The world talks ‘climate change’ — an existential conversation

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Climate Justice!” “People Power!” and “Planet and people before profits!” echoed around the globe on the eve of COP 21, the Paris Climate Summit where 200 world leaders have gathered to hammer out a global agreement they all can live with. The people have spoken loud and clear with more than 23,000 events in 175 cities with almost 700,000 people forming a collective voice that demands climate justice and a turnaround of the historically cavalier use of fossil fuels and a serious dedication to real stewardship of the planet.

“Never have the stakes been so high,” according to French President Francois Hollande, “because this is about the future of the planet, the future of life.” Pope Francis’ message communicated the urgency of establishing an agreement. “We are on the brink,” he said, “of a suicide, to use a strong word, and I am sure that most of those at the COP have this conscience, and want to do something.”

It has taken 20 years to get to this point where leaders have finally begun to acknowledge that the situation is dire, about the same amount of time climate change information has been coming out of think tanks and the scientific community. Defying the ban on marches installed because of the recent terrorist attack and the expectation of unsavory characters showing up in the city, Paris protesters have been gathering to demonstrate their demand for action. There are clashes. Frustrated by a two-decade delay in acting while corporations knew about and even discussed the climate dangers from fossil fuels internally yet embarked on campaigns to obfuscate the truth, protesters feel an urgent need to make their demands both public and loud. Both sides feel an intense need to be protective against grave threats — the security force from further violence in Paris, and the protestors from the willful disintegration of the integrity of their planet.

Ten thousand people took to the streets and formed a human chain despite the ban. The Eiffel tower lit up with a “100% renewable” sign. Marchers gathered all over the world from Nepal to New York City, and people spilled into their streets to demand reform from world leaders who are negotiating in Paris momentarily as the future of the planet hangs in the balance. In London 50,000 marchers joined 60,000 in Melbourne, and 25,000 in Ottawa and 2000 in East Asia, with marchers as remote as the mountains of Nepal. Another march is planned at the end of the summit.

Youth Involvement

The climate marches include youth from around the world, some of them still in grade school, who are very aware and very concerned about the Earth, protecting its resources and climate change. They are calling out adults for their irresponsibility, lack of stewardship and cavalier treatment of our Earthly home. They are speaking up and speaking out with a growing network of grassroots organizations marshalling appeals to leaders and politicians demanding aggressive action before it’s too late. One of the youth organizations is Generation Ryse a group of young people calling themselves “Earth Guardians.” Led by Xiuhtezcatl, a fifteen year old activist artist who has spoken at the U.N. and was given the Volunteer Service Award by President Barack Obama. The Guardians are suing the president for neglect and dereliction of duty on behalf of their generation to hold accountable, the adults that they say have failed them in protecting the planet. Xiuhtezcatl intends to wake up his generation and marshal their power to save the planet for future generations. In service to that objective, he is also a performing indie (independent) hip hop artist who uses the universal language of music to spread the message.

The Guardians’ message is simple: “for 25 years the older generations have been trying to stop the planet from going up in smoke from fossil fuels. The result is broken promises.” On November 30, students from all over the world walked out of their classrooms to show solidarity and demand that world leaders address the crisis of climate change and their future. The media did not report the walkout.

The Climate Summit with its 200 heads of state must, in seven days, and before the conclusion December 11, find a way to respond to worldwide environmental dangers and the world’s peoples in a way that seriously mitigates the harm of climate change that is likely to hit hardest, those least equipped to deal with it. The largest users of fossil fuels are the United States and China, nations with resources poor and third world countries don’t have. The leaders have indicated that they know the magnitude of what they are tasked with and what’s at stake.

So what’s at stake?

Everything.

Hyperbole? Not according to the science. The science says that we (the collective humanity) are in big trouble. Under our watch, and in favor of profit and greed over people, we permitted the deterioration of our planet and allowed carbon to permeate our atmosphere and warm the earth to a level that now affects our climate and humanity’s future. COP 21 will try to hold the accumulation of CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels to the current measures so that the temperature does not increase more than 2° C. (which is equivalent to 36.5 Fahrenheit). Some scientists are saying even 1.5 degrees is too much and that some effects are irreversible.

What does the science say?

2° C. Danger Zone
According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), global warming of more than 2° C. would have serious consequences, such as an increase in the number of extreme climate events. In Copenhagen in 2009, the countries stated their determination to limit global warming to 2° C. between now and 2100. To reach this target, climate experts estimate that global “greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions need to be reduced by 40–70% by 2050 and that carbon neutrality (zero emissions) needs to be reached by the end of the century at the latest.” (IPCC, 2014)

The Impact
Climate change has a cascade effect and is predicted to impact weather, sea levels, water security, food production, the incidence of poverty, coastal erosion, wildfires, marine life, wildlife and livestock, species extinction, infrastructure, vector and water borne disease, human health and life span, livelihoods, habitat loss, failing ecosystems and economics among other realities. COP 21 is tasked to halt the runaway train called “climate change.”

The Economics
“Coastal property and infrastructure: Within the next 15 years, higher sea levels combined with storm surge will likely increase the average annual cost of coastal storms along the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico by $2 billion to $3.5 billion. Adding in potential changes in hurricane activity, the likely increase in average annual losses grows to up to $7.3 billion, bringing the total annual price tag for hurricanes and other coastal storms to $35 billion.

Agriculture
A defining characteristic of agriculture in the U.S. is its ability to adapt. But the adaptation challenge going forward for certain farmers in specific counties in the Midwest and south will be significant. Without adaptation, some Midwestern and Southern counties could see a decline in yields of more than 10% over the next 5 to 25 years should they continue to sow corn, wheat, soy and cotton, with a 1-in-20 chance of yield losses of these crops of more than 20 percent.

