation?”  

Had that question been asked, and had the truth been told, the answer would have been “no one.”  What would have been said, and I know this as a function of having asked the question “Who is accountable for progress?”  of a wide sampling of conference participants is “we all are.”  Which is simply another way of saying “no one.”   In any situation, if “everyone” is accountable, then no “one” is accountable.

This is not to say that there are not people who have been tasked with aspects of the process.  It is however to say that what it is to be accountable as a concept is very different from being accountable in action.  This environment is one that not only doesn't pull for accountability in action, but actually argues against it.  What is argued for is reasons and explanations, not accountability.  They are two distinct worlds.

So there I am in a room full of the people who have been selected to craft what could be said to be one of the most important agreements of our time, it is clear to everyone that the rate of progress in crafting that agreement is dramatically insufficient for completing the agreement by December, everyone is complaining about the lack of progress, and there is no one in the room who holds him or herself accountable for the on-time completion of the agreement.  That is the actuality of the situation, and as such, that there is a lack of progress is far from surprising, and to think that anything will come from this meeting that will make any significant impact in progress is to be truly delusional and not operating in reality.  The person who could make that difference, the only person who could make that difference, the person accountable, isn’t even in the room. 

This is in no way intended to negate or diminish the commitment of the parties involved in this proceeding, or to lay fault or blame on anyone.  This is only intended to shine a light on the nature of the environment in which the proceedings are occurring, and the impact of that nature on both the rate of progress and the power (or lack thereof) of the participants to impact the situation.

What we have in the absence of an environment of real accountability in these negotiations is an environment of “everyone doing their best given the seemingly inherent constraints of the situation.”  What is shaping the thinking and acting and thereby determining the rate of progress isn’t any real commitment to progress, and more specifically to a specific rate of progress, but rather the “reality” in which the co-chairs, delegates and facilitators “find” themselves at work.

To get a glimpse of this “reality” you only need to listen to the language of the conference.  The “why’s” and “who’s” that are assigned as the culprits in the lack of progress.  Statements like “these are political discussions and as such cannot be pushed, cannot move any faster” or “our job is to bring the countries to the table, but given the complexity of the parties involved, we cannot make them commit to anything”, or “governments X,Y and Z do not move any faster than this” or “this is how things move at this stage of the negotiations and it always goes this way.”

What you hear is multiple expressions of the same thing – “Our hands are tied, and we are doing the absolute best that anyone could do given the constraints in which we are given to operate.”  These constraints,  the "reasons”, "explanations" and “because’s” that the participants relate to as “real” are what is holding the conference hostage, and are what is thwarting any possibility of generating an agreement in Paris that would ensure for our people and our planet a future of sustainability.

These people are held hostage not as a function of the constraints they talk about; they are held hostage by the illusion that those constraints are “real.”  They are victims of a condition, a condition of "reasons and explanations", a condition they have no real choice in the matter of, a condition they don't even see.  

In response to this lack of progress, this crisis of accountability, I have submitted to the co-chair of the conference, in partnership with a colleague at UNFCCC, a proposal to work with the co-chair and facilitators in generating an environment of accountability for the upcoming Bonn negotiations.  

It will be interesting to see the response.  However it goes, at least for my own integrity, I no longer have to bear witness to the insanity of the situation without having at least offered what I propose could make a real difference.

Friday, August 21, 2015

"Who Will Step Up?"

by Laughlin Artz
Editor, Context News

As I prepare to attend the next round of UNFCCC climate change negotiations in Bonn, one question is there for me above the rest:  “Who Will Step Up?”  

Not “Who will step up to work on climate change?” - the conference will be full of those individuals.  Not “Who will step up to debate the best (or at least most economically and politically expedient) strategies for climate change adaptation and mitigation?” - there will be plenty of power-point presentations about that.  No, the specific who in the “Who will step up?” I am speaking of is the voice that has not been heard, the voice that has to date been silent - that distinct and unmistakable voice that belongs to the who of

          “Who will step up to take the lead to end global warming?” 

Now, if you’re like most people who I've had this conversation with, and there have been many, and most of them highly-leveraged individuals in the game of climate change mitigation, you would say “Well, isn’t that what we’re already doing?”  And the answer is a resounding “No”. 

