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There's Still Enough Time to Avert Climate Chaos

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Ice fishing Chris Bray photo, 165 px

"The struggle for the environment is the struggle for our own survival."
Ricardo Navarro

Photo by Chris Bray.

I happened to be in New York City in September on the day the Yes Men (no relation to YES! Magazine) pulled off their latest newspaper hoax, this one devoted to the climate crisis. All over the city, young people were on street corners hawking free copies of a phony New York Post, with a banner headline pronouncing “We’re Screwed!!”

Shortly after, the Yes Men held a press conference in Washington, D.C., passing themselves off as representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They announced that the Chamber is dropping its “erroneous” opposition to climate legislation—a story quickly picked up as fact by major news outlets.

As news of glacial melts, storms, fires, and droughts gets more dire, the strategies of climate activists like the Yes Men are getting more creative and more insistent. The data coming in show actual climate impacts are at the worst end of the range of possibilities predicted by climate models.

Policymakers, however, are working from models that may be unduly optimistic—in part because they leave out the wildly unpredictable tipping points that historic climate data show can lead to rapid jumps of Earth’s climate to profoundly different states. On a crowded planet, where our food and water only barely meet the needs of billions, we are extraordinarily vulnerable to these climatic shifts. One estimate suggests that over the next 50 years, 1 billion people could become climate refugees.

Many policy observers say we are optimistic to think we can keep CO2 levels below 450 parts per million (ppm), much less the 350 ppm NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen says is necessary “if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed.” Instead, they say we must adapt to a world of extreme heat waves, spreading deserts, flooded cities, and mass extinctions.

We dispute that. The 2008 Climate Solutions issue of YES! Magazine showed how we can avert disastrous climate change. These shifts do require us to mobilize ourselves beyond business-as-usual, but they don’t mean we have to give up on civilization. In fact, unless your definition of a good life includes a mandatory Hummer, you are likely to be as happy, or happier.

The question isn’t whether we have the off-the-shelf technologies, the proven policies, the funds, and the social stability to avert disastrous climate change—we have all that, and it is enough. The question is whether we can overcome the power of obfuscating corporations and anti-government ideologues, and their hired media and politicians to mobilize ourselves and our elected officials in time.

This issue of YES! Magazine reports on those who are stepping up to the challenge:

It’s going to take all of these efforts ramping up, plus technical know-how, design genius, smart policies, and global diplomacy to make the needed shift. This will not be easy, but what purpose could be more inspiring than saving the world? It beats the hell out of the alternative.


Sarah van Gelder mugSarah van Gelder wrote this article for Climate Action, the Winter 2010 issue of YES! Magazine. Sarah is executive editor of YES! Magazine.

 

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