Could we be on the threshold of a broader understanding of the fundamental challenge of the climate challenge?
By Rev. Henrik Grape
Are we in a time when the message of the threats of climate change is on its way to sink into our shared consciousness? After being active in the climate debates in the ecumenical and interreligious discussions and advocacy work with not so much of a visible impact on policies and action I am wondering if we are getting closer to the point where we should have been 20 years ago. A point that says that humanity needs to choose another way if we are going to secure a decent future for coming generations and to save ecosystems and peoples opportunities to have a good and peaceful life together.
It stands clear that we are in a position when we need a fundamental shift of how we build societies on planet Earth. We have to change focus from economic and political counting if we can decrease the emissions to what we must do to decrease the emissions of greenhouse gases. It is time to leave the concept of competition and market forces as the model of development since it never going to work on a planet with finite resources. The planetary boundaries must be respected. If not, the ecosystems will not provide life on earth as we know it and as we as humans are depending on.
The question marks around the industrial development model from the last century started to show in the Club of Rome discussion on the limits of growth, is today exchanged with exclamation marks. What is manifested in United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro 1992 in both Climate Convention and Convention on Biodiversity, is a milestone, but without acting in the way the conference called to. Intentions were good but the urgency to act was never picked up by the international community. If everything should have gone the best way after Rio -92 summit and followed the intentions we maybe could have a different world today.
Instead we are trapped in a narrative that is full of contradictions. On one hand the scientific knowledge on climate change is much deeper and broader today and it speaks more clearly than ever of anthropogenic greenhouse gases and how it affects the planet and the different ecosystems. On the other hand the emissions has been growing every year since 1992 and the ppm levels of CO2 equivalents is on levels we have never seen in many hundreds of thousands years. And this is not stopping influential powers to a show a stubborn resistance both to accept facts and no will to change.
The intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) compiles a large deal of the research on climate change and related science. During the years they have published comprehensive assessment reports about knowledge on climate change, its causes, potential impacts and response options. They also do special reports like the last one on the possibility to reach keep the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Over the years the message has become more and more clear; humanities impact on our climate is for real. The 1.5 report says that we can keep limit the temperature rise to 1.5 but to achieve that we need a fundamental and rapid change. The ambitions we see today are not in line with a major change.
But it is possible to avoid a more dangerous temperature rise even if the outlooks are not good and that seems to activate more people and agents on the track for change. Late, but I hope not too late, more and more people starts to understand that we need to do something big. We are about to start the largest transformation since the start of the industrial era in the very late 19thcentury.
Sometimes people of faith are accused for exaggerating with the biggest word they can find. And to talk about a fundamental transition could be exaggerating if the situation was not so urgent and particularly severe for the whole planet. This is the time to use those words. Humanity has never been of such a huge importance to the future of planet Earth.
But when more people are actually seeing the worrying path we are walking, those who cling to the industrial concept of development become more and more loud. Nothing to be surprised by since their power and influence over the economic agenda are threatened. The short-sightedness prevails as it is the only way to not take the climate challenge seriously. And nationalistic movements often tend to romanticize the golden days of industrial development and point to this concept as the future. This in a time when we should be aware of that the development model that brought us here, with many advantages must be admitted, are not the model that will solve the problems of today.
Those who has been thinking of environment as a special interest and saying that environmental problem can be solved when we have the economy and time do it, seems to be a species on the way to extinct. The insight that ecosystem services cannot be negotiated with or being lower prioritized, are growing and becoming more and more obvious the more impact human activities has on the global ecosystems. We are putting at risk the water resources, food production and health among other things when the ecosystem are getting more affected and weaker. When fundamental functions for human life are threatened the social tensions are getting higher and the risks of conflicts are getting higher. Because of weaker ecosystems, less predictability about rain and harvests, water availability and flooding the risk of violent conflicts are much higher. And also the economies become more unstable. Everything is related.
But right now we could be at a turning point when a critical mass starts to understand the maybe the incomprehensible fact that we are in a unique place in history. There are some signs of this.
The Greta - effect
When a Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, with full attention to climate change goes outside the traditional way of activism and goes on school-strike, sits outside the Swedish parliament every day before the general election in fall 2018, it is a sign of the time. And it is very timely to. It is a starting point for a movement among young people all over the world.
