Written By: - Date published: 7:30 am, November 19th, 2015 - 106 comments
Categories: accountability, activism, capitalism, climate change, disaster, Environment, global warming, Globalisation, International, Politics, sustainability - Tags: paris cop 2015
The upcoming Paris COP 21 talks will now force every major political leader of the world to confront a convergence of global terrorist response with global climate change talks.
The core political challenge is that modern developed states are now well tooled in responding to localised asymmetric warfare, whereas they are consistently weak responding to a gradual and diffuse multinational threat like climate change. Diffuse international threats are what the UN is for. Perhaps.
It would take an almighty set of leaders to use Paris COP 21 to respond to climate change with the same scale, urgency and multinational will as their response to terrorism. But that is now precisely the conditions of post-attack Paris. Is this the set of leaders to do it?
Of recent world leaders to try and bridge the two, only Pope Francis has tried to forge a strong logical link between destruction of the earth, poverty, and war. He won’t be leading the talks.
It will also take extremely complex diplomacy to shift political minds away from trying to make us all safe by missiles, boots on the ground, drones, torture, or digital dragnets. This is because the Deep State would be forced to question exactly what they are defending: the safety of their states, or the survival of their economies against ecological degradation. The larger states have not yet shown themselves capable of stabilising this binary as an intersection into state interests and state responses. The odd report to Congress in July this year about the implications for US security from climate instability did not address their underlying intersections, other than at a theatre level.
So thinking beyond Paris, flailing around for hope, perhaps the world can do this without the political order binding itself to a grand plan. Jeremy Rifkin sees a convergence between all things digital, all things connectible, and all things renewable. He sets it out in four parts here.
His argument is that the world is already dematerialising away from carbon – perhaps enough to stave off collapse. Who knows whether it will be enough to save the climate. I personally believe Generation X and older broadly speaking will only be dragged very reluctantly into a low-carbon economy, leaving behind their beautiful cars, big houses, and processed foods. Some of the generation who are 80+ and remember the Great Depression, well, perhaps they are better equipped than I. It reminds me of the Dust-Bowl veteran interviews that bracket the movie Interstellar. But then, 50 Tiny Houses on an acre can start to look identical to a slum. It will take more than nostalgia to save us, and Rifkin charts that out.
But the Millennial generation in front of me can probably foresee perpetual austerity, endless insecurity, and weakening agrarian economies caused in part by climate instability and endless ecosystem collapse. Even if they live in New Zealand.
It’s simply not enough for left and right to shout “schadenfreude” at each other about their own respective pet doomey scenarios of climate change and terrorism. Jonathan Porrit from the Forum for the Future points out in the Huffington Post that “All millennials will ever hear from politicians is that there’s no alternative but to grind on and on with today’s failed model of planet-trashing progress.” That’s not a useful binary.
Whereas Rifkin’s view of industrial convergence appear too blithe for some, he has mapped consumer and commercial trends behind his work to substantiate it. Have a read. Have an argument with it.
I’m also not proposing that all climate change political action at national level is hopeless. I’m proposing that there’s more to the world’s responses, even if Paris fails. In New Zealand, our governing politicians have lowered expectations so much that even parts of the business community are complaining. Pick up the latest edition of Idealog magazine and you’ll see how much the lack of national leadership on the environment means to them. New Zealand has been set back by this government internationally, and Paris COP 21 will shine a spotlight on our mediocrity.
Some political leadership is agreeing with exactly where Rifkin is pointing. The EU plan to make Europe the most productive commercial space in the world and the most ecologically sustainable society on earth is bold. The plan is called Digital Europe. Again, have a good read, and have an argument.
Even if Paris COP 21 does not have the political will to bind the globe into saving the earth, even if states have reached their limit, the NGO sector won’t be able to do it alone either. The largest non-state actors on earth are corporations. Have a good look at why the likes of Unilever, Coca-Cola, BT and Dow would want to save the world. Their way, sure. But save it.
Whatever the force of transnational political planning, it will need markets to lead as well as states. The world is run more by markets than by governments. It’s the marketing arms of corporations – not NGOs – that most accurately enable messages to make global change. According to Rifkin, this super-coherence of the Third Industrial Revolution is well underway.
And here’s a strange piece of hope. I do have some hope that states can react towards coherence not out of threat, nor out of huge benefit, but out of a need for greater international coherence. This brings me (controversially, sure!) to the politics of TPPA. The fact is every signatory traded privileges away, towards super-coherence. It took nearly a decade to get done. It was not contaminated by the language or instruments of terrorist security response. There was no Battle for Seattle to stop it. It signalled a renewed global belief that massive, economy-changing consensus is possible. If TPPA hadn’t happened, Paris COP 21 would be seen by states as hopeless from the start.
State leaders can also now see that a simple, fully commoditised response to climate change like carbon trading won’t work. Has failed. States are feeling their renewed necessity in both terrorism and climate change precisely because pure market responses and pure security responses have failed both.
So I also have hope for Paris.
Perverse though it sounds, the world is richer, more interconnected, more reflexive to social damage, more in need of each other, than ever before. And it behaves like that – as a networked organism. The world is converging on itself. This makes it even more ready to face the common challenge of climate change than ever before. It is ready to engage through the interconnected threats of terrorism and climate change as if they threaten the interests of the state together. One can but hope.
Meantime, there’s local marches on November 28th. I’ll be there.