Having been a pioneer farmer’s daughter, the daughter-in-law of a Fortune 500 family (people I first met wearing a borrowed sweater), suddenly quadriplegic at age 52, a Ph.D., an entrepreneur and philanthropist, I feel uniquely qualified to say my piece. It took me two years just to learn how to walk passably again, which is a gift in itself.
Having been almost dead, twice, concentrates the mind wonderfully. Forcibly retired at 52 with an illness that might just as easily have stricken you, I nevertheless manage to read about a hundred books per year (half of them non-fiction), and spend time contemplating the meaning, if any, of each life. I read widely and deeply, and study history.
But, before you read any further, please take a few seconds to list, the 10 most important people in your life, because this next piece of information concerns them.
We've now wiped out 60 per cent of mammal, bird, fish and reptile populations since 1970, and now the UN biodiversity chief says unless we act we could be the first species to document our own extinction.
Just to get some meaningful sense of this loss, please cross off every second name on that list you made. Now cross off the top remaining name. Try living for even one week without any communication with everyone whose name is now gone.
Get the feeling?
I am simply saying to you all that this incredible disaster is on your watch.
Set up by 300 years of Industrial Revolution, we've achieved amazing innovations — and an unsustainable standard of living. The steam engine, coal-fired trains, phenomenal advances in greater health and food supply grew populations beyond what we can sustainably feed. Wars and famine result. North American values, in large respects, caused this. The "I" society — not the "we" society — arose from the independence mindset that colonized this continent. It will be hard to correct. Using fossil fuels for energy was the single most damaging choice, and is fortunately one that can still be corrected. As a society, we can say we made mistakes. We adopted choices with horrible hidden consequences. We didn’t realize it then, but we do now.
The recent IPCC report indicates that we have 12 years to perhaps keep global warming from becoming irreversible due to feedback loops beyond human control (like runaway storms, fires, methane release, and failure of the thermohaline pumps in the oceans). Ice will melt. Monsoons will almost disappear, food-supply will be damaged, and so on.
The solutions are mostly well-developed already. The cost of correction will be smaller than the cost of mitigation, but almost half the population prefers adapting to deteriorating circumstances rather than initiating change. If you doubt this, check a few marriages around you. How can society develop political drive and consensus in this case?
What can we do in response?
Here is what I think we all can absolutely do.
We can all agree to personally cut emissions by 50 per cent over 12 years. We can start this year with 10 per cent of downsize overall. Then next year, another 10 per cent. Then another.
Every time you call an MP or sign a petition, or succeed in holding elected officials accountable, these actions also count. You can push for better public transit, for electric vehicles, sustainable energy. Keep your changes personal, but be inwardly radical. Participate in community building to build a "we" society. Do not try to change the leaders, or start a revolution. Make a list of what you would like to see happen, and get those things happening, immediately.
Identify and elect leaders, action-oriented figures, not simply politicians.
Reward sustainable activity
North American-style consumption ideals created this crisis, and only an abrupt about-face will mitigate it. We are biologically wired for these consumption habits, like novelty and reward, so making the 'big swerve' will be a challenge. Huge corporations actively resist and spread disinformation on climate action. I have shares in them, and so does your pension plan. It won’t be pretty, but it must be done. We must reward sustainable activity only.
To make meaningful change, do the biggest and hardest things first.
If you will not lead, then whom?
Decide that you can cut emissions by 50 per cent in 12 years. Commit to it, mean it, do it.
Tweak what you need and expect from yourself, and be realistic.
How do we know this climate is not a natural variation? The simple answer is that if you take what is known about wide climatic patterns over millennia, and look at what can be known and measured as “human-caused,” it's clear the human-caused component overwhelms and engulfs the natural component.
If 97 per cent of doctors looking at a complex medical situation said “you must do this right away, or your parent will die," would you ignore their expert advice?
Face hard realities
One absolutely has to tell oneself the truth. It did no good my lying paralyzed in the hospital for months believing, hoping that doctors would have a 'magic pill' for me.
Be ruthlessly truthful. Stop pretending it’s someone else causing this, and someone else’s job to fix it.
Fearing and obsessing isn’t helpful. Simply and systematically do much better. Homo sapiens is now the only surviving species of many in the genus ‘homo.’ In Darwin's idea of “survival of the fittest," we humans are not the “most fit” for the future climate — that title would probably go to some bacteria, or jellyfish.
Your human existence is about 100,000 generations long. Replicate yourself perhaps, but no more than that, planet-wide. Your goal must be to leave close to zero footprint of your existence, just as your ancestors have.
Ask meaningful, useful questions. How can our society be reworked to develop a sustainable value system? What can be done about rogue nations in fossil fuel-based industries? How can the Big Swerve happen without plunging the world into a major depression? How do we both engage and help compensate energy companies, and those with the most to lose? One way is to invite and deploy their brain trust toward new objectives. How can Canada avoid massive unemployment and unrest as it makes this transition?
This should be the first and only topic in the news until a wise strategy is reached and implemented. The economic models and the technology already exist to make this shift.
All we need now is the political will to do it.