After years of years of people getting more and more anxious over climate change and more worried about the effects of environmental destruction this seems to be the time to give space for the protest against the madness of a society of grown-ups who don’t pay attention to the serious and urgent situation. To practice civil obedience with available means is one way of canalising the frustration and the powerlessness to a very diffuse someone who is not to be defined as responsible. If you listen to Greta and the youth on school strike says it is nothing new. It is what scientists have been saying for many years. It is what the environmental movement has been saying for a long time and it is the Climate Justice message that churches has been lifting in the climate debate and climate advocacy for many years
There is a risk that when young people is saying it and especially a 16 year old child as Greta says it, it becomes something that everybody agrees on and applause. But more of a kind gesture, a pat on the head and saying that you have great ambitions and your deep dedication is nice but you don’t know so much about life. It is like people who actually have at least some impact on decisions in a paternalistic way but polite way dismiss the message from the youth. Or it becomes a tsunami of ugly comments from trolls on social media.
But what we see today of school strikes at every continent is not possible to ignore anymore. It is not about the innocent of the youth that will go away when they will learn what real life is about. They are actually pointing at what a future real life is about. And it is not the way that most of those in power are pointing. There is something genuinely true in their protest. We are shrinking their possibilities to have a good life in the near future. It is true that we should act from what we know and not what we think is bet in a short term perspective. We must understand that future generations have right to clean air, clean water, healthy food and ecosystems that can deliver all this.
There is a component of unsentimentally in the challenge from the youth today. There is clarity that we who are imbedded in the structures of the last century of development and measuring growth in monetary values are not getting the large challenge of climate change. We, who are trapped in the old cosmology of industrial development as the everlasting truth, we who fears the change since it might taking away something that we think is important to us are the once who are closest to diminish the problem if we are not in denial. Unfortunately those who are most unwilling to change are in power and meet every climate fact with an argument that it is not possible to act because of economic reasons.
A global Oikos
Strong expressions of longing back to a society that never been has been rising on the world scene lately and created polarisation between those who see the urgency to move forward to a society that is built on the insights of the planetary boundaries and those who are looking back to the golden days of industrial expansion. Those who are looking back seem to appreciate authoritarian leadership, cultural unity and clear gender roles.
It seems like the climate change issue has been placed on the political left – right scale which is very unfortunately. It is obvious under the Trump administration when environmental laws are scrapped and a withdrawal from the Paris agreement. In Europe it seems like right wing populists are leaning more to downplay the importance of climate change while the green and left parties are often fronting on climate issues. This kind of division ruins the possibilities to have a large and broad political will to tackle climate change.
The truth is that climate change cannot be met with the last century’s methods. It doesn’t fit the political scale of left and right and the economic theories of the twentieth century don’t cope with reality today.
2006 the economist sir Nicolas Stern publish his report on the economics of climate change were he define and establish the fact that climate change will cause huge economic costs but it will be cheaper to do as much as possible as soon as possible and much more expensive to wait. One and a half decade sir Nicolas Stern says the same but even sharper. It could also been said this way; There is no economy on a planet with ruined ecosystems. So far the models from the main stream economists have not been really meeting the challenge. But today there is a great amount of reports about the urgency to act so it is harder to dismiss these facts even for economics
The word economy as well as the word ecology stems from the Greek word Oikoswhich means house or household. It could be simplified by saying that economy is how we efficient deal with the resources of the household and ecology is how all are connected in the household, the relations between the different parts of the household which is the planet earth or Mother Earth. All forms of life interact and build this house, the Earth, our home and global household.
We are now in a position when we need to support the household Earth and let the economy be what it’s meant to be; a way of keeping the household healthy.
Climate change was once regarded as a question for environment and environmentalists. Now it has become a systematic issue. That makes it more difficult to handle in a time when we are specialists and stakeholders in different topics and have interests in different areas that are very often divided and not seen as a whole. Especially not by “experts” on different subjects that are used to hang around with likeminded and often have special interests and are often blind about other aspects.
