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.