Jeffrey Sachs doesn't mince words when he writes, "We are all climate refugees now." The director of Columbia's Center for Sustainable Development and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, says government is the problem. It's also the fix, the only fix, if only we will change it. If we don't, if we perpetuate this dereliction/betrayal it will not go well for us.
How utterly reckless of humanity to have rushed past the Holocene boundary, ignoring – like a character in a horror movie – all of the obvious warning signs. In 1972, the world’s governments assembled in Stockholm to address the growing environmental threats. In the lead-up to the conference, the Club of Rome published The Limits to Growth, which first introduced the idea of a “sustainable” growth trajectory and the risks of environmental overshooting. Twenty years later, the warning signs flashed brightly in Rio de Janeiro, where United Nations member states assembled at the Earth Summit to adopt the concept of “sustainable development” and to sign three major environmental treaties to halt human-induced global warming, protect biological diversity, and stop land degradation and desertification.
After 1992, the United States, the world’s most powerful country, ostentatiously ignored the three new treaties, signaling to other countries that they could slacken their efforts as well. The US Senate ratified the climate and desertification treaties but did nothing to implement them. And it refused even to ratify the treaty to protect biological diversity, in part because western-state Republicans insisted that landowners have the right to do what they want with their property without international meddling.
What's the problem? Government. Not just America's, our own.
The main reason is that our political institutions and giant corporations willfully ignore the rising dangers and damage. Politics is about obtaining and holding power and the perks of office, not about solving problems, even life-and-death environmental problems. Managing a major company is about maximising shareholder value, not about telling the truth or avoiding great harm to the planet. Profit-seeking investors own the major media, or at least influence it through their advertising purchases. Thus, a small yet very powerful group maintains the fossil-fuel-based energy system at growing peril to the rest of humanity today and in the future.
The solution? A new politics, radically different from what we've endured from the Liberals and Conservatives. It's our last, best chance.
We need a new kind of politics that starts with a clear global goal: environmental safety for the planet’s people, by fulfilling the Paris climate agreement, protecting biodiversity, and cutting pollution, which kills millions each year. The new politics will listen to scientific and technological experts, not self-interested business leaders and narcissistic politicians. Climatologists enable us to gauge the rising dangers. Engineers inform us how to make the rapid transition, by 2050, to zero-carbon energy. Ecologists and agronomists show us how to grow more and better crops on less land while ending deforestation and restoring previously degraded land.
Such a politics is possible. In fact, the public yearns for it. A large majority of the American people, for example, want to fight global warming, stay in the Paris climate agreement, and embrace renewable energy. Yet, as long as a narrow and ignorant elite condemn Americans and the rest of humanity to wander aimlessly in the political desert, the more likely it is that we will all end up in a wasteland from which there will be no escape.Our kids' and grandkids' survival is at stake. Environmental safety for the planet's people should be Justin Trudeau's overarching priority but it's not. Yes Andrew Scheer, Doug Ford, Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney are a good measure worse but that's not the point. It's Trudeau's job to serve Canada, not to let it fail just because the worst will befall us on someone else's watch.