“The great thing about science is it’s true whether or not you believe in it” – Neil deGrasse Tyson
The arrival of Greta Thunberg and the global school strike movement is a promising moment in the history of humanity’s fight against climate change. Children around the world have walked out of school and now feel compelled to call us on our collective bullshit. How did it come to this, is the question we might be asking ourselves?
The science has been crystal clear for over 30 years. In that time humanity has gone in only one direction towards ever increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, we’ve doubled down on our gamble, and built vast networks of fossil fuel infrastructure. We’ve signed the Kyoto Accord, Paris Climate Agreement, and still no material change. Along the way we’ve invented whole new areas of fossil fuel technology, including offshore drilling and the vaguely suicidal technology of ‘fracking’. Why is it now incumbent upon school children to lead the way towards finally addressing this situation?
They’re right when they say we’re sacrificing their futures and that we are no longer leaders. Real leaders would have stepped in and put an end to this a long time ago.
Incredibly, there are still those among us – individuals, corporations, politicians – that have spent billions of dollars preventing a solution from gaining momentum. For that segment of our population, it has been a full-time job preventing the world from doing the inevitable and transitioning towards a sustainable future for everyone.
If the world were to wake-up tomorrow and begin to put together a livable future for these kids (our kids), what might that look like?
To begin with we need to empower governments around the world with the mandate to act against climate change.
It must begin with a political revolution. The world’s governments must be turfed via election and replaced with political bodies that can prove their ability to stand against this threat.
There can be no serious movement without this fundamental political change taking place.
These new governments would be goal-oriented towards the adaptation and mitigation of climate change as their first order of business. These would not be the ‘status-quo’ governments we’re all familiar with. This change would likely spell the end of political leaders and organizations, from both the left and right, in power over the last 30 years. To be fair, history will not be kind to this era of politics and governments (these are the ‘non-leaders’ Greta Thunberg has been calling out).
Wholesale change is what we are talking about here, but there’s no need to get sentimental, this is what elections are for in a democracy. You need to be able to get rid of the ideas and policies that aren’t working and renew the system from within. The alternative is the failure of democracy as a form of government. To these actors I say good riddance! Neo-liberals and Neo-cons alike, their time has come.
By producing this political change, we will be able to take back law-making ability and begin to use it to effect economic change. Political change is the most important thing we need to do at this stage of the fight, and it ought to be the focus of all our energy.
We have the technical ability to deal with climate change right now, that’s the truly sad part about all of this. What we have been sorely lacking is a deep political foundation, and will, to get the job done.
The next act would be to consolidate the political gains made under our newly empowered governments.
The first proposal would be to create new law, rendering the expressing and spreading of climate change denial a criminal act, akin to hate speech. Indeed, it is a ‘crime against humanity’, and should have penalties that reflect that severity.
This is a critical move that reinforces the socially sanctioned bedrock upon which to engage large-scale resource allocation towards the fight against climate change.
Here’s my bullet-point case for this (more to come later):
- The science is irrefutable, and to spread these ideas is tantamount to fraud
- Those actively engaging in climate change denial are doing so solely for private gain
- The stakes require that we act in a manner relative to the potential risks
It’s a radical situation we’re facing, and it will require radical action to curtail it. We shouldn’t balk at rendering areas of personal and corporate freedom illegal and enforcing stiff penalties until this situation gets under control.
Once this law is on the books, governments will have a legal foundation to go after the malevolent political actors that have worked so hard to prevent a consensus from emerging around this issue. These agents have spread misinformation in order to profit from it, and that is the very definition of fraudulent behavior.
Active climate change denial has precipitated this situation into a crisis by preventing us from acting. It is a philosophical target of the highest order and is the very embodiment of our enemy. The refusal of truth, and steady work to prevent meaningful solutions, is a dynamic that must be eliminated at the earliest possible instance if we are to be successful in this struggle.
The next stage is about moving government structures towards meeting this threat.
The parliamentary structure is, in my opinion, rigorous enough to meet the challenge of climate change. Once the population demands change, parliaments tend to know what to do. Large-scale adaptation of expenditures and policies ought to be expected as governments begin to goal-orient themselves towards this challenge. This ability of parliaments to rise to the occasion has already been proven by the events and experience of the tumultuous 20th century.
