This is our moment
Here at the crossroads of time
We hope our children
Carry our dreams down the line
They are the vintage
What kind of life will they live?
Is this a curse or a blessing that we give?
Sometimes I wonder
Why are we so blind to fate?
Without compassion, there can be no end to hate
No end to sorrow
Caused by the same endless fears
Why can’t we learn from all we’ve been through
After two thousand years?
–Billy Joel, “Two Thousand Years,” 1993
The next two weeks will determine if humanity will be saved.
The very health and safety of future generations–of our children and grandchildren–depends on the success of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference scheduled to begin tomorrow in Paris. Simply put, this conference must end with a strong global agreement to dramatically reduce dangerous carbon pollution: if it does not, the planet will move inexorably closer to inhabitability.
Because a hotter planet will inevitably lead to greater international conflicts–yes, Virginia, there is a link between human-caused climate change and extremism–the success of this conference is unquestionably a matter of national security. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman connected the dots between human-caused climate change and the chaos in Syria in the 2014 Showtime documentary Years of Living Dangerously. If the Paris climate talks fail, it will only be a matter of decades before the entire world turns into Syria.
As Naomi Klein and climate scientist Jason Box note, solving the climate crisis is perhaps the most effective way to win the “War on Terror”:
What if, instead of being pushed aside in the name of war, climate action took center stage as the planet’s best hope for peace?
The connection between warming temperatures and the cycle of Syrian violence is, by now, uncontroversial. As Secretary of State John Kerry said in Virginia, this month, “It’s not a coincidence that, immediately prior to the civil war in Syria, the country experienced its worst drought on record. As many as 1.5 million people migrated from Syria’s farms to its cities, intensifying the political unrest that was just beginning to roil and boil in the region.”
As Kerry went on to note, many factors contributed to Syria’s instability. The severe drought was one, but so were the repressive practices of a brutal dictator and the rise of a particular strain of religious extremism. Another big factor was the invasion of Iraq, a decade ago. And since that war—like so many before it—was inextricable from the West’s thirst for Iraqi oil (warming be damned), that fateful decision in turn became difficult to separate from climate change. ISIS, which has taken responsibility for the attacks in Paris, found fertile ground in this volatile context of too much oil and too little water.
If we acknowledge that the instability emanating from the Middle East has these roots, it makes little sense to allow the Paris attacks to minimize our already inadequate climate commitments. Rather, this tragedy should inspire the opposite reaction: an urgent push to lower emissions as rapidly and deeply as possible, including strong support for developing countries to leapfrog to renewable energy, creating much-needed jobs and economic opportunities in the process…
[A]s the author and energy expert Michael T. Klare argued weeks before the attacks, Paris “should be considered not just a climate summit but a peace conference—perhaps the most significant peace convocation in history.” But it can only do that if the agreement builds a carbon-safe economy fast enough to tangibly improve lives in the here and now. We are finally starting to recognize that climate change leads to wars and economic ruin. It’s time to recognize that intelligent climate policy is fundamental to lasting peace and economic justice.
A war for oil put us on the path to today’s terrorism. The only way to permanently reduce the threat of tomorrow’s terrorism–the only way to prevent the type of crisis that gave rise to ISIS–is to drastically reduce the pollution that is pushing this planet towards peril. The only way to protect the lives of those living today and those who will be born tomorrow is to break what the man who launched that war once called our addiction to oil. The only way to avoid more death worldwide–via extreme weather and extremism–is to give life to cleaner and safer forms of energy worldwide.
If a deal is reached, it will demonstrate that hope can ultimately overcome hate. A strong climate deal will help move our civilization away from calamity and chaos, and towards a more principled, more prosperous and–most importantly–more peaceful planet. If a deal is reached, we will be able to finally realize the dream of moving our world beyond war.
2015 has been a year of climate progress: President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, Pope Francis’s impassioned call to protect “our common home,” the revelation of ExxonMobil’s two decades of deception. If a deal is reached, 2015 will be remembered as the year when the world finally decided to give a damn about stopping pollution, stopping violence, stopping inequality, stopping hate. Let’s hope and pray that this conference ends on a positive and historic note. Let’s hope and pray that our children and grandchildren can be proud of us.
UPDATE: More from Peter Sinclair, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Ban Ki-Moon, Climate Central, the New York Times, Tim DeChristopher, Tony Dokoupil, Ben Adler, Jessica Langerman, Gina McCarthy, Brad Johnson, The Hill, Thom Hartmann, Felix Kramer and Frances Beinecke.
SECOND UPDATE: From Katharine Hayhoe, Jake Schmidt, 350.org, the New York Times, Han Chen, The Guardian, WBUR-FM, the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Joseph Romm, Naomi Klein, Curt Stager and the New York Times editorial page.
SIXTH UPDATE: From the CBS Evening News.