When it Comes to Climate, We Don’t Just Have Too Much to Lose, We Have Much to Gain

Earthrise, the photo that forever changed how we see ourselves.

When climate justice wins, we win the world that we want. We can’t sit this one out, not because we have too much to lose, but because we have too much to gain.

Here’s a perceptive and poetic statement about our climate and economy, from Miya Yoshitani:

The climate justice fight here in the US and around the world is not just a fight against the biggest ecological crisis of all time, it is the fight for a new economy, a new relationship to the planet and to each other, for land, water, and food sovereignty, for indigenous rights, for human rights and dignity for all people. When climate justice wins, we win the world that we want. We can’t sit this one out, not because we have too much to lose, but because we have too much to gain…we are bound together in this battle, not just for a reduction in the parts per million of CO2 but to transform our economies and rebuild a world that we want today.

Let’s take a cue from Business Kitty in The Lego Movie and add some “Numbers!” to Yoshitani’s call to action:

  • stompWe’ve rapidly raised Earth’s temperature about 1°C, and the pace of warming is escalating as feedback loops kick in. An increase of 1° doesn’t mean that instead of it being 70° today, it’ll be 71°. It’s more like Earth’s atmosphere has a pervasive rising fever.
  • If atmospheric temperature rises by over 2°C, the severe impacts—coastal cities flooding, the Great Plains becoming a desert, the river Ganges disappearing—will be catastrophic to human society and millions of species. So the current recommendation is to, um, not go above 2°.
  • We can emit 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and stay below 2°C of warming. Burning the fossil fuels in our oil reserves would result in emitting 2,795 more gigatons of carbon dioxide—5x over the threshold of global catastrophe.

Now, how do we know that, as Yoshitani says, we need to transform our economy? Why can’t our present economy solve the problem?

Our current economic system appears to be all about value: creating value, defining value, redirecting value. The oil in our reserves is currently “valued” in the hundreds of billions of dollars. How could that be? If our economy was actually good at defining real value, wouldn’t those reserves ultimately represent a huge loss that must be avoided?

The worldwide losses created by the fossil fuel industry today are externalized from the industry’s balance sheet. Beyond that, any specific loss (see Gulf Oil spill) has ridiculously low liability limitations. If we don’t change how things get valued—what constitutes a true profit and loss—how will we ever “afford” to leave the oil (hundreds of billions in “value”) in the ground?

Our economic system must be transformed. As Yoshitani rightly points out, it isn’t just about the oil—but when we solve the valuation problem with oil, we’ll move toward “a new economy, a new relationship to the planet and to each other, for land, water, and food sovereignty, for indigenous rights, for human rights and dignity for all people.”

And we must do this not merely because we have too much to lose. We also have much to gain.

Here’s a little something to help inspire you to take action—right now.

↓ The Five Stairsteps sing “O-O-H Child”

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