Individual governments will develop their own unique responses to climate change, such is the nature of sovereignty. However, we will also need a global body that can co-ordinate strategies, methods and resources.
The UN is well suited to perform this role, as it is already ‘in action’ dealing with global problems in a fair and equitable way. Despite the clear issues with climate agreements to date, the UN has so far been the global clearing house for climate solutions.
Organizations such as the Security Council or General Assembly would have expanded roles, as well as new ones created as necessary. These bodies are going to need new funds and national support to engage the task at hand. There is no equivalently positioned political body ready to do this work on a global scale.
For the UN to respond in the way described above, a much larger budget and scope of action will be needed. Climate change may ultimately provide the impetus for the UN to finally come of age into the ‘protector of humanity’ it was meant to be.
I firmly believe that the time for individual action against climate change is over. Citizens around the world have put up a valiant effort in the face of nearly non-existent institutional reaction to the crisis. It’s now time for us to focus on political solutions as a means of moving forward.
If you want to adapt your personal life to fit what we know, it cannot hurt. However, the single most important thing we all need to be doing is effecting political change. This means voting, lobbying, campaigning, and organizing until we get the change we are seeking. Most importantly, do not vote for the status-quo.
It doesn’t matter if you currently drive a regular car, work in the oil industry, and heat your house with fossil fuels. These are regular features of the energy system of the world today, and there is no shame in this. By accepting that a change needs to happen, and supporting that change politically, ethically and morally, you are doing the most important thing. It’s the start of something much larger.
After all, what needs to change is so enormous and fundamental that you cannot do it on your own. In order to enact change on this scale we will need government support, and likewise, the government will need your support.
2 thoughts on “Greta Thunberg as a catalyst for change”
This is, in my view, the best written and most direct of your recent posts on collective action on climate change. Your call that ‘times up’ on climate deniers/resisters/enablers is forceful.
However, there are two items that, for me, need a bit more clarity. I am not sure about the shout out to existing electoral ‘democracy’. The current democratic system brought us Trump, Brexit, and here at home, the TransMountain bailout, provincial challenges to Carbon Tax (a free market, conservative approach that uses pricing to encourage modest change) and will likely see the election of Jason Kenney and the UCP in Alberta at the end of this month. There is no reason to assume that the liberal democracy that has failed us on climate and social issues over the past 30/50/100 years will suddenly bring different results.
In my view, liberal democracy (fashioned as the handmaiden to capitalism) will need fundamental change.
The post hints at this with the second issue that causes me pause – the call for a legal framework to enforce a consensus on climate issues. This drastic restriction on individuals is needed precisely because you implicitly recognize the limitations of a liberal democracy. As outlined above, I agree that we cannot have any faith that such a democracy will deliver the results we need on climate change, but I am reluctant to embrace this solution. It smacks of fascist authoritarianism – an effective model to be sure – but not one that will rally the generation that came of age in the 60s and 70s when authorities of all types were overthrown.
How do we keep the freedom people have fought so hard to win at the same time that we develop a collective consensus that unites us in a global struggle for survival? Not, in my view, by passing laws. I understand the intent and the urgency of the motivation that drives this authoritarian impulse – I have often wanted to have laws outlawing stupidity in my community. What we have to remind ourselves with every policy proposal is that our political opponents will soon be in power – how will they employ that policy you put in place?
thanks for your thoughtful comment.
I’ve been struggling with the issues around authoritarianism in the fight against climate change for some time.
It may in fact be the crucial intellectual struggle towards a better way forward for the politically minded among us. We shouldn’t balk at exploring it to see where it leads. After all, it’s been some time since society has faced an existential threat like this.
Do individual freedoms supersede the need for collective action in the face of such a fundamental threat?
I’ve come to the conclusion that we may need to be rid of the ‘actively funded’ climate change denial industry to then see how people’s free choice plays out. The short term mercantile interests that climate change denial is currently serving have significantly polluted a clear understanding of this critical issue. My point here is, we already have laws on the books for this, those dealing with fraudulent behavior. We have not enforced them on this group, and it would be interesting to see if we did.
My overarching point, perhaps not as focused as it could have been, is that the ‘reasonable response’ approach would be to outlaw these activities based on what is at stake. In my hierarchy the preservation of a stable climate comes well above absolute freedom of speech or individual action. The case for this viewpoint is likely to grow as our climate crisis deepens….