Post COP 21 – Now what?
For those of us who have been working hard on climate concerns everyone has an opinion on the outcome of COP21. Personally, I am relieved that they did as well as they did. I respect the challenge of having so many players all pressuring to have input and having to build consensus on how to move forward. I congratulate the Canadian Government and Climate Activists on a wonderful job. Of course, it is not perfect. Perfection does not exist in such a process. But as far as I can tell, it is the turning point I’ve been looking for. Climate issues and policies are part of the daily discussion. We have committed to leave some oil and gas and coal reserves in the ground. The Canadian public is much more aware of the need for policy turnaround and that it will mean changes.
The problem is, the vast majority of people around the world have no idea what that means. In order to get this far we have had to simplify the message. We focused attention on 100% renewable energy as something people could understand. People have a vague awareness that we need a price on carbon. They may know we expect green jobs but they probably don’t know what those look like. Naomi Klein as popularized the notion that Capitalism isn’t working, and that we need some fundamental systemic changes, but what does that mean? Now is the time that we need to help Canadians visualize concretely the kind of world we want to move to.
Our new federal government has made a good start by promising to bring the country’s top leaders to the table to negotiate new climate targets and to make a plan to move the economy forward toward a low-carbon future. The process will be democratic. They have also sent a signal that they will be looking for innovation and infrastructure development as major directions in the search for solutions.
I agree with Naomi Klein that Capitalism has shown that it is fundamentally flawed when its fundamental motivator is greed and it operates in a social context where the moral standards of society have been eroded. We need some fundamental changes in the philosophical ground of our society. For me this would require that in addition to rights to make a profit companies would also require to have responsibilities toward their workers, toward the communities that sustain them, and toward the earth. Some call this the triple bottom-line of people, planet and profit.
There have to be some limits to pure selfishness and greed. I am looking at companies that pull the rug out from under communities by moving key jobs to Asia. I am looking at Monsanto that expects to control seeds after it has allowed its GMO seeds to contaminate organic crops. I am looking at a pharmaceutical company that jacks up the prices of essential life-saving drugs by 700- 5000% just because they can. Companies owe something to the communities that provide them with educated workers, virtually free clean water, and so on. They must not be allowed to operate their businesses without planning for the costs of cleaning up their messes and then externalize those costs to the public purse.
Secondly, I think that it is time that we have a serious review of what we now view as legal property rights. We need to reconsider as a human society what we can own. Can we own land, or do we use it and share it with others? This is the message from our First Nations neighbours. Can we own the building blocks of life? DNA? Or is it a sacred substance that belongs to God. How long should innovation be subject to patent before ideas can be shared and made accessible to all? If we are going to have the kind of innovation we need to solve our current problems I believe we need a very free exchange of ideas all around the world. We need people to freely experiment and create the solutions that don’t exist yet.
At the same time, eliminating the private sector is not an option. It’s great strength is the freedom of people to implement their ideas and turn them into viable businesses. Monolithic public sectors are too sluggish and subject to corruption to operate without a vital private sector.
I foresee an explosion of creativity, innovation, new businesses, and ideas in all sectors of the economy as we search for new ways of living in relation to each other and the earth. We will be looking for the electric car, new methods of electricity storage, new methods of heating our homes and conserving energy so we need less. We hope for much better public transit within cities and between cities. Power generation will be revolutionized from huge centralized systems to localized, distributed systems that are suited to particular ecosystems and local circumstances. We need to unleash our creative capacities symbolized for me by a Nigerian School Girl who learned how to make electricity out of her own urine for her science project.
I also hope that we will see much greater awareness and more conscious living amongst Canadians. I’d like to see a return to making quality clothing that lasts more than one season, and planning for manufactured goods, electronics and computers that are expected to last ten years or longer before they need to be replaced. Employment needs to be less focused on the production and distribution of stuff, and more focused on increasing knowledge, and on services to improve the quality of our lives that don’t take such a toll on the natural world. Agriculture will need to have a serious review of its energy-intensive practices and more people will be working to either grow or gather food, both in rural areas and in the cities. We have to really think about the pollution caused by our middle class fetish of flying all over the world to personally experience every ecosystem and culture.
We can face the future with fear because we don’t know where the work is going to be or how we will be living, or we can vision the future we want and start creating it. For me this is truly a great time of hope and opportunity. Canadians can come alive and create a new relationship with the land, with our First Nations neighbours, and with each other. Let us empower ourselves to rise to the challenge and build a civilization for our children and grandchildren that we can be truly proud of.
But that’s for the New Year. For now we all deserve time to celebrate and take a rest. Merry Christmas to all and all my best to you for a good year in 2016.