I went down to West Cliff Drive in the rain this morning to watch wild twenty-foot surf pound the cliffs. Waves raised by this latest winter storm were so huge they crashed all the way up onto the road, spraying foam and leaving seaweed on the street and sidewalk. Nevertheless, there were lots of people walking along the cliff, enjoying rain after our long drought. According to the National Weather Service, we are in for plenty of big El Niño storms this winter. It’s unknown whether or not the strong El Niños of the past few decades are associated with Global Warming. But it is now widely accepted that anthropogenic, or human caused, Climate Change is a fact, and will profoundly shape life in the 21st Century.
On my walk, I thought about several of my friends, recently returned from the People’s gatherings at the historic Paris Climate Conference.
The landmark Paris Climate Accord signed by 195 nations at the end of December 2015 marks a global Sea Change. At COP21, nearly every country in the world agreed to strengthen their response to the threat of climate change. World leaders made a committment to hold the global average temperature well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels. They also pledged to pursue efforts to limit the planet’s temperature increase to 1.5ºC. In the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, they promised to grow economies that foster climate resilience, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and support sustainable food production systems.
The drum beat warning our Tribe that a Great Storm is coming has been sounding for decades. But at first only a few beat the drums – scientists, visionaries, forward-seeing policy makers, naturalists, indigenous, and the most aware citizens. Most people just complained about the noise, said it was disturbing their sleep.
When Al Gore produced An Inconvenient Truth, the drumbeat got louder. Many took up the alarm, warning that we must immediately cut carbon emissions and develop new, sustainable energy systems, or face disastrous consequences in the storm ahead.
Agriculture, transportation, and industry entrepreneurs developed innovations powered by solar, giving us the potential to steer our Titanic around the looming icebergs. But those still stuck in a tar-sands dream ridiculed planet-saving innovations as impractical and financially unfeasible, and so our ship moved onward into the storm front of Climate Chaos.
Unfortunately, there is no turning back now. The storm is whirling and breaking over our heads. Even if we stopped emitting all carbon today – stopped traveling in our fossil fuel-powered cars and planes, shut down all petrochemical-based industries, quit heating and cooling and lighting our world with fossil fuels, and left all remaining fossil fuel in the ground, we could not now avert the consequences of the planetary warming we have caused. Our polar ice caps are melting. That cannot be reversed. Our seas are rising. Famine, drought, flood, unseasonable heat waves and storms of unprecedented severity, disrupted migration and plant growth patterns, epidemics, extinctions. Climate Chaos has already fatally disrupted Earth’s life support systems. And this is only the leading edge of the Great Storm that’s coming.
Finally, our world’s political leaders have heard the alarm. The Paris Climate Accord is a Sea Change, a global shift in consciousness, an awakening.
Now, with the waters already rushing in, humans are finally getting serious about the work of triage. Adapting to life in the storm, figuring out ways to mitigate damage. People are waking up, calling for rapid transition away from a fossil fuel based civilization, and demanding change.
Economies in every sector are scrambling to meet the People’s demands. Investment capital for sustainable innovation, previously just a trickle, is now a high-pressure flow. All hands on deck! It’s time to lash ourselves to the mast and ride the big waves of transition toward a sustainable, ecologically and socially just civilization.