We are not ending global warming.  We are at work on doing what we can to end global warming.  We are weighing the pros and cons of potential strategies and selecting those that seem most potent and achievable.  We are debating just how dire the situation really is, and conducting lots of studies as to its effects, both short and long term.  And as for the folks coming together in Bonn, we are negotiating an agreement that will demonstrate to the world that some kind of consensus has been reached in addressing the crisis; an agreement that everyone, including the co-chairs of COP21 agrees will call for action that falls far short of what is required to avert catastrophic and irreversible damage to our planet. 
So yes, we are doing all that, and more, and no, WE ARE NOT ENDING GLOBAL WARMING.  

It is completely understandable that no one has taken up that calling; that no one has picked up that gauntlet, stood fast and said “We are ending global warming."  It takes something to promise something, it takes something truly extraordinary to take a stand for something, to fully commit to something that is real and exact and tangible, especially in a situation as complex as the crisis of global warming.  That kind of action, that order of commitment, is very distinct from what it takes to work on something, to be interested in something, to get behind something, to join something, to do one's part in something, to be for something, to follow something, to agree with something, etc. 

To promise something, anything that is unpredictable in its realization takes courage and a both-eyes-open willingness to confront and deal with the unpredictable and the uncertain.  Working in the realm of an unreasonable promise is a highly-specialized way of thinking and acting that isn’t easy, comfortable, or popular.  

Just look at our own everyday aversion to making a concrete promise about something that we don’t have certainty about, that the current circumstances argue against.  To avoid that discomfort zone that a real promise throws us into, we stay in the safety zone of “trying”, “doing our best”, “giving it everything we have”, “doing everything we know to do”, etc.  The upside of this safe and predictable way of working is that it eliminates the possibility of failing.  After all, if you promise to do your best, who can come back and say, "Hey, you didn’t!"?  The down side, and in the situation of climate change, the down side has real and catastrophic consequences, is that the actions and corresponding results required to end the crisis, don’t happen.  And they don’t because the actions required live beyond the world of the predictable, beyond the world of reason.

  “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are.  
     I don’t believe in circumstances.  The people who get on in this                 world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances  
           they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.”
                                                                    - George Bernard Shaw

This is in no way meant to pass judgement on which way of working is better than the other.  Only to illustrate that they are fundamentally distinct, and that absent the authentic promise to end global warming, the world that that promise calls forth will remain unavailable.  And that world is the world in which global warming can be ended.

That’s the whole power of a promise.  It calls forth a new reality of thought and action, a new environment for a whole new order of planning, strategies and results.  It catapults one into a new and unknown dimension of thinking, planning and action.  And you can’t work hard enough in the existing reality of reason and logic to get into the reality of the unreasonable.  

We have taken and are continuing to take the actions that are there for us to take in the current reality, a reality based in what we know, where we’ve been and what we can see for the future.  There is nothing wrong with that reality; it is simply that that reality is insufficient in addressing and solving the crisis.  What is being called for is a new reality.

And make no mistake about it, it takes courage, real courage to take that kind of stand, to make that kind of promise.  The promise puts the promiser into a whole new world, a world that is not recognizable from the existing reality, and it puts her or him at risk in that world - the world in which the gap between what can currently be seen and what is necessary to be seen for the fulfillment of the promise can start to emerge.  With the promiser at risk as the one who is stepping in to open up and begin to explore that uncharted territory.
Be clear that this is not intended in any way to diminish the amazing work that has been done and is being done to address climate change.  That work is vital and necessary, and much of it quite innovative.  In fact, without all of that work and the progress that has resulted from that work, there would not be the necessary grounding in reality to give the promise to end global warming any real credibility.  Otherwise the promise would be some kind of fantasy, a pipe dream.  That is no longer the case.  There now exists enough scientific evidence and we have witnessed enough technological advances in the area to back up the stand to end global warming.  And the stand won’t come from the evidence.  It will come from the stand itself.

The ending of the global warming crisis will not come from the experts or scientists or politicians, at least not from those that stay within the confines of the frameworks of thought in which they have been raised and trained.  It will come from thoughtful radicals.  Not thoughtful as in the thoughts that already exist, but thoughtful as a new dimension of thought that comes from putting oneself in the intense discomfort of confronting the limitations of one’s own thinking, and staying there until a new kind of thinking emerges.  The kind of thinking only available to those willing to put all that they are and all that they know up for question in service of having the promise they have made reinvent them into what the promise needs for its realization.  

