Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The path in the dark toward mayhem...

As a Communications Manager at a large regional healthcare system, I deal with change a lot. In fact when I was hired, the working title for the position was Communications and Change Management Lead - and change management is still a big and important component of my job.

So I am intimately familiar with the sound of squealing stuck pigs. I am intimately familiar with the whining, denying, tantrum-throwing, conniption-fitting and desperate bargaining  that accompanies change. I deal with it every day. To say that I am "over it" after almost a decade of helping people navigate unwelcome change is to indulge in reckless understatement.  I hear you, people - you don't want to change.  You like the way things are.  Got it.

Now, while there's little direct comparison between learning how to navigate a set of new data entry screens in an electronic health record system and the fundamental lifestyle modifications that will likely be required if we are to adequately address climate change, the human reaction to both types of change is the same.

First fear. Next denial. Then highly motivated, panicked bargaining. Eventually, after much heartburn, foot dragging, and time wasting, acceptance.

Even many of us in the liberal activist community (Robert Kennedy Jr. is a case in point - check out this cringe-inducing video) who accept the science and are highly motivated to work on the issue of climate change are not thrilled with the idea that fundamental changes to how we live day to day may be required in the very near term.

Almost every American wants to continue to live the way they do now, or better.  In America, the average person already enjoys a sublimely lavish standard of living compared to people in the 2nd and 3rd world.  In America, the problem is that even many climate change "believers" want to change nothing about the way we live, while at the same time changing everything. Or rather, we want to change very little about the way we live, while making a major, major change to the way the world does business with respect to energy use and production.

Meanwhile, the people who do not live as lavishly as the average American are hoping, praying, striving, and working their fingers to the bone with the singular passionate goal of some day enjoying the comforts and conveniences of the first world. Asking people to continue to live with less - or to understand that it is no longer possible for everyone to dream of an ever-upward trajectory in their standard of living - is an almost impossible task.

But things as they are now are unsustainable and insupportable. And it is massively, desperately unfair that the first world has heedlessly consumed and emitted us to this dire point, while much of the rest of the world lives in grinding poverty and hunger and despair, without hope of ameliorating their life circumstances.

The fact of the matter appears, however, to be that this planet cannot support a population of seven, eight, nine, and more billion people at such a high level – at least not with our current technology.

Clearly, the status cannot remain quo. We must interrupt, disrupt, erupt. A revolution is coming. What form it takes is up to us.

If we take urgent, immediate, collective global action (hollow laugh) that will constitute a revolution, and in the right way. Immediate collective sustained global action on climate change would be a positive, hopeful revolution.

My fear is that instead we are plunging headlong down a path in the dark toward mayhem. All around I read and see and hear the signs that we are already experience disruptions and calamities caused (or worsened) by climate change - and I fear that we are hurtling toward what amounts to a global revolution based on mass migration, emptying flooded cities, the breakdown of food supply chains, unquenchable wildfires and punishing drought, food insecurity, the crumbling of governments and the rise of dictatorships.

Change is painful. No one likes it. That's the assumption going in.  Now let's take a deep breath and think together about how we can change productively and effectively in the immediate near-term - together as a nation - to fight climate change. I believe it will take the sort of mobilization that was required during the Second World War - although perhaps on a grander scale.

Recently in California excellent climate change legislation was watered down to accommodate fossil fuel interests, because people were afraid of the dreaded "R" word - that is, rationing.

But what, pray tell, is so dreadful about rationing?  We’ve done it before.

When talking about the generation of Americans who “won WWII,” it’s usual to exclaim effusively about their strength and fortitude and patriotism and sacrifice.  Tom Brokaw, who wrote a book about them and coined the phrase, writes variously:

...there on the beaches of Normandy I began to reflect on the wonders of these ordinary people whose lives were laced with the markings of greatness.

They stayed true to their values of personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith.

A common lament of the World War II generation is the absence today of personal responsibility...

And this, despite the off-topic, off-putting, bit about marriage:

The WWII generation shares so many common values: duty, honor, country, personal responsibility and the marriage vow " For better or for worse--it was the last generation in which, broadly speaking, marriage was a commitment and divorce was not an option.

This is fulsome language, and it may in no small measure be true.  What it does not reveal is that the greatest generation didn't do all of that commendable sacrificing and acting selflessly in the best interests of their country without being required to do so.

For example, the greatest generation was required by their government to ration.

Gasoline was rationed during WWII, as were tires, sugar, meat, silk, shoes, nylon and other goods.  Can you imagine how we’d react to such restrictions today?  I leave it to your imagination.  Yet not that long ago – well within the memory of actual millions of living Americans - we dealt with it.  During WWII Americans made do in conditions of relative privation because they knew their sacrifice was for the greater good.  Of course people cheated, sold ration books on the black market, and tried to weasel out of doing the right thing.  But that’s exactly my point.

If you’re proud of your grandparents or great-grandparents for being part of that generation, be aware that they did not just rise up and act as individuals for the collective good of all Americans.  While it is true that many citizens signed up to go fight the war, here on the Home Front it was government programs –funded by tax dollars – that required folks to act.

If fossil fuel must be rationed while we are transitioning off it and if we can offset the personal inconvenience of driving less with creative solutions like carpooling, better public transportation, and job swapping, then why not ration?  It makes excellent, practical sense to me.  Obviously the legislation would need to be mindful of limits, of when such rationing might be lifted or re-imposed under changing circumstances, and set timelines and provide alternative transportation options where possible.  It wouldn’t be easy legislation to draft – but what legislation is easy?

And of course there's the dreaded "T" word - taxes. Everybody hates taxes.  But what if we must put additional taxes on carbon?  What if, in fact, we must put taxes not just on carbon itself, but on some consumer goods?  I can imagine the necessity for a tax on luxury products that produce insupportable levels of emissions during production and transport.

And what if it's necessary to tax the super rich to pay for a government program, based on the WPA, that produces good jobs working on infrastructure projects, planting trees, leading local Community Climate Corps, and cleaning up after the inevitable natural disasters that climate change is going to continue to bring?

Regulations are another “R” word.  Recently, the GOP has been up in arms about sensible EPA regulations imposed by President Obama.  But how do we move forward without regulating things like fossil fuel, coal production, power plant and car emissions, and more?

It is difficult to imagine a mechanism other than government intervention - regulations, taxes, rationing, new public works programs and the like - for limiting emissions, scaling back consumption, sharply reducing or eliminating our use of fossil fuels, developing modern, high-tech clean energy technologies and shoring up infrastructure to cope with the flooding, heat waves, and violent weather we can expect (and are already experiencing) as the world continues to warm.

However well-meaning, people and corporations aren’t going to all of a sudden begin moving on these things, all together, in the same direction, without the government stepping in.  IMHO, that is one of the fundamental things that government is FOR!  Simply put: We the People aren't going to #ActOnClimate effectively and quickly enough without being required to do so.

The alternative to asking our government to step in and enact sensible, climate change-focused legislation to help move us in the right direction is… what?  Even if the Paris talks in December this year are a resounding success, the agreements arrived at there are only the start.  Once the last limo has left for the airport, policies must be put in place to enact the decisions made there.  That means Big Gubmint, like it or not.

Are we a lesser generation than those who went through WWII?  Perhaps we are, if we can’t rise to this challenge.  Perhaps we are, if we continue as a nation to stick our fingers in our ears and sing “la la la la la – I can’t hear you!” to the voices calling for action.

And if that is the case, then do we - lesser current and future generations - deserve what we get?  Do we deserve to reap the whirlwind?  Are we on a path in the dark, hurtling toward mayhem?