My views about climate change have morphed as a result of my past year’s experiences. I’ve always thought that it is wrong to power our economic growth with fossil fuels. It is unsustainable, since there is a limited supply. And it is disrespectful toward our Planet Earth — burning burning burning without due regard for the pollution and the waste of precious resources.
But when the focus turned to climate change, I was ambivalent. The climate is always changing — why make such a big deal about it? Even though human activity is causing rapid changes that would not happen otherwise, my thought was that probably it is no more disruptive than the natural changes over, say, ten thousand years. Humans need to adjust to the changing environment. Our wasteful polluting greedy behavior will simply force more adjustment in the near term.
Over the past year I have had my eyes opened, and my heart. I have met some of the families that will be directly affected by sea level rise. I have seen the low-lying islands and experienced the people’s unique dancing and singing and drumming. I’ve been invited into some of their homes, and met their children. I’ve been touched by what will be lost in the “adjustment.” It has become personal for me, and thinking of the loss now brings me tears.
In the past year I have also become sensitive to the idea of climate JUSTICE. I get to have my big house and powerful car, to drive or fly hither and yon, to eat foods from around the planet, to own all sorts of appliances and electronic devices…and the hidden cost of my abundance includes the destruction of some small island nations. Places like Tuvalu, a beautiful place, a beautiful culture, and friendly people who are the ones who will have to “adjust” despite having done nothing to contribute to the rising ocean or the more frequent and more powerful cyclones that are coming.
My original assessment of relying on fossil fuels…unsustainable, polluting, wasteful, disrespectful…still holds. But I can no longer look at the climate “adjustment” we are forcing as merely tweaking the long-term / short-term knob, as though the people and cultures don’t matter. So now I add “unfair” to my assessment. Hugely unfair. Fundamentally unequivocally grossly wrong!
At the COP21 Climate Summit in Paris an agreement was signed yesterday. I think this is a tremendous achievement. To have 196 countries agree on ANYTHING is amazing, and where those countries have vastly different short term interests it is more amazing. Do the terms of the agreement go far enough to save Tuvalu? Will the terms of the agreement be honored by the nations that contribute most to the problem? So long as big corporations that respect nothing but profit are allowed to operate unfettered, is it possible to achieve goals that are (in the short term) unprofitable? In the United States, in particular, it seems we have much more work to do to restructure our capitalist system to reflect our values beyond just the dollar.
The Blue Planet Odyssey’s focus on climate change has not always been evident, but it is always there in the background. Mostly through our blogs and our contacts with students, we have tried to call attention to the issues. I don’t know what impact we have had. But the experience has certainly had a deep impact on ME!