The Paris Agreement

I’m trying to remain optimistic.

On the one hand the agreement reached in Paris seems a big step forward. It’s the first truly global agreement on climate change involving nearly 190 countries. It has a goal of keeping global average temperature “well below” two degress celsius. That is good.

On the other hand, words are cheap. The agreement has no teeth. There are no mechanisms to force compliance. And, beyond the statement that the goal is to keep temperatures “well below” two degrees, the actual emission reduction commitments would still allow temperatures to rise well above three degrees — an unmitigated catastrophe.

I can remain optimistic about the agreement only if all stake-holders see it as just a first step in a long process. Climate negotiators MUST return to the table every few years to update their commitments. At some point there will have to be better mechanisms to ensure compliance.

We still face enormous hurdles to reach the ambitous goal of keeping temperatures well below two degrees. The biggest hurdle is not the science, nor policy, nor even technology — we have more than enough evidence of the causes and potential consequences; there are policies that could be very effective (a revenue-neutral carbon tax); and we have all of the technologies needed to generate clean energy.

The biggest hurdle is the will of the people. The only way climate negotiators will be able to make the necessary commitments in coming years is if they have the will of their citizens behind them. It is now truly up to all of us. The policy wonks and technologists can’t do it without us.

So, what remains to be done is for most people to take ownership of climate change. People can no longer sit back and hope the experts will figure it out. People must speak up and force political leaders to do what is necessary. We all need to make the necessary changes in our own lives to move toward a fossil-fuel-free civilization.

Since it is now up to the will of the people, I can still remain optimistic. After walking a thousand miles and meeting hundreds of people along the way, I know that most have the courage, compassion, and creativity to respond to the climate crisis.

We can do this. We MUST do this.

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