Everyone includes political leaders, of course. But having attended many meetings with social movements about the COP summit in Paris, I can report this: there is zero tolerance for yet another failure being dressed up as a success for the cameras. Until a week later, when those same politicians are back to drilling for oil in the Arctic and building more highways and pushing new trade deals that make it far more difficult to regulate polluters.
If the deal fails to bring about immediate emission reductions while providing real and substantive support for poor countries, then it will be declared a failure. As it should be.
What we must always remember is that it’s not too late to veer off the dangerous road we are on — the one that is leading us towards four degrees of warming. Indeed we could still keep warming below 1.5 degrees if we made it our top collective priority.
It would be difficult, to be sure. As difficult as the rationing and industrial conversions that were once made in wartime. As ambitious as the anti-poverty and public works programs launched in the aftermath of the Great Depression and the Second World War.
But difficult is not the same as impossible. And giving up in the face of a task that could save countless and lives prevent so much suffering — simply because it is difficult, costly and requires sacrifice from those of us who can most afford to make do with less — is not pragmatism.
It is surrender of the most cowardly kind. And there is no cost-benefit analysis in the world that is capable of justifying it.
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
We have been hearing these supposedly serious-minded words for more than two decades. For the entire lifetime of today’s young climate activists. And every time another UN summit fails to deliver bold, legally-binding and science-based polices, while sprinkling empty promises of reshuffled aid money, we hear those words again. “Sure it’s not enough but it’s a step in the right direction.” “We’ll do the harder work next time.” And always: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
This, it must be said inside these hallowed walls, is pure nonsense. “Perfect” left the station in the mid-1990s, after the first Rio Earth Summit. Today, we have only two roads in front of us: difficult yet humane — and easy yet reprehensible.
To our so-called leaders preparing their pledges for COP 21 in Paris, getting out the lipstick and heels to dress up another lousy deal, I have this to say: Read the actual encyclical — not the summaries, the whole thing. Read it and let it into your hearts. The grief at what we have already lost, and the celebration of what we can still protect and help to thrive.
Listen, too, to the voices of the hundreds of thousands who will be on the streets of Paris outside the summit, gathered simultaneously in cities around the world. This time, they will be saying more than “we need action.” They will be saying: we are already acting.
We are the solutions: in our demands that institutions divest their holdings from fossil fuel companies and invest them in the activities that will lower emissions.
In our ecological farming methods, which rely less on fossil fuels, provide healthy food and work and sequester carbon.
In our locally-controlled renewable energy projects, which are bringing down emissions, keeping resources in communities, lowering costs and defining access to energy as a right.
In our demand for reliable, affordable and even free public transit, which will get us out of the cars that pollute our cities, congest our lives and isolate us from one another.
In our uncompromising insistence that you cannot call yourself a climate leader while opening up vast new tracks of ocean and land to oil drilling, gas fracking and coal mining. We have to leave it in the ground.
In our conviction that you cannot call yourself a democracy if you are beholden to multinational polluters.
Around the world, the climate justice movement is saying: See the beautiful world that lies on the other side of courageous policy, the seeds of which are already bearing ample fruit for any who care to look.
Then, stop making the difficult the enemy of the possible.
And join us in making the possible real.