By Martha Shaw
As thousands of Occupy COP 17 demonstrators protested the injustice of climate change and slow progress of governments to do something about it, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), addressed the crowd last Friday. “Do more than you think you can do, and then do more,” she summoned those gathered outside the COP 17 headquarters, where delegates negotiated agreements on greenhouse gas limits. There was something refreshing about an event organizer encouraging discourse.
By chance, Christiana’s brother, José María Figueres, past President of Costa Rica (1994–1998), was passing through the raucous crowd with me and Peter Boyd, President of Carbon War Room, an organization founded by Richard Branson and others to harness the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change. We encountered human rights leader Mary Robinson, the seventh President and first female President of Ireland (1990–1997) on her way to the COP 17 conference center, who congratulated the protesters for their passion and support. After all, it is the residents of Planet Earth whom the negotiators are fighting for behind closed doors.
This was the first of many uplifting encounters here in Durban, where thousands of innovators, entrepreneurs, business leaders and government officials are earnestly exploring new ways to create commerce while showing new respect for our planet, and for one another. As an American from the least popular country here at COP 17, it has been a humbling experience. I’ve had to answer a lot of questions like, “Are you sleeping?” It’s evident we are missing the boat when it comes to capitalizing on the emergence of new business opportunities with the rest of the world. How many Americans really want to sit back collecting unemployment and watch the world go by? Though I came here to look closer at the injustice of climate change, it was hard at first not to notice the clean tech deal flows, funds and jobs going to other countries here, and find even that unfair. Have Americans let fossil fuel lobbying, media brainwashing, right-wing fanaticism, subsidy corruption and campaign financing keep us out of the game? That, however, is another story.
Populations, of all species, afflicted by climate change and other environmental ailments are most certainly at the wrong place at the wrong time in history. Injustice runs rampant on this planet of finite resources: resource hoarding, dynamic physical forces and the destruction of so much by so few. Homo sapiens don’t have a balance with nature and we suffer from that, and so do the other species that call this planet home. Disparities among peoples, genders, generations, geographies and species can’t be fixed at COP 17.
But here, you find a lot of very smart people who want to give it a go. The common denominator we all share is the will to survive. Nobody is arguing that we need clean air and water, healthy food and a safe place to live—and most now agree on access to clean energy. Taking that further, most experts agree to the urgent need for a new, low-carbon economy with green infrastructures, more innovative thinking, technology transparency, project implementation, conservation, economic stimulus and funding mechanisms to correct our course. Like the winners and losers in a carbon economy, there will be winners and losers in the low-carbon economy. Some people will get rich. But, overall, fewer will get sick.
At COP 17, you don’t find people who won’t acknowledge that atmospheric carbon overloading is cooking us and causing all kinds of other problems. Those people must have stayed home. Embarrassingly, many of them are in the U.S.A. We try not to think about them, though the need for better communication in science is a hot topic. Groups toss around ideas like positive vs. negative messaging, how much information is too much or too little. What’s the public tipping point for doom and gloom, and how do you combat ignorance? You could hold up five fingers to some people and they’d only see four no matter what you say. They might even see three. It’s exasperating, but we need to move beyond that and work together with all those people who see what’s in front of them—science. There’s a sense of community here at COP 17 about moving on from the believer/non-believer argument to focus on fair and equitable solutions to a stressed-out planet.
I don’t see much promise at COP 17 for the winners of the industrial revolution to pay the losers for their trouble anytime soon. It is evident the one resource we have not depleted is the kindness of the human heart. Governments, foundations and businesses are springing forward to make sure this new, low-carbon economy creates prosperity among the most vulnerable people on Earth.
About Martha Shaw
Martha Shaw is a contributing writer for CSRwire covering clean technology and other topics. Martha has been named an Adweek Creative All Star and is the winner of international awards in communications. She is a member of the Climate Literacy Network, Fellow of the Explorers Club, board member of NYSES and CEO of Earth Advertising.
This commentary is written by a valued member of the CSRwire contributing writers' community and expresses this author's views alone.
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