Thursday, November 05, 2009

Is a Global Mobilization Possible?

Gosh, here we are talking about Global Heating again already! Every time I vow to keep this blog whimsical and upbeat, something appears on the Internet that provokes a response. So here I go again.

I’ve been following the “Global Warming” situation since the early 1980s, when it first planted itself upon my radar screen. It seems obvious, at this late date, that humans are only capable of fumbling the ball on this one. Our hardwiring is simply not up to the task. I feel that an honest acknowledgment of our limitations would give us a superior understanding of this and many other situations. But instead, most humans seem locked into a stance of “optimism at all costs.” There’s nothing wrong with optimism; in my personal life I strive to be as optimistic as possible at all times. It’s just that excessive optimism, particularly as it relates to large groups of people, can cloud our understanding of what’s really going on, and what our options really are.

To set the stage, here’s what’s happening over at the United Nations: A legally binding agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions is no longer a realistic goal for next month's Copenhagen summit, the UN Secretary-General says. According to Ban Ki Moon such an agreement will not be signed next month and the most likely outcome is voluntary targets, which countries could announce but then ignore.

All we can expect from organized government is organized blather. All we can expect from “the people” is, in most cases, paralysis. All we can expect from the corporations that actually run the show is increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Where does that leave us?

Yesterday, ran an article with the alarmist headline, “We only have months, not years, to save civilization from climate change.” With the subheading, “International agreements take too long, we need a swift mobilization not seen since the second world war.” The article is by Lester Brown, who I remember from the 70s and 80s when he ran the Worldwatch Institute, who printed an annual “State of the World” report that I read for quite a few years. The reports all said essentially the same thing: here are the problems, and here’s what we can do about them. I consider Lester Brown to be an eco-visionary, so I was very interested in reading what he had to say.

Here are the key paragraphs:

For those concerned about global warming, all eyes are on December's UN climate change conference in Copenhagen. The stakes could not be higher. Almost every new report shows that the climate is changing even faster than the most dire projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their 2007 report.

Yet from my vantage point, internationally negotiated climate agreements are fast becoming obsolete for two reasons. First, since no government wants to concede too much compared with other governments, the negotiated goals for cutting carbon emissions will almost certainly be minimalist, not remotely approaching the bold cuts that are needed.

And second, since it takes years to negotiate and ratify these agreements, we may simply run out of time. This is not to say that we should not participate in the negotiations and work hard to get the best possible result. But we should not rely on these agreements to save civilisation.

Saving civilisation is going to require an enormous effort to cut carbon emissions. The good news is that we can do this with current technologies, which I detail in my book, Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.

Plan B aims to stabilise climate, stabilise population, eradicate poverty, and restore the economy's natural support systems. It prescribes a worldwide cut in net carbon emissions of 80% by 2020...

The energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables is moving much faster than most people realise, and it can be accelerated.

The challenge is how to do it quickly. The answer is a wartime mobilisation, not unlike the US effort on the country's entry into the second world war, when it restructured its industrial economy not in a matter of decades or years, but in a matter of months. We don't know exactly how much time remains for such an effort, but we do know that time is running out. Nature is the timekeeper but we cannot see the clock.

OK, this sounds good; I would never argue with such a plan. However, let’s look at our present predicament in World War 2 terms. Back then, our oligarchy WANTED to go to war, because there were enormous profits to be made. Even though there were isolationist groups in our country, they were quickly marginalized after Pearl Harbor. Patriotic fervor was high, and a common purpose was assured.

If 1941 America had been like 2009 America, we would find:

* Powerful pundits, personalities, and politicians saying that Hitler was a good guy.

* Powerful pundits, personalities, and politicians saying that Pearl Harbor never happened.

* Powerful pundits, personalities, and politicians saying that any attempt at mobilization is a socialist plot to destroy our freedoms.

And so forth.

The point being: “A wartime mobilisation, not unlike the US effort on the country’s entry into the second world war” is simply not going to happen in today’s social-economic-political-media climate. We – the concerned, intelligent minority – simply lack the power to make this happen. We had our chance, during the 60s and 70s, to turn things around, and we – being human – fumbled the ball. Like it or not, our playing field is the real world, and there are consequences for past and present failures.

Lester Brown evidently doesn’t see it this way. He thinks his eloquent and well-meaning words can actually have in impact. Like Al Gore, Bill McKibben, and other eco-superstars, he has created his own little reality bubble over the decades, and has created a life of excitement, meaning, and purpose for himself. And why not? He gets to jet all around the planet attending conferences and giving speeches, communicating with dozens of fascinating people every day. What a rush it must be. This can be a vital and galvanizing life for the participant, but can blind a person to the limitations of speeches and eloquent essays. Just because one is possessed of an incandescent enthusiasm doesn’t mean it will have any impact out there in the cold gray world of rock and steel. Talk is cheap, afterall.

Like I always say, we will know for sure soon enough. Till then, we humans will prattle, prate, and posture like we always have... believing, despite all evidence to the contrary, that our babblings have significance.

Time now, to write a whimsical caption or two.