Environmentalists protest near the Eiffel Tower in Paris as the U.N. climate conference ended Dec. 12, 2015. CNS photo/Mal Langsdon, Reuters

It’s in our hands

By 
  • October 20, 2016

A common response to Ottawa’s recent ratification of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change was to declare it the start of a bold new era. We say not so fast, we’ve been down this road before.

Over the past quarter century, the Kyoto Protocol and other initiatives were ratified amid similar back-slapping before degenerating into hand-wringing when the insincerity of signees was eventually exposed. The Paris Agreement, which outlines a bold plan to reduce carbon emissions and neutralize global warming, is certainly praiseworthy for its objectives. But setting targets and drafting treaties has never been the problem. The problem, always, has been implementation.

Pope Francis identified the main stumbling block in his 2015 encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’. Restoring a healthy planet demands long-range plans and a commitment to stringent policies that are often politically unpopular, he wrote. But politicians and business leaders fixate on immediate results in order to coddle voters and enrich shareholders. They inevitably chose short-term gain over long-term benefit and have shown little inclination to, as Pope Francis put it, “leave behind a testimony of selfless responsibility.”

Instead, political and business leaders invariably retreat to self-serving positions that encourage a consumption mindset, which in turn leads to increased resource and energy demand, which ultimately inflicts more harm on the planet. To replace this political and business “myopia,” the Pope quite righty calls for the birth of “a healthy politics.” But there is scant evidence the world is listening.

It’s too easy, though, to solely blame the guys at the top. They can only retain their comfortable perches if they successfully market themselves or sell their goods, and both of those require willing buyers. That’s us. Our choices will ultimately determine the environmental fate of the planet. That fate will be bleak unless society resets its wasteful consumer mindset.

Climate change is a symptom of a bigger problem, consumerism. So as much as the climate dilemma needs wise policies and good science, it needs a moral awakening even more.

That’s the real issue. No one has figured out how to slow climate warming without triggering significant adjustments in how we live. Those changes usually involve sacrifices that will lower standards of living and perhaps even begin to close the gap between the world’s poor and rich nations.

Simply, carbon is a nasty byproduct of consumer lifestyles. One won’t be reduced without impacting the other. They are intrinsically linked.

That’s why politicians fail to solve the problem. It’s bigger than them. The Paris Agreement is certainly noble but we delude ourselves if we believe global warming can be solved by science and politics alone.

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