Today is the opening of COP21 in Paris, France.
For the next two weeks, leaders of most countries in the world will be meeting in an attempt to carve out an agreement regarding emissions of greenhouse gases. In particular, they are looking to limit the burning of fossil fuels.
The information superhighway has shown that many people outraged at the thought that worldwide leaders are stating that COP21 will be a “first step” in international unity in fighting anthropogenic climate change. These people are upset because it indicates just how painstakingly slow progress in terms of international agreement has been. Why has progress been so slow?
The reason is quite simple: the persistent and repeated demands for bold action have led to inaction. This is the classic battle between idealism and pragmatism. This is not a critique of idealism. Idealism is, in my mind, a very good thing. Idealism can provide optimism. Idealism provides dreams.
Pragmatism is different. Pragmatism filters the optimism with pessimism. Pragmatism filters dreams and turns them into ambitions.
Idealists dream. Pragmatists plan.
As much as idealism provides optimism (“with enough fight and a positive attitude I can beat this”), pragmatism must also set in (“cancer doesn’t care about my thoughts, and those miserable treatments are the only hope I have.”) Pragmatism is grounded in brutal reality.
An idealist can see a future where fossil fuels are not used, where the biota of today are maintained as a status quo, and wonder why we aren’t already there. The pragmatist looks at the environment and finds out the reasons why we aren’t where the idealist desires us to be.
For 21 years now (it’s called COP21 because it’s 21 years since the UN Framework was adopted) the fight against anthropogenic climate change has been dominated by the idealists. Last month I wrote that demand for bold action has prevented action on climate change.
What would have happened in Rio had it been only a first step that was sought? It is a moot point, of course, but I believe that all can agree that small progress from Kyoto (or Rio, or Copenhagen) would have been superior to the general inaction. Indeed, Copenhagen was considered to be an enormous failure, despite efforts to spin it as otherwise. For the last few months, most have sought to eliminate mention of Copenhagen at all.
Question for environmentalists: do you want small progress or no progress? Look at what bold action has brought. What are the successes of your activism? How much cooler is the world now than it was in 1994? What inroads have activism and calls for giant leaps provided?
The results are pretty clear to anybody that the same old way hasn’t worked and it WILL NOT WORK. If one wants another Copenhagen, just try doing the same things the same way.
This also means ignoring activists. Who has the time to protest this meeting? Those who have nothing that they believe is more important. I think it’s a great thing to acknowledge the perspective that these activists bring. On the other hand, it must also be recognized that 99.99% of the world is not protesting. Paying full heed to activists represents succumbing to a heckler’s veto, and will create a greater resistance to any deal that may be arranged.
Instead of a bold step, one could look to make a first step that should have been made twenty years ago. Want a big and bold plan for this? Keep on dreaming. The delegates aren’t dreaming. They have too much work to do.
If anybody out there truly believes that a “bold plan” will actually end up occurring, please feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts.