In the wake of yet one more bumbling move by our Bumbler-in-Chief—the announcement that the U.S. will pull out of the Paris Climate Accord—it is important, I think, that we the people keep our feet firmly on the ground of how things actually work.
What is going to get us out of the mess we are in in the matter of climate change is only and exactly what got us into it—action. Action, action, action. Not agreements, not policies, not debate, not diplomacy, and certainly not lamenting our impending demise at the hands of this or any other president. During my three years of direct engagement with the people who crafted and eventually ratified the Paris agreement, I have had the opportunity to explore first-hand the world in which the agreement came to be, the world of diplomacy and politics. The agreement sets a framework for climate action; it does not determine action. This is a critical distinction often lost in the drama of events such as Trump’s announcement of withdrawal from the accord.
Does this mean the agreement is not useful, that it is without merit? Absolutely not. But its merit is not in its capacity to end the crisis; its merit is in the power of consensus, the accomplishment of the disparate governments of our world coming together, the global convening of more than 190 governments over the course of more than twenty years, attempting and failing and attempting and failing, and finally standing as one aligned world to take steps to reduce greenhouse emissions.
The organizing entity for the agreement is the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). The key word is framework. The agreement sets out intentions for each country, and puts them in a framework of a common goal of a sustainable future for all humanity. The historic nature of the agreement is not its content, and the content is important. The intentions articulated do chart somewhat of a path for the future, keeping in mind, however that even if all nations keep their pledges, the climate will still heat in excess of the “safety limit” of a two-degree Celsius increase over pre-industrial level.
The Paris agreement was never intended to handle climate change. It was designed to create the environment, to set the context in which the handling of climate change would be possible.
Trump’s declaration withdrawing the U.S. from the accord is a thoughtless denial of that possibility, and that is what I suggest is the tragedy of his declaration, at the level at which the agreement was created. At the heart of it, the power of the agreement is that in its creation, the separateness of the countries disappeared into the wholeness and commonality that is what we all are and what we all share as humanity. Trump’s mindset appears to be one that holds that Making America Great is a function of Keeping America Separate, an antiquated worldview that simply cannot exist in the context of the Paris agreement.
For a true insider’s perspective on the agreement, the process of its creation and its relationship to civil society engagement in the matter of climate change, here’s the link to the video of my conversation with Artur Runge-Metzger, co-chair of COP 20, which was the UN climate change conference prior to the Paris conference (COP 21): Click here.
What happens now is what matters. And what matters is action. The agreement, whatever the U.S.’s participation ends up being, will not end the crisis. And it can’t. No agreement or legislation or policy can. The only thing that will end it is action, and the only people who will be taking that action, those actions, are you and me. There is no second string on this one.
We do have the power to end the crisis, and what it will cost us—and this latest move by the president is yet one more opportunity to pay that price—is the comfort of thinking that someone or something else is going to end it.
That’s the down side of having power: you actually have to do something. As long as the power is in the hands of Trump or the U.N. or anything outside ourselves, then we need only opine and complain as to how or what “they” are doing.
In speaking with the head of the U.S. delegation at the U.N. Climate Change conference in Bonn last month, I shared 2020 or Bust with him and explained that our strategy was to assume that Trump would do everything he promised to do (including withdrawing from the Paris agreement) and to get the world on track to ending the crisis with zero dependence on his policies or decisions; in effect, to have his actions be irrelevant in the matter. My colleague agreed that that was the best strategy.
Once the veil of our own powerlessness is lifted, we can see that there is only one question—“What action is to be taken?” And that question is not answered by “me” but by that for which I stand.
2020 or Bust’s mission to mobilize humanity to end the climate crisis is a mission to wake people to their own power, and in that awakening, to have the actions that they take be the actions that cause, day by day, action by action, a future of sustainability for our children, our children’s children, and for all generations to come.
500 million people taking simple carbon reducing actions every day will bridge the critical 2020 emissions gap and get us on track to ending the crisis in time. We are in what is possibly the most critical window of opportunity in our lifetime and in the lifetimes of those yet to come. Let us not waste it by sitting on the sidelines assessing the game (as fascinating as some of the players might be). Let us get down on the field and do the work of awakening, enabling, and empowering our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, our families, everyone in our world(s) to step up and take the action that matters.
30 million mobilized in 2017. 500 million mobilized by 2020.
You have the power. Action now. 2020 or Bust.