As you’re likely aware, something is happening in Paris. Well, just outside Paris. And it has arguably little to do with bombing civilians or revoking privacies.
Indeed, the 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) is underway in Le Bourget! Global officials and decision-makers are convening here, to set enforceable limits on carbon pollutants. As a member of the #GulfSouthRising climate delegation, I was able to visit the portion of space accessible to the general public (or, “civil society”).
My first day at the ‘Climate Generations Area,’ I attended a panel, ‘The Sustainable Transition We Want.’ Upon its introductory framing as “progressive,” I was hopeful to hear experts discuss matters not always mentioned back home.
Following a moment of silence, former Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema delivered opening remarks. He immediately highlighted the role climate change-induced drought has played in the migration of some 1,500,000 Syrians, and the consequent unrest it’s produced. He further clarified that this fight is not only against rising temperatures.
It’s a fight against inequality.
Next up to the podium was moderator Gérard Fuchs, director of the panel’s organizing committee, Progressives for Climate. He outlined the four components of his vision for a zero-emission future: strong international cooperation, methods of democratic planning, the fight against inequality, and the need for committed public policy (ending fossil-fuel subsidies, setting carbon prices, etc.).
These thoughts were echoed by the remaining speakers, each with their own esteemed-sounding credentials: Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General of India’s oldest think-tank, Centre for Science and Environment; Sanjeev Kumar, Founder of the Change Partnership; and Anabella Rosemberg, Environment and Climate Change Advisor at the International Trade Union Confederation.
While the UN negotiations are centered on limiting mean planetary temperature rise to 2°C above pre-Industrial levels, many are instead demanding a 1.5°C rise. This average value is merely a political baseline, which can obscure climate inaction’s inherent variability and inequity. To that point, Mr. Kumar called the 2°C limit a “death sentence” for the Global South.
Mr. Bhushan emphasized our grim realities as well, mentioning how recent technological leaps have not permeated emissions-heavy manufacturing sectors: concrete, steel, even clothing.
Despite my relative appreciation for the speakers’ words, Ms. Rosemberg encapsulated my unease in a single quote:
“There is no employment on a dead planet.”
There is also no peace, hope, or enjoyment on a dead planet.
To be fair, Ms. Rosemberg does represent international laborers. But I had to ask a question about the overwhelming emphasis on jobs, during our much-too-short panel discussion. I wanted to hear the experts’ opinions on Artificial Intelligence, and their feelings towards guaranteed basic incomes.
The idea of providing all life’s necessities to all individuals has been repeated throughout history by countless figures, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesus, himself. Mr. Bhushan offered the sole direct response, referencing a recent Economist article and suggesting an embrace of so-called “bad jobs.”
And here’s where this post concludes, with recognition that combatting climate change requires unprecedented system change. The monetization of prehistoric life by fossil-fuel interests has concentrated power in the hands of few. Meanwhile, the people who did the least to cause our current predicament are those getting gouged the worst.
Together, we can create a world where our existences are not tied to occupations, where our voices are able to trump wallets, and where our children (and their children, and their children) can appreciate all that we’ve inherited.
COP21 concludes December 11th, which is why we’ve organized an event for 12/12 at noon. We’ll meet at Spanish Plaza, second-line through the French Quarter, and end at City Hall, while wearing blue to symbolize our rising seas. Regardless of any agreement reached at Le Bourget, it is undoubtedly up to us to ensure a fair and healthy future for all.
James Hartwell volunteers with 350 Louisiana – New Orleans, with hopes to protect a peerless city from an uncertain tomorrow.
Photo courtesy of NASA.