Energy
Greenhouse gas-driven changes in temperature will likely necessitate the construction of up to 95 gigawatts of new power generation capacity over the next 5 to 25 years — the equivalent of roughly 200 average coal or natural gas-fired power plants — costing residential and commercial ratepayers up to $12 billion per year.” (Bloomberg, 2015)

Adaptation Responses to Climate Change:
Scientists and the eco-savvy leaders have given up on prevention because it may be already too late. Instead, they are discussing “adaptation.” The Climate Change Synthesis Report for Policymakers for 2014 compiled by the IPCC lays out specific antidotes and actions to mitigate the impact of climate change through adaptation. It recommends actions in every system associated with preparedness for the coming significant changes. Here’s an abridged listing:

Poverty: Improved access and control of resources; land tenure; disaster risk reduction; social safety nets and protection.

Livelihood: Income; asset and livelihood diversification. Improved infrastructure; technology access; decision making; food growth; livestock and aquaculture changes; and reliance on social networks.

Disaster Management: Early warning systems; hazard and vulnerability mapping; improved water management; flood and storm shelters; building code review; transport and road improvements.

Ecosystem Management: Improved management of wetlands; urban green space development; coastal afforestation; watershed and reservoir management; reduction of stress on ecosystems; genetic diversity maintenance; disturbance protocols; community based natural resources.

Land planning and spaces: Adequate housing, infrastructure and services; oversight of risk areas (flood plains, dykes, earthquake prone, etc.;) urban planning; upgraded zoning and protected areas.

Structural and Physical: Improved environmental options for engineering and building; building codes; storm management; power and electricity grids. Technology development; agricultural variety; indigenous and local knowledge cultivation; water saving; desalination; food storage and preservation; passive heating and cooling; soil conservation; forest restoration; tree planting; fisheries management; assisted species migration and dispersal; seed banks; enhanced public health practices and emergency medical services.

Institutional: Economic options; financial incentives; insurance; catastrophe bonds; pricing water to encourage universal provisions and careful use; microfinance; disaster contingency funds; public–private partnerships; risk management; regulations, laws and agreements to protect security; land and water rights management; tiered adaptation plans; community based adaptation and disaster planning.

Social: Education and awareness; gender equity; participatory research and action; indigenous climate observations; early warning; diversification of preparedness and response; household preparation and evacuation planning; integrated assessments and social networking.

Spheres of change: Practical and social technological innovations; behavioral shifts; institutional and managerial changes; political, social, ecological and cultural decisions and actions that reduce vulnerability and risk; supportive adaptation; migration and sustainable development; changing personal, individual and collective assumptions; beliefs and values and worldviews influencing climate change.

Deliberate Climate Deception for Decades:
The new report Climate Deception Dossiers 2015, published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, contains a collection of internal memos from fossil fuel companies that knew as early as 1981 that their companies’ products were causing climate change. Some of the tactics outlined by companies to combat regulation to address climate change are contained in the documents and include deliberate obfuscation of the truth and to cause confusion and doubt in the minds of the public in addition to blocking any efforts to regulate or limit emissions.

“The internal documents were either leaked to the public, come to light through lawsuits, or been disclosed through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. They are related to some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, including BP, Chevron, Conoco, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, Phillips, and Shell, spanning the course of 27 years — memos that have either been. The documents show that: Companies have directly or indirectly spread climate disinformation for decades; Corporate leaders knew the realities of climate science — that their products were harmful to people and the planet — but still actively deceived the public and denied this harm; The campaign of deception continues, with some of the documents having surfaced as recently as in 2014 and 2015.
“The report released by the Union of Concern Scientists has made the complete collection of 85 internal memos — totaling more than 330 pages available online.” (Union of Concerned Scientists Panel, 2015)

The COP 21 panel has a lot of work to do in a very few days and what they accomplish is pivotal. This week’s gathering has been hailed by some as at the most important meeting of the decade. Others claim it’s the most important meeting — ever. That may actually be true because not much else is going to happen without a planet.

There is a hopeful side to all of this if one considers what the climate crisis has done; it has and will, bring us (the world) together like nothing else has. People have not poured into the streets like this to protest, make their voices heard and make a difference since the run-up to the Iraq war. The critical nature of the situation parallels or maybe even surpasses the threats of the Nuclear Age. The potential for destruction is the same; only the timeline changes. The grave nature of this situation is driving home the reality that we truly are all in this together and just maybe our petty differences and selfish and separate ambitions don’t mean so much after all. Yes, we are learning indeed “We are one.” The current life-and-death state of affairs is about to make that very, very clear. We can hope the opportunity is just as clear, especially to those whom are tasked to create it. May they leave their egos at the door, set aside their self and national interests and find solidarity; life as we know it, depends on it.


Barbara Kaufmann, “One Wordsmith” is staff and Lead Volunteer for the “Arts” Sector of the Charter for Compassion International. She tells “story” in words, images, art, music, and film. Founder of “Words and Violence” Program about bullying in all its forms on this planet, and writer for Voices Education Project, Charter for Compassion International, Huffington Post contributor, poet, artist, scriptwriter and filmmaker — Barbara “writes to simply change the world” in favor of a more humane narrative on this planet.

For real-time updates on the summit visit Charter Environmental Partner 350.org: http://350.org/global-climate-march/climate-march/

Works Cited

  • Bloomberg, M. (2015). Economic Risks of Climate Change.
  • IPCC. (2014). IPCC Report on Climate Change.
  • Union of Concerned Scientists Panel. (2015). The Climate Deception Dossiers 2015.
  • CNN, Ben Brumfield and Michael Pearson, Mon. Nov. 30,2015: “COP21 climate change summit: ‘Never have the stakes been so high.’