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.     

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