Minds and hearts: a political will for climate fix

The United Nations secretary general is shouting "Fire!" in a crowded room.

The crowded room is Earth, and the fire is climate change racing ahead even faster than predicted. It could, in the alarmed words of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, "pass the point of no return."

Guterres spoke at the start of the two-week international climate conference underway in Madrid. The causes of global warming are known, and science and technology have solutions to offer, he said, but the diplomat is frustrated. It's still words, words, words. He is gambling that rather than panic and paralyze people, his call will help muster the political will for change across countries with differing economic and political interests.

The one interest that is universal is survival for oneself and one's children. What he is seeking are hearts and minds. For humans and other species to be able to adapt to inevitable changes, all other motives have to come second, to buy time for adaptation and accommodation.

To our national shame, the United States is one of the least committed to the mission of global cooperation. The Trump administration has fulfilled its promise to notify the other parties to the 2015 Paris climate agreement that we will withdraw next year. That means the U.S. will have no binding committment to the agreement's goal of limiting the planet's temperature increase to less than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

Participating nations, including the U.S., set the goal in acknowledgement that although the Earth has always gone through warming and cooling cycles, this is the first time in history that carbon and other "greenhouse gases" have been released in great quantities because of human actions. What humans started they can still address — but that chance is slipping away. In the wake of the most recent U.N. report, Guterres sounded his alarm to stop "our war against nature."

Without cooperation from the large-scale emitters of the byproducts of fossil fuels, the world has no Plan B. China, India and the United States are among the biggest producers and also the most disdainful of the agreement. Their and our lack of commitment stalls a number of promising strategies that will work only if nearly unanimous.

The U.S. has a fairly lean record of participating in international treaties and agreements with, let's face it, an air that we are too big and too powerful to be pinned down. That did not start with Donald Trump but with the Senate, which has the constitutional responsibility to approve treaties but has a history of work-arounds, as in the Arctic.

Rather than retreat even further from international cooperation, this country should be leading the way on taxing carbon emissions — a free market approach that would stimulate industries to find ways to limit what they put out. The president, who plans to run for re-election in 2020, has signalled that does not interest him.

The narrowing but still crowded field of Democratic presidential hopefuls has not spent much campaign or debate time on climate change, but for many voters, especially the youngest, that could be a one-issue deciding factor. The entry of billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg might stimulate more attention on the issue; he has been leading a nongovernmental effort on climate change since Trump said he would pull the U.S. out of the Paris accord.

Meanwhile, states continue doing what they can. One of the first announcements of the Lamont administration was that Connecticut would make state buildings and vehicles more energy efficient. The governor did well in securing the clean nuclear power produced by Millstone for another 10 years, although step 2, renewables, has been harder to organize and launch. The Day continues to urge a deal on windpower that will benefit the planet, the country, the state and the region.

Recently, Lamont announced that $6 million in funds from the settlement of the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal would go to clean air projects, including $819,260 to the Fishers Island Ferry District  to replace the 35-year-old engines on the ferry M/V Race Point, based in New London.

These are small steps, but a global movement, if there can be one, will derive from individual minds and hearts. The new poet laureate of the United States, Native American poet Joy Harjo, gives us a way to think about that:

Remember the earth whose skin you are: red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth, brown earth, we are earth.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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