Paris Climate Agreement Leaves Work to Do Locally

Last week in Paris, delegates from 195 nations reached an agreement to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuel consumption. After two decades of contentious and frustrating negotiations, there is now a global consensus that the time has come to replace petroleum, coal and other sources of greenhouse gases with cleaner, renewable energy sources.

World leaders, including major figures in business and finance, have joined with scientists, economists, religious leaders such as Pope Francis and environmental activists to declare that humanity must make a deliberate transition from an industrial-age carbon-fueled economy to one that is more ecologically sensible, more sustainable.

This is not going to be an easy task, and the agreement in itself is not sufficient. We are going to have to renovate and retrofit the massive infrastructure of industrial society, solve complex technological challenges, address the needs and expectations of developing nations, and adapt our lifestyle in various ways for a post-carbon world.

In addition, we in the U.S. (more than in most other nations) will need to overcome the serious obstacle of political and intellectual inertia—the stubborn refusal to adapt ideological preferences to the demonstrable realities of the physical world. Those who continue to deny the validity of climate science as well as the obvious evidence of global climate disruption are, in essence, engaged in a suicide mission on behalf of their cherished beliefs.

To continue surviving on this planet we will need to make some changes in our way of life and rein in the exploitative practices of the corporate economy. But this does not make climate science some “politically correct” plot to destroy constitutional rights, as right wing politicians and columnists would have us believe. It’s time to stop hysterically opposing rational and good faith efforts to deal with the very serious and well documented challenge facing humanity.

The Paris agreement gives us a fresh start. One leading scientist, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, calls the accord “a turning point in the human enterprise, where the great transformation towards sustainability begins.” Yet other scientists and activists, including James Hansen and Naomi Klein, warn that the agreement does not go nearly far enough toward preventing catastrophic climate change. Which interpretation turns out to be correct depends on how we respond. All of us, working together—need to take it from here.

The goals proclaimed in the Paris agreement provide a catalyst for individual, community and regional action. What we do in the Woodstock area and in the Upper Valley, in Vermont and New England matters, because we are part of a massive, global movement.

Whatever reductions we can achieve in carbon emissions in transportation, home heating, agriculture and other aspects of our lives combine with reductions people are making elsewhere. Every dollar we spend to build a resilient local economy or invest in sustainable business takes us closer to the transition.

When people see that it is reasonable—in our long term interest—to move toward a post-carbon economy, they will make such choices willingly. Governmental action is appropriate for addressing large systemic barriers, but the transition to sustainability depends on rational choice and individual initiative, not coercion.

Sustainable Woodstock’s mission is to help members of our community better understand the challenges we face and to support choices we all can make to address them. We invite you to work with us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *