To my friends at the Climate Summit

How to act wholeheartedly without overdue expectation or needless despair? — we work with a power greater than all governments put together.

Dear friends in Paris,

What you are doing is incredible. You are carrying our courage and our convictions and our dreams of what can happen at Paris. Every action and sleepless hour shows the world that no matter what happens there are those among us who will not rest until we can stabilize and preserve what we hold dear — and that all of us can work with that courage too.

That’s what it shows to me at least, this time, while I haven’t been with the strength to do it myself. Whoever you are, if you are there for the climate you are there for me. Thank you.

We hope for an outcome that can change the world — we hope for the world’s governments to agree and commit, together, to phase out emissions to an extent that avoids a 2 degree temperature rise.

It’s worth remembering that this phase out has never been done before — and despite the stacks of analysis of how it might happen and how possible it is, the governments at COP21 do not know really what it would look like. They do not know how technology will change. They don’t know what’s going to happen to prices, what’s going to happen to people. They cannot plan for changing attitudes to travel and transport modes. They cannot predict the rise and fall of global industries, global powers, or global political paradigms.

196 countries negotiating on how to cooperate to do something that nobody knows precisely what it is. What commitments can they honestly make? How much unknown unknown can they promise? You know as you deliver your message, I know as I write here — there is little chance that this conference will produce a deal that matches what science says we need to do.

Yes. There is a business that knows a lot about how to approach doing something that nobody knows how to do yet — software development. In this field it is so plainly known that plans and targets can’t predict anything that they are abandoned in favor of learning along the way.

In global climate politics as in any adventure into the unknown, our plans aren’t much good for saying what’s going to happen, but essential to understand where we are now. Since there is no map, the path can only be seen from the path. The way will emerge along the way.

What is it that the negotiations could produce for us? Can we plan for a billion tiny acts of courage?

After all, if we were to succeed — if all the governments were to agree on reductions that added up to where we need to be — would you believe even for a moment, that all our work was done?

No. It would be just the beginning.

Yet still, it is in the heat of the process of planning, negotiating, looking ahead, that the courage of the world has a chance to rear its head. It is when the people gather that heroes are made.

We must do everything we can to help these negotiations succeed — but hopes for an agreement that solves all problems give too much credit to their actual power, and too little to the more dispersed and intractable forces through which we all create the future. Despairing misery at the impending failure of the negotiations is the same. This is not humanity’s last chance. Governments simply don’t have that much power.

There is another power. A power much, much greater, that we must turn to. You know that power. You can feel it. You can feel it when you write a press release. When you put down your shoes amongst 10,000 other pairs. You can feel it when you write a post and see the likes coming in between all the news and the writing, and know a small part of the global attention that is turning in your direction. You can feel it when you gather with thousands of activists.

That power does not respond to our attempts to manipulate it. We respond to it. It cannot be created at our whim, but it can show up any time, in anyone, anywhere.

This is what you are working with. This is what you are cultivating. This is what you are tweeting. That work will not end after Paris, no matter the outcome.

I am listening to Wake Up by Arcade Fire. It says

With my lightnin’ bolts a glowin’, I can see where I am goin’ to be when the reaper he reaches and touches my hand.
With my lightnin’ bolts a glowin’, I can see where I am goin’. With my lightnin’ bolts a glowin’, I can see where I am go — goin’!
You better look out below!

Lightning in all it’s dramatic force follows the path of least resistance. It does not struggle to work out what it needs to do. It is shaped by forces larger than itself which it does not understand. All it knows is to channel those forces in one exhilarating blast that can be heard for hundreds of kilometers and explodes trees.

You are our lightning. Now go where you’re going.