All it takes is a quick look at the comments, all 483 of them, listed after Jonathan Chait’s online article, “The Sunniest Climate-Change Story You’ve Ever Read,” in New York magazine to be reminded just how contentious the topic of climate change is — few topics are so divisive and get people so hot under the collar. It’s like hottest-month-in-recorded-history hot.
While there may always be people out there who are reluctant, or downright refuse, to believe that climate change is real, dangerous, and the result of human activity, I think the more harmful opinion that tends to pervade the conversation about climate change is that it is too late to fix. And while the focus of Chait’s article largely references the American political landscape in its arguments, there’s a lot here that applies globally and is worth sharing. Chait argues that 2015 “… Is the Year Humans Finally Got Serious About Saving Themselves from Themselves,” and this marks an important transition in our recent history. With both Canada and the US heading to the polls soon (at the time this article was written, the federal election in Canada was only days away), the time has come when people are finally asking: “Who will make the changes today that will protect our future generations? If not us, then who?”
Not only are people taking seriously the need for change, but we are also witnessing a surge in innovation that makes green technologies much more accessible. Chait argues: “For humans to wean ourselves off carbon-emitting fossil fuel, we will have to use some combination of edict and invention — there is no other plausible way around it. The task before the world is best envisioned not as a singular event but as two distinct but interrelated revolutions, one in political willpower and the other in technological innovation.” Because these two factors are so intertwined, it has been difficult to see much progress in either one: “It is extremely hard to force a shift in clean energy when dirty energy is much cheaper, and it is extremely hard to achieve economies of scale in new energy technologies when the political system has not yet nudged you to do so.” So while hope may be the new four-letter word on the tip of everyone’s tongue, it’s important to remember where we once were, not very long ago.
It was as early as the 19th century when scientists observed how the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere trapped heat that would have otherwise escaped into space; however, it took until 1997, when the Kyoto treaty was finalized, for the U.N. to attempt to mandate country-by-country reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. While many nations have now ratified the treaty, which only went into effect in 2005, notable exceptions include the United States (it was voted down 95-0 in the US Senate) and China, who wasn’t mandated to reduce emissions because, at that time, they’d contributed a relatively small share of the current century-plus build-up of CO2. Canada ratified the Kyoto Protocol originally, but later backed out of it in 2011. Many would argue that the Kyoto Protocol missed the mark right out of the gate — the fact that China wasn’t included was, in hindsight, a major issue. China’s emissions have increased by over 200% from 1990 to 2009.
Other international calls to action included the 2009 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, which brought together almost 115 world leaders and garnered unprecedented public and media attention with more than 40,000 people applying for accreditation at the conference. In summary, while many recognized the historical significance of the Copenhagen Conference, most delegates left disappointed at what they saw as a “weak agreement,” and felt the negotiations were largely ineffectual given the Copenhagen Accord had not been formally adopted as the outcome of the negotiations.
Over this period of time, tangible effects of climate change have become more obvious as arctic ice melts, tumultuous weather patterns emerge, and sea levels rise. As Chaik describes it, “The drama has taken on an air of inevitability, of a tragedy at the outset of its final scene — the tension so unbearable, and the weight of looming catastrophe so soul-crushing, that some people seek the release of final defeat rather than endless struggle in the face of hopeless odds. Working for change, or even hoping for it, has felt like a sucker’s game. It is hard even to conceive of good global-warming news when bad news is the only kind that has ever existed.”
That is, until now. At last, technology and politics are coming together to transform the narrative of tragedy that has largely plagued the story of climate change. “The world is suddenly responding to the climate emergency with — by the standards of its previous behaviour — astonishing speed. The game is not over. And the good guys are starting to win,” says Chaik. It is the hope that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, France 2015 may finally achieve something that has remained elusive: global consensus that an energy revolution is underway that will “alter the course of human history for the better.”
Sometimes the best stories are told in two parts. Stay tuned for Part Two — How the Earth Got Its Groove Back (and Got Real About Climate Change)
About The Author
Serial Entrepreneur, Technologist and Inventor.
My objective is to develop useful products that have a net positive effect in the lives of those that use them and the environment that we live in.
CEO of Mission LED Lighting Company Ltd.
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