Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Changing Climate Conversation

Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people, to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.” -Greta Thunberg, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee (see: “‘I want you to panic’: Climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, lays it on the line for world leaders,” Women in the World, January 29, 2019)

Our house – or more specifically, our planetary human civilization – is facing an existential threat.  For the last couple of decades, we have benignly referred to this threat as “anthropogenic climate change” or just “climate change” – terms that fail to conjure up much of an emotional reaction or convey the true extent of the threat.

It’s hard to get too excited about “change” in the 21st Century, when change itself is the one thing – maybe the only thing – we expect to be a constant in our lives.  And maybe that’s why we haven’t been all that worked up about “climate change”, generally speaking.  

Up until quite recently, anyway.

Have you noticed the change in conversations about climate change? More often now we aren’t talking about “climate change” at all – but rather about a “climate crisis”, or “climate breakdown”. Instead of the passive idea of a changing climate, we now talk about a “climate emergency”. And we’re talking about it in our newspapers, in our municipal council chambers – and in our legislatures. We’re talking about it on social media and at family gatherings. The idea that we are in the midst of a climate emergency has suddenly become ubiquitous.

This change in the discussion around climate change has left some on the right side of the political spectrum a little upset.  The political right has been reluctant to engage in discussions about climate change, and continues to provide cover for some who deny the science. It’s no wonder some on the right are having a hard time keeping up with a  public that is demanding climate action.  It’s no wonder they are being left behind by a millennial cohort that understands the existential threat of the climate crisis – and has no time for those who don’t want to do anything about it.

Change is inevitable – and it’s really no surprise that we have moved towards a more precise and accurate description of the existential threat posed by the addition of greenhouse gases to our atmosphere.  The conversation has been seriously shifting since the latter part of 2018, thanks largely to two notable events.  One was the publication of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change’s Special Report (see: “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN,” The Guardian, October 8, 2018). It laid out in stark terms that the world has just 12 years to take meaningful action to reduce emissions in order to keep the global average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius. This report interjected a significant degree of urgency into climate discussions. 

And of course, there’s Greta Thunberg, who burst onto the world scene as a 15-year old dynamo who has inspired a global youth movement of climate strikers (see: “Greta Thunberg,” Wikipedia).  Thunberg has made it her mission to speak truth to power – and although those in power may not want to hear her message demanding urgent and meaningful action, it’s a message that has clearly resonated with common people.

The climate emergency is already leading to global political upheaval. For too long, our political leaders have focused on doing as little as they could, implementing only the politically possible as a cover for business as usual. That’s inevitably changing now, and as the discussion shifts from the doing the possible to doing what’s necessary, our political and economic status quo will be further upended. 

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Originally published online and in print as, "May: The evolving climate change conversation," at the Sudbury Star, Saturday June 15, 2019 - without hyperlinks.

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