Few people in history have actually done this, and it is only as a function of those people and the stands they have taken that history has been made.

It takes a kind of presence in the world to be the one to take the lead, to step out and say “This shall be”.  For example, not everyone could have taken the lead to put a man on the moon.  But President Kennedy could, and he did.  He did this by making this promise, by taking this stand:

  “First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving 
       the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the                               moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

Take note of the specificity - a specific outcome within a specific time-frame, that calls for specific action.  Zero wiggle-room.  That's a real promise.

Kennedy had the kind of global presence, the kind of stature and audience that when he spoke, the world listened.  And he had the ability to assemble the kinds of forces to move his promise from what he was standing for to what he could be accountable for accomplishing.  Not that he would personally accomplish it, but that he would marshal the necessary resources to make it happen.  

This promise, the promise to end global warming, needs a person of that stature, an organization of that magnitude in the world, to be the one to give it voice. 

Who, then?  Who will be the one to take the lead in promising the end of global warming?  Who will step up and be that game-changer?  Who will start that ball rolling in a way that calls for others to partner in that boldness of vision and action?  Who will be the one to take that stand - a stand so clear, so powerful, and so loud as to pierce the noise and take root in the global consciousness?  

A stand that plants that initial and critical stake that begins to shift the context in which we think and act in the matter of the greatest crisis of our time from one of being studied, worked on and debated to one of being ended.  Who has the courage, the vision and the firepower to get that ball rolling?

The response to that question is the response on which our future depends.     

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Bonn Climate Change Conference/COP 21 - What Is Missing

by Laughlin Artz

I am a relative newcomer to the climate change situation, especially the policy process.  I am, however, a veteran of over thirty years in both the public and private sectors (often involving multi-cultural participation) in the disciplines of strategic planning, project management and transformational leadership, i.e the science of achieving outcomes that are from the current perspective, not possible.

What got me into this initiative was the realization, through colleagues who are deeply engaged in the matter of climate change, that the predictable future of this situation was not one of a sustainable future for our world.  I then went about the clumsy business of immersing myself in the world of climate change.  That path, which I began approximately 18 months ago, has brought me here, to the Bonn Climate Change Conference. 

First, let me say that I have the utmost respect and admiration for the people who have worked tirelessly in the matter of solving this tremendously difficult, massive and complex problem.  I offer my observations, not in any way to criticize or negate any of the enormous contributions made to date on this issue, but rather as what I propose as missing in the matter of the actions that will mitigate this crisis in the requisite time-frame.

In this conference, my perspective is a unique one.  I am focused less on the technical aspects of the conversations, i.e. the graphs, charts, studies, etc.(which is appropriate given that I am far from an expert in such matters), and more on the nature of the language in which the conference itself is happening.  The language creates the environment, and the environment determines what can and cannot be accomplished. Which brings us to what I invite you to consider as the heart of the matter.  

This conference is not the environment of having the unpredictable happen.

This, I assert, is the fundamental dilemma, given that what is clearly being called for is something distinct from the tried and true, or as it is termed in the language of the conference, “business as usual.”  So I find myself immersed in a global convening of the finest experts in the field, with much talk of how much we need something other than business as usual, and at the same time those same people propagating that exact environment.  Something other than business as usual simply cannot be accomplished in a business as usual environment. 

There are three points on which the majority of parties here are clearly in agreement .  One, that what is needed for us as a species is for us to keep the global temperature increase to a maximum of 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.  Second, that our current rate of progress is insufficient to accomplish this.  And third, that an agreement that includes a commitment to achieving that result will not happen at COP 21.  That is the current state of affairs.

So what is the environment of the Bonn Climate Change Conference?

The environment of the Bonn conference is one of study, data, debate and negotiation, and not one of action, specifically not one of bold action, the kind of action called for in this situation.  And there is a design to that.  The bulk of people here are scientists, scholars, diplomats and politicianians.  These are fields in which action and what it takes to make something happen, especially something unpredictable, is simply not part of the skill set.  And I am not saying it should be, only to illuminate that people, whatever their profession, are trained in particular competencies that are a match for what has been determined is most necessary to be effective in that field.

