Monday, April 22, 2019

Is Climate Change the Cause or Effect?

There is growing debate about the prospect of mitigating climate change.  Recent scientific reports suggest that time is running out and that only extreme measures will prevent climate from rising above the 20C threshold.  My question is:  Should we focus on climate or should we address specific issues that lie behind the rising rates of greenhouse gas emission and particularly the steady growth of world population?  In short, what is cause and what effect?
In its October 2018 report the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) issued a warning that we have little time to limit global warming to 1.50C:  a drastic 45% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and down to zero by 2050.  We have until 2075 to cut emissions to zero for the 2C target.  Should we not meet these targets, the prospect for global warming is 3C to 4C or higher by the end of the century.  With the pending withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement, uncertain response of other developed nations, continued rapid development of emerging economies, and a humanitarian program to bring the peoples of the world out of poverty, we have some troubling variables to deal with.
There has been a strong response to the IPCC report: people coming out and saying we have to do something.  And it is not as if a lot isn’t being done.  It’s a question of whether it will happen soon enough and at a scale sufficient enough?

The two key questions Transition Centre has asked are:
1.             Do we know what we must do to achieve a sustainable future?
2.             Do we have the capacity to do that?
There is a third question:  If not, then what?

By “what we must do” is not meant policy statements; it’s about the plan for achieving them.  And yes, we have a variety of more or less comprehensive plans, so the real issue is about executing them.  Are we willing to sweat out creating the organizations to affect change?  Can we mobilize trillions (USD equivalent) to get the job done?  Or rather, can we get it to pay for itself, e.g. through local regenerative economies?  
The global economy is the driver of greenhouse gas emissions and a variety of other problems.  We know we must change that economy.  That requires reducing its dependence on fossil fuels.  But there is also a list of critical resources, such as land, water and other mineral resources upon which the global economy depends.  Do we understand that this economy, and the political systems that support it, are perhaps even more fragile than the environment?
The vision most people have of the future is one like Star Trek:  An age of abundance, of endless energy, of peace and prosperity.  It’s a grand vision but how do we get there?  Does that depend on just luck, or perhaps the “invisible hand” of the market, or will it require more deliberate attention? Clearly, in order to achieve any future, we are going to have to act with a vision, with a plan, and with a determining will.  


Climate change is a relatively late arrival on the list of environmental/sustainability issues, but it has become potentially the most perilous prospect for the future of human society.  Given that timing is everything, let’s look at the record.
The first COP (Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) was held in Berlin in 1995.  In 1997 the Kyoto protocol (COP 3) established legally binding obligations for developed countries.  Paris (COP 21) created an agreement in December 2015, open for signatures from April 2016 until April 2017.  As of February 2019, 184 states and the EU have signed the Paris Agreement. The plan goes into effect in 2020. That is 25 years of work by a lot of dedicated people.  There is much work yet to be done.


At what scale, at what level, do we act?  Do we change the world or work with something we can change? The global economy is an incomprehensibly complex system.  It is in a “far from equilibrium” state.  At the global scale, with many major players, both political and corporate, there is nothing like a collective strategy.  Can we solve climate change at this level of complexity and from the top down?
There is an old saying in the environmental movement: Think globally, act locally. Transition Centre is about localization. It is about creating resilient communities that meet much of their own needs.  It is about creating an ecologically sound local economy.  The Resilient Communities template starts with local food.  The food system is the source of up to one-third of the planet’s greenhouse gases. It also embraces local renewable energy. It is zero-waste oriented.  It is about vibrant communities – communities that are safe, healthy and secure.  There are 22 components to the Resilient Communities template and an entry strategy, Vision 10 – 10, for pursuing each objective.
Resilient Communities is both a strategy for achieving zero carbon local economies and for adapting to the inevitable environmental, political and economic challenges of this century.  Even small communities are complex, but they are more readily understood.  These are the places we live, the people we know, the patterns of activity we are familiar with.  The major players are only one or two degrees of separation away and can be met face-to-face. It is their home too.  
A Resilient Communities program can be started by a handful of people.  It is their job to define what needs to be done in their community.  It’s not unlike forming a business:  you have to have something of value to offer.  It is about taking risk.  It’s not telling other people and organizations what they need to do to make things right, it is about doing the work to get the job done.  It develops as a network of interested parties, by building a common vision and with participation.  It requires organization, a plan, and leadership.  It is not about single-issue projects but rather about putting the pieces together to get the big picture.  It takes an integral, comprehensive, vision.
Success inspires other communities.  We create the dots and then connect them.  Dot by dot, community by community, we cover the Earth.

Bill Sharp © April 22, 2019

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