Environmentalists have sometimes trouble to think of economy and maybe even harder to think of social justice. Economists are often most occupied by economic gains and outcomes and values are a word mostly connected to monetary values and hard to understand non-monetary values. Those working with social justice sometime overlook that ecosystems are the foundation to the possibilities to build a good life for everybody. Today we are at a point when these different aspects no longer can be separated into silos. The different areas have to be integrated and those working with the different aspects must interact. We have to come to an understanding that this house, our Oikosmust be cared for and maintained. We need to be good caretakers of every part of the house, Oikos.Maybe we are on that way. At least young people around the world point to the interdependency of the Earth and the urgency to act now!
To tackle climate change demands huge transformations on a short time. This is something we can do since the human brain has the ability to foresee or anticipate the future that can help us to act. But we have many obstacles to come around. The largest seems to be the mental obstacles.
When the global financial bank crisis happened in 2008/2009 unbelievable amounts of money were poured into the system to save the banks. It was necessary to avoid a total crash since our financial structures is a foundation to many societal functions. The economic and financial infrastructures need to be there to avoid even greater problems. There was no budget for saving the financial structures because it was more of a war-economy. The tasked had to be fulfilled. We need something similar to protect the climate. It will not be done as long as we handle it like a budget question. We need a rescue plan to save the climate. Not a budget for what we can and what we cannot do. We are in need of a total transformation and transition when the world goes into a position where every decision must go along with the huge task of total transformation. Just like the financial system was saved we need this time a global alignment with total focus on bringing down the greenhouse gas emissions rapidly and to keep the temperature rise at most to 1.5 degree Celsius. We know the tools and we have the knowledge but we must also face the resistance from the more gentle ones who are telling us that it is not that bad and that we have to build our economy strong first by the old industrial concept to those who aggressively talks about climate change as a hoax and fake news.
To those who want to go by the last century industrial model there is a good response today. In USA the idea of a Green New Deal is growing. The idea is referring back to reforms during 1930 when President Franklin Roosevelt made a reform agenda to take USA out of the great depression. It was an agenda that both took responsibility on the economic development and social responsibility. Green New Deal is about doing the transformation to renewable energy and creates jobs and doing it with a social justice perspective. Hopefully this ideas can be spread and contextualized
Inside the ecumenical movement we have been advocating for many years for climate justice. Climate change is to a large extent a question of justice. The most affected by climate change are those who contributed least. This includes the poor people of the world, future generation and the Creation itself. The transformation we are standing in front of cannot keep the injustices of today. The transition must be just or strive for a more just distribution of resources.
In the international work around Just TransitionsI can see more and more people involved in the climate change debate that understands the importance of have a justice aspect on the transformation or transition. It is not possible to do a transition without a clear focus on just distribution or sharing of both efforts to achieve a low carbon society and to receive to benefits of the new world built on an understanding of and respecting the planetary boundaries. The Yellow Wests in France shows it clearly that a successful transition must include a social agenda.
We could today be in a situation today that the struggle so many been into for decades to stand up to climate change and transform our societies in line with what we know today gains ground.
We could today be in a situation when those who has been underlining that a transition must be just and approached in a rights perspective become more listened to
We could today be in aKairos moment when a turn of the development is at reach.
We cannot see it in the level of greenhouse gases still rising. We cannot see it in the in the rising economic inequalities or the development policies. But something is coming out of the great amount of feeling of powerlessness among all of us who understands the climate science and who have some kind of global solidarity left in our hearts; Now is the time for transformation.
The children demand it
A church that takes seriously the words from Jesus that points at the child as the example to follow must let the children perspective be in the forefront, Now when we see the children and the youth coming out on the streets demanding action churches and faith communities must echoing and amplify their voices like bells of freedom ringing over the world. The justice we can achieve when we all together put all our efforts to change the model of how we live together on this Earth. A change to a society built on maximum interaction and cooperation to solve the climate challenge and combat the threat of a three degree warming would be.
It is a new form of Solidarity that goes from heart to hand, from the Arctic to the Amazonas.
A journey where indigenous people and the children becomes our guides.
Where science and politics forge the models for our new societies.
Were the generation of today gives space and justice for coming generations.
Were the web of the Creation become the picture for our interdependency, our trustful reliance on a functioning planet.
These might look like “big-words” and it is . But our task is big and we must be driven by love in this great task. Love for our neighbour, who is the poor among us, future generations and the Creation.