Scientists are designed to study and assess, and you hear it consistently in the closing remarks (next steps) of these meetings that the next step is to conduct another study, to compile more data, to do more or deeper research.  All of which has its place in the world, absolutely a vital place, and an extremely vital place in the matter of climate change; it's just not the appropriate realm of endeavor when you are out to make something happen.  Information makes something understandable, makes something clear, but does nothing to generate action. 

Politicians and diplomats are well versed in the matters of compromise, negotiation, and building cases for their own constituencies’ interests, all of which are essential in many of the situations in which they find themselves.  However, none of that expertise is what is needed when unpredictable actions are required to accomplish unpredictable outcomes.

We have a situation where what is needed is not in the current capacities of the accountable parties.  There is nothing wrong about that, merely the current state of where we are in the matter.

What is missing?

For us to generate a global commitment at COP 21 in Paris in December to take the actions necessary to ensure a future of sustainability for us all will require a shift in the context in which the work is being conducted.  This is June 4, COP 21 concludes December 11, so we have about 6 months to make that happen.

The charge for us, for you and me, I would suggest, is to bring the work of producing unpredictable outcomes, for interrupting the predictable future, to this process. As a global citizen, as a member of civil society, this is the charge i have given myself.  This is why I am here.  

Fundamentally what is missing is working from a future rather than the past.  The current condition is one that calls for seeing the future from what is known and attempting to project into the future from there.  This will only give us some version of what has been, some prediction, and even if what we get is a better version of what and where we have been, it will still be insufficient.  It is a function of seeing the future in this past-based framework that has the delegates saying that what we need to accomplish in Paris will not happen.  And they are accurate.  The future we want will not come from the past.

What is missing in this conference isn't data, it isn't consensus, it isn't even more time;  what is missing is an environment generated by a stand, an existential promise for a future unforeseen.  An environment born of a stand of something being possible, rather than predictable.  This is counter-intuitive to the mindset of many of the conference participants who have been highly trained in the disciplines of assessing, studying, proving and validating.  

You cannot get to a stand from what is known or proven.  In fact, that negates the whole point of a stand.  A stand comes from the stand itself.  The design of a stand is to bring into existence a whole new environment, and with that, new ways of thinking, acting and being that are necessary to fulfill the stand.  We are at a critical crossroads as a species.  We don’t need different actions in the same environment; we need a completely new environment in which to act. That is the power of a stand.

My stand is that a global agreement to take the actions necessary to ensure a sustainable future is possible, an agreement that includes something of the order of "full decarbonization by 2050", and that it is possible to achieve this by the completion of COP21 on December 11.  That stand is what brought me to Bonn. 

The charge now, my charge, your charge, civil society's charge is to infuse our stand for COP 21 success into the policy process, and to invite others to take that stand, and in so doing, to empower these incredibly dedicated people to see that what they want is actually possible and that they and others can actually have that.  

It will not come easy.  It will take on all of our parts the risk of taking that stand.   This stand and its corresponding new ways of thinking and acting will not come cheaply.  It will cost us what we know to be true, all that is there in the current environment that tells us what is and isn't possible.  It will require us to be who we haven't been before, to reinvent ourselves as what is wanted and needed for the realization of that stand. 

What does that look like?  I don't know.  You can't predict it, you can only discover it for yourself. For me, it looks like being at the Bonn Climate Change Conference.  For you, it will be your unique expression.  That is part of the adventure that it is to step beyond the current reality into the unknown.

This is an exciting time, this is an extraordinary opportunity for us all to join in the process of working toward and ensuring the success of COP 21 this December.  It is possible!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Bonn Climate Conference - Day 1

The Bonn Climate Conference opened yesterday.  Opening remarks and welcomes from parties from around the world.  The speaking was the kind of speaking that was non-specific, designed to evoke emotional responses, rather than action.  It was speaking in the language of generalization, concept and platitude.  It was the speaking of hope, good intentions and ideals.  

And then someone spoke that broke the rhythm.  The representative from Angola said that the work being done was insufficient and that it was time to make a change.  That the 2 degree limit generally accepted as the danger point past which we should work to avoid was far to high, and that it was time to get serious about what it was going to take to keep the temperature increase to a maximum of 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial level.  The language of her speech was specific and action-oriented.  

When she was done talking, you could feel the shift in the environment of the meeting, and for a brief moment, something was different.  Then the next delegate spoke, the same kind of speaking as before and the meeting went back to hope and well wishes. But everyone had experienced that distinct moment when Angola spoke.