history may repeat itself but climate change is forever

As we turn into a New Year the news is replete with talk of recession, a return to soup lines, the mortgage crisis, interest rates and war. All of this is familiar territory to those who know their history. Even those who don’t can appreciate that as we move from an administration of fear into one of hope every attempt will be made to ensure history does not repeat itself. The problem however, is that recesssions and war pass but climate change is forever.

The frontpage headlines scream about the collapse of the economy, but where is the news about the collapse of the very environment which holds it all together? We are pushing atmospheric carbon levels at 380 parts per million, we need to be at 350. If we don’t get down to that level by 2015 we will have reached a point of no return. This means that decisions made today will have effect for hundreds of years to come.

Unlike the end of war from which rise new societies, unlike recesssion which births new markets, the climate has long lingering effects. The nature of climate change is such that the future cannot redeem the mistakes of history without living them for generations to come. Careening toward carbon levels at 400 ppm is akin to watching a slew of nuclear warheads chug around the earth at a decade per hour. The only difference is that when we look up we notice that somewhere in the future the fate of the earth is sealed. Unfortunately today, given the enormity of the problem people are not looking, to the contrary they are adding to the arsenal.

Maybe it’s the enormity of the problem that keeps us from putting climate change at the top of all political agendas. Afterall, to get emissions on a downward path in the next five years requires that over 200 nations must all agree to build a carbon neutral energy system. Such political action needs to happen today, not tomorrow, not next week, but right now. This will require the greatest cooperative endeavour in history. Everybody, each and every one of us needs to be involved.

The problem of climate change will not be solved with a New Deal. It’s bigger than a negociated settlement on nuclear arms reduction, bigger than the effort to stop the Nazi take over of Europe in WWII, this problem is so big that it reduces the Cuban Missile Crisis to small fries, and makes the war on terrorism appear momentary.

We have the technology, we have the resources, now we need the political and cultural will to act. A greening of the economy is a baby step forward, but ultimately every human on this earth needs to take a giant leap into a new paradigm to ensure a future that is both breathable and fair for future generations.

The stakes are very high. There are no lessons from the past to which we can turn on this one, so take your partner’s hand hold your nose and jump. It’s the one and only chance to come together as a species and save what we’ve spent just a few hundred years to destroy.

Fiona Sinclair

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