By Morgan Goodwin, Jesse Jenkins and Juliana Williams
Two recent studies "suggest that both industrialized and developing nations must wean themselves off fossil fuels by as early as mid-century in order to prevent warming that could change precipitation patterns and dry up sources of water worldwide... The world must bring carbon emissions down to near zero to keep temperatures from rising further."
We in the climate movement should take note of these headlines. Apparently based on a cautious interpretation of the climate science, we've been calling for relatively incremental goals like 2% reductions in emissions per year, targeting 80% reductions by 2050 - one of the "mantras" of our movement since Step it Up. We've been busy (successfully) making that 80x50 goal politically feasible.
Now the mainstream media is telling us - climate activists who are supposed to be pushing the cutting edge - that our goals aren't good enough.
"People aren't reducing emissions at all, let alone debating whether 88 percent or 99 percent is sufficient," said Gavin A. Schmidt, of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. "It's like you're starting off on a road trip from New York to California, and before you even start, you're arguing about where you're going to park at the end."
If we get wrapped up in the targets we get caught up in the mess of what's politically feasible and scientifically relevant. We as the members of the movement need to come at this from a different angle. No more statistical targets. We need a vision.
We as a country, we as a people and a society have overcome amazing challenges when we've been inspired by a vision. Inspired by JFK's call to do the seemingly impossible, we put a man on the moon and built an aerospace industry that launched an economic boom. Inspired by MLK's Dream and passion, we fought to desegregate our hearts and our society.
We now stand at the brink of a challenge that dwarfs those that have come before - climate change - and we are beginning to articulate a compelling vision that matches the scale of that challenge, of that opportunity. We are ready to start building and talking about something inspiring and tantalizing, something truly revolutionary. This sort of vision can be held by everyone in the movement, moving us from fear and despair at the scale of the challenge to hope and optimism at the equally grand scale of opportunity that challenge presents. That sort of vision must be powerful enough to inspire individuals and society to action.
What is our vision?
Since the Power Shift summit, young leaders across the country have been developing an idea that feels both powerful and simple:
We can be Climate Positive.
Climate Positive has dual meanings. It is a philosophy or mind-set, a way of engaging with the world and the challenge of climate change. And it is also a goal, the target towards which we as a movement and a society are striving.
Climate Positive is a mind-set that engages eagerly in the opportunities inherent in solving the climate crisis by building a sustainable, just, and prosperous, post-carbon society. It is a philosophy fueled by the vision of the possible, actively striving to make a better future a reality by engaging everyone in the solutions.
Climate Positive also means that net global greenhouse gas emissions are below the level at which they are absorbed by natural cycles. In this sense, it is the ultimate target of our movement. Putting aside percentages or numerics, Climate Positive is about restoring our atmosphere to a state of balance, and ending for good the climate crisis we are faced with today. Our scientific understanding of what is necessary to achieve this goal will be refined over time (and probably become more urgent), just as the climate science has over the last few years. The scientific understanding will change, but the Climate Positive goal will not.
Most of all, Climate Positive is a vision of what is possible, of the future that we are striving to create. The vision is not complete - we are all building it every day. But already, you can see it taking hold within the swelling ranks of the climate movement.
These days we are moving beyond simply talking about emissions reductions. We are moving beyond talking merely about what we simply wish to avoid - melting ice caps, dying polar bears, a world of climatic chaos. We are beyond talking about simple, small steps, like changing light bulbs and eating local. These things are all still critical. Emissions reductions are of course essential, individual actions and lifestyle changes are a way to start (get your house in order first, right?), and the nightmarish vision of the world we can expect if we fail to act fuels our urgency.
But we are also starting to see it differently. We are uniting behind fresh visions that are inspirational rather than limiting. We are moving beyond the paradigm of simply cutting carbon emissions to articulating bold plans for a new energy future that will reignite America's economy, generate a new kind of sustainable development, confront poverty and inequity both here and abroad, and build healthy communities that are not only materially comfortable but socially, economically, and ecologically sustainable and secure.
This approach, a Climate Positive mindset, and a Climate Positive target - a Climate Positive Vision - engages everyone in creating local and global solutions, unleashes human ingenuity, potential and compassion to end the climate crisis and build a brighter future. Those of us in the climate movement can not come up with all the solutions to meet this challenge; not even everyone currently engaged in politics, science or advocacy can come up with all the solutions. We will need everyone, everywhere working on every level.
Faced with this daunting challenge, we ask ourselves, what are global warming solutions?
A Climate Positive Vision recognizes that WE - human beings everywhere - are global warming solutions. We are a force for change, a force that can step outside the old energy paradigm to build the future and present that we know is possible. Ordinary people, acting in every community, hold the ideas and inspiration for change, and we can believe in those people as we believe in ourselves.
Daniel Quinn observes, "During your lifetime, the people of our culture are going to figure out how to live sustainably on this planet--or they're not. Either way, it's certainly going to be extraordinary. If they figure out how to live sustainably here, then humanity will be able to see something it can't see right now: a future that extends into the indefinite future. If they don't figure this out, then I'm afraid the human race is going to take its place among the species that we're driving into extinction here every day--as many as 200--every day."
We have the opportunity to build an extraordinary way of living. Let's make it Climate Positive.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
By Morgan Goodwin, Jesse Jenkins and Juliana Williams