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Occupy Climate Change

November 14, 2011 - The International Energy Agency (IEA) has a reputation for conservatism, so its latest report has been regarded as something of an eye-opener. The Agency has joined the ranks of other former climate change mealy mouths (you can just never be too sure, can you?) who now think it's time for immediate action. They've put a pretty fine point on it, too: should governments/agencies fail to act decisively within five years, all hope for a 2 degrees Celsius (roughly 3 1/2 degrees Fahrenheit) increase in average global temperatures will be lost.

Not that the IEA should be regarded as the know-all and be-all of climate change. To repeat, their assertion of irrevocable climate change is significant because they have heretofore been reluctant to go on the record with an "official" opinion, particularly one in support of looming disaster. Unfortunately, IEA officials still toe the line when the executive director talks of "growth, prosperity, and rising population," as she did in response to questions about the just-issued report. They see what lies ahead, but they are still loathe to say it out loud. Let's give them a hand, shall we?

Economic growth may still sputter along at a "one step forward, two steps back" pace, but this is plainly the illusion of an improving, i.e. consumerist, standard of living, not the reality. The current m.o. of robbing Peter to pay Paul (sorry for all the cliches!) cannot and will not make people's lives materially richer. Prosperity - which I define as having more than you need - is a thing of the past. We're headed, if we're lucky, toward a future of subsistence living. The luck part of the the equation will be derived from the knowledge that we can take only as much as we put back, and not one iota more.

Western nations quake at the thought of making do with less. Americans more than most. To be fair, that distaste is based upon memories of the not-so-distant past. Perhaps it would help if we reminded ourselves that trailblazing is no longer called for. Building cabins out of logs we've felled ourselves will not be necessary. Yes, we'll grow at least some of our own food, and yes, not every year will produce a bumper crop. Inexperienced farmers will face a steep, swift learning curve as they learn to grow food in the midst of a new, even more volatile kind of climate change. But much of the infrastructure - think roads - is already in place, and we will quickly learn to turn to each other in times of need.

As for rising population, that seems unlikely. Climate disruption will, as time passes, kick into high gear and truly earn its name. As a result, the mortality rate will rise. The sick, the old, and the young will, as always, suffer most. Those in the prime of life will have a distinct advantage. Thousand-year floods and droughts will uproot many, while wildfires may well drive the few who remain into exile. Migrating from one region of the country to another, very possibly without the aid of fossil fuels, will take its toll. This pitiless turning of events has already begun in some parts of the world.

That is why poor nations are becoming ever more vocal about the responsibility of wealthy nations to end their dependence on fossil fuels. As of this writing, it seems there is little likelihood that these separate worlds will reach agreement in Durban, at the end of this month, at COP (Conference of the Parties [who signed the Kyoto Protocol]) 17. The United States bears the onus for the failure of these negotiations. We have apparently decided that we can live only for today, without any thought for tomorrow.

Meanwhile, our children are telling us what they think about that by giving the word "occupy" a whole new meaning.


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