It’s Not Climate Change, It’s Climate Chaos: Lessons from COP22

Image courtesy The Climate & Development Knowledge Network via flickr
Image courtesy The Climate & Development Knowledge Network via flickr

COP22 is either over or just begun. For this American, the big takeaway from this meeting is that we are now in a world of multiple players with extraordinary capacities.

Myron Ebell from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (and prominent climate change skeptic) is on the president-elect’s transition team (and on the short list to become EPA Administrator).  If a climate denier gets this position in the US, it will be China leading, America following.

Non-state partners will be more important than ever, especially sub-national groupings. Language has shifted and will likely shift some more once the “big daddy” approach to social change is eliminated—which it has likely been by the American election. “The European Union proudly welcomes the cooperation of non states in efforts to abate climate chaos,” proclaimed an expensive-looking poster put out by the EU early in the meeting.

A second change is in language. People here are referring to climate chaos rather than climate change. Climates are always changing – and the language of climate change has unintentionally caused the climate deniers to wonder why we liberals are against change all of a sudden. Climate chaos is much more accurate.

Speaking of chaos, 250 million climate refugees are expected by the year 2050. In the LIMA COP20 there was only one side event on the matter of climate refugees. COP23 had 27 side events on this subject. That is not good news, unless noticing how many people are being upended strikes you as good.

A second language turn, equally important, is in what used to be called the divestment movement and is now called the divest/invest movement. The point is not just to watch the oil off your hands but rather to keep cleaning them with renewable efforts.

Significant players to watch in the divest/invest movement include The Climate Change Collaboration, as well as the GreenFaith Leadership Programs (Greenfaith has been around since 1992) and the Wallace Global Fund.

A third important shift will occur as the Western nations figure out if they can work together, at all, within a Trump presidency. President Sarkozy may indeed put a carbon tariff on American imports. The EU will surely wonder if we are going to play a role either for peace in Syria or for the refugees. There will likely not be a unified Western position. President Angela Merkel’s decision to run for a fourth term will be a thorn in the side of Trump. Her experience will mark ever much more the amateur.

Water is Life

The Center of Strategic Thinking and Defense of Democracy, based in Sarah, Morocco, has one idea. Real people have to be involved in big policies.

Four billion people in the world are already water insecure at least one month every year. You may not know one of them. And you can’t care for all of them. So what can you do? Think one foot in front of the other. We are more like infants learning to walk than we are people who know how to think strategically, or defend democracy, or grow up in a world where water is bought and sold.

When it comes to participating in climate chaos, we are like infants learning to walk—or as people who live most of their lives in wheelchairs behave when they begin to motor on their own again. My friend, who lives in a chair, describes walking as “continuous, controlled, forward stumble.” She also talks about what her rehab is like: “if you’ve ever had to do balancing exercises to improve your balance, they deliberately put you on things that cause you to ‘stumble’ so you can maintain some control, thus keeping balance amidst and against obstacles.”

Does stumbling count as participation? I think so. If you are disabled or differently abled in terms of democracy, must you resign yourself to the kings? The kings would love to tell us that without them, we won’t find our way to water or other environmentally created gifts. Interesting that with them billions don’t have water either. Who is really stumbling? The people with water glasses in their hands or the kings?

Finally, I brought a jar with me to the meeting. It was to be my coffee mug, water pitcher, and companion for the five days I was there. It became my friend. The jar is a mason jar with a top on it from a worker’s cooperative. I remember thinking that it was a small, nearly meaningless action compared to 250 million climate refugees. And then I came home to something like my humanity, how partial it is, how particular it is, how most of what I need daily can be put in a mason jar.

I remembered larger efforts too: my friend Sue’s work in getting the Navy to go green or the new female Dean’s work at West Point in getting ready to train soldiers to understand both the constitution and Muslim theology. These women join me in doing small things every day.

I welcome the quotidian and what I can put in my jar.