by Captain Future
Sat May 19th, 2007 at 02:55:59 AM EST
The climate crisis is not a single issue. It is the crisis that encompasses much of what we need to pay attention to, what we must remedy and attain if we are to continue. It is for example about all our relationships to our planet, and our relationships to each other. In our separated and pinched political parlance, it's about environment, energy, economics, geopolitics, poverty, public and private health; governance, community, culture; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It's the key to the future, because if we address this crisis successfully, it will require positive change in all areas, and if we do not address it successfully, it will end this show, and define it as tragedy.
What does the future need right now to address the climate crisis? We've come a long way in awareness. In parts of the world, obvious signs of global heating have led to strong consensus on its reality. In the UK, according to the Economist, "85% of the public are now convinced that global warming is actually taking place and almost as many think that without prompt action it will accelerate." In otherwise backward US, quoting TIME magazine: "In a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, an overwhelming majority of those surveyed--90% of Democrats, 80% of independents, 60% of Republicans--said they favor 'immediate action' to confront the crisis."
I believe that in addition to even more awareness, creativity, and the kind of thinking that sees the climate crisis for what it is, what the future needs now is leadership and focus.
It's fascinating to me that the last three men to run as the Democratic candidate for President of the U.S. (one of them successfully) are the three most prominent political leaders focusing on the climate crisis and closely related issues. It is also fascinating that only one of them currently holds political office.
That one is Senator John Kerry. With his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, he has recently published the book This Moment on Earth: Today's New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future. It focuses on solutions, many of them ongoing and local. This is not a new concern for the Kerrys. Environmental action in specific local projects has long been a focus of the Heinz Foundation, and the Kerrys first met at an international environmental conference. But it is a new emphasis, and they've been working hard to spread the word about this book in recent months.
The successful candidate is former President Bill Clinton, who announced this week that his foundation will finance projects to retrofit buildings and infrastructure in 16 cities around the world, to reduce carbon emissions. These and related projects involve major banks and technology companies, and they address the climate crisis directly, in that cities account for some three-fourths of greenhouse pollution.
The most obvious former candidate is of course Al Gore, whose An Inconvenient Truth has had and continues to have global impact--that is, it is changing hearts and minds one audience at a time, whether from the Oscar-winning film or the "slide show" Gore continues to give personally, as well as those given by hundreds of trained volunteers. Gore has a new book coming out, The Assault on Reason, which takes a broader look. As he told Time Magazine:
"The real reason I wrote the book...is that I've tried for years to tell the story of the climate crisis, and it has taken far too long to get through. When the best evidence is compiled and there's no longer room for dragging out a pointless argument, we're raised as Americans to believe our democracy is going to respond. But it hasn't responded. We're still not doing anything. So I started thinking, What's going on here?"
By not being candidates for President (although Kerry had intended to be, and had apparently intended the aforementioned book to be his entry into the race), all three are reaching audiences and having an effect globally. They provide leadership in particular ways. They are a crucial part of what the future needs, just as leaders on the state and local and community levels are. But will these kinds of leadership be enough?
Al Gore tells audiences (according to Time):
"I'm trying to say to you, be a part of the change," he told the crowd. "No one else is going to do it. The politicians are paralyzed. The people have to do it for themselves!" He was getting charged up now. "Our democracy hasn't been working very well--that's my opinion. We've made a bunch of serious policy mistakes. But it's way too simple and way too partisan to blame the Bush-Cheney Administration. We've got checks and balances, an independent judiciary, a free press, a Congress--have they all failed us? Have we failed ourselves?"
This is the great hope of grassroots efforts, of individual and community creativity. But Gore also admitted this:
"I have enjoyed the luxury of being able to focus single-mindedly on this issue... But I am under no illusions that any position has as much ability to influence change as the presidency does. If the President made climate change the organizing principle, the filter through which everything else had to flow, then that could really make a huge difference."
This is the true challenge that no presidential candidate has yet taken: to make climate change the organizing principle. That's the kind of leadership that gives the future a chance.
That's the focus that the future needs. I've recently returned from two lovely weeks visiting with family in western Pennsylvania. Though I checked my usual Internet news sources fairly regularly, I was far enough outside my usual context to see things a little differently. And what I saw was that the news over this period wasn't new: Gonzales, Wolfowitz, Iraq. They also moved on a completely predictable story trajectory, and not far along it at that.
Yet this is what absorbed the attention of news outlets and progressive political blogs. They are all important of course, but how will the future view them? Especially in light of news that gets less play--for example the various studies that show the effects of global heating being more pronounced, appearing sooner and more thoroughly, than predicted.
I feel strongly that what the future will say about Gonzales, Wolfowitz and the rest of Bushcorps continuing and characteristic machinations is that they demonstrated how vulnerable the U.S. has become to dictatorship. That's going to come into play as the climate crisis worsens.
About Iraq, the future is likely to also point to the incredible waste of resources and attention that crippled our ability to confront the real challenges facing us, and the profound limitations in our thinking this entire geopolitical tragedy reveals, that suggests just how difficult it's going to be to deal with those challenges.
And the future is likely to say that we were mired in tragic distraction, lacking in consciousness,judgment and discipline, paralyzed and manipulated by narrow but powerful centers of selfishness, and crying out for leadership and focus at a critical time in the life of our species and our planet. Because the climate crisis will dominate that present we now call the future.
Perhaps the ultimate question is not what the future needs, but what it wants. I think the history of the human species is coming to a critical point. We're at the brink of fulfillment, and on the eve of self-destruction. We've taken western-style technology and organization to the crucial point where some of the insights and premises we rejected, already being rediscovered and adapted, must be re-incorporated in appropriate form. The future wants synthesis. The future wants us to become better, to move closer to fulfilling our potential.
The future is telling us that we must re-acknowledge our deep dependence on our planet, our relationship to the rest of life as we know it, as well as to dimensions and possibilities we must be humble enough to explore. The penalty for not giving the future what it wants will likely be the end of this fitful line of development in our species, and perhaps the end of humanity as we know it.
That's what's at stake. What the future needs is more attention, and more care.