Nelson Mandela has died. The news comes across, by any medium, from any lips, as something we have to pause to consider with awe and disappointment. It was a privilege to share some of the time this great soul lived on this Earth, and it is a sad day for the world that he is no longer among us. The reasons for this are much talked of, but the subtle gravity of his gift to us may still be too little understood.
We know of the persecution he suffered, the atrocious and unconscionable treatment he endured, only because a cruel regime wanted to silence his principled cry for justice and fair treatment. We know of his commitment to tolerance and inclusion, and the unshakeable wisdom with which he pushed that vision, not only in his own country, but into the wider world.
Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, at Drom on Avenue A, in New York City, Joseph Robertson will speak about the game-changing citizen volunteer organizing of Citizens Climate Lobby, an effort of great significance for the future of our climate and for our potential to build a true, clean, sustainable energy economy.
Go to LucidNYC.eventbrite.com for tickets and spread the word.
First printed in The Times of Trenton, as a guest opinion column, on December 01, 2013
For a long time, fossil fuels have been a smart investment. There is unparalleled infrastructural, political and tax policy support for those investments, and so there is a lot of money to be made. But all markets have nuance, and plenty of people lose money gambling on fossil fuel interests. That has always been true. Now, we face a new kind of crisis in pricing certainty: fossil fuel companies have invested far too much in future production that will not have as high a market value as they would like.
The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reveals that we have a global lifetime carbon fuel budget of 1 trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Any burning of fossil fuels beyond that will bring on unmanageable destabilization of global climate patterns. The cost to government, society and enterprise of dealing with that level of change to the worldwide underpinnings of all our economic activity will be too great to bear.
The Note for November 2013
Major policy decisions are often made without a lot of insight into what the direct impact on real people will be. That is largely because ideological rigidity is hard to break out of, and the perception that abstraction allows for greater efficiency in the crafting of policy. When policy makers focus too much on ideological preferences, their thinking tends to become more abstract, dogmatic and magical, ignoring observable facts affecting how people live. This then makes it much more comfortable to equate an initiative’s similarity to their thinking with automatic success and its dissimilarity from their thinking with guaranteed failure or even “evil”.
But most people live in a world where ideology is all but irrelevant. What matters is what is within reach, and also what is not. Allegiance to ideological prejudice tends to undermine the intellectual honesty of any analysis. Economics is transactional human ecology; resources, systems, intentions and collaborations, work together or against each other to build or erode a base of sustainable thriving. If there is not enough food, people get hungry; if there are hungry people, other priorities tend to lose influence; if hunger replaces harmony as an organizing principle, civil society can break down and economic valuations become too volatile to be useful. We forget: the economic principles, assumptions and data we depend on and reference can only have meaning if they tell us something about how people actually live.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found, in its 5th Assessment Report (AR5), which was released in September, that the worldwide human community has a global lifetime budget of “burnable” carbon-based fuels. Beyond that, any further burning of carbon-emitting fuels would push global average temperatures more than 2°C higher than the historic norm, unleashing unmanageable climate destabilization. So, though existing reserves might allow us to use far more than the scientifically measured carbon fuel budget, those resources are in effect “unburnable”.
This is not a matter for ideologically driven debate. This is a question of hard numbers. A 2°C rise is the tipping point, beyond which it is projected climate destabilization will be irreversible, with complex feedback loops exacerbating the situation more and more. Beyond a certain point, probably well before we reach the full 2°C rise, the actual cost of adapting to significant destabilization of historically consistent climate patterns will exceed our ability to spend to respond.
It was from a spirit of admiration, respect and gratitude, for the courage of ordinary people across Egypt who were willing to stand up, in the line of fire, with nothing but moral clarity and shared commitment, against the violence of a decades-long tyranny, that the online project IndependentsOfPrinciple.com was born. The moment, in February 2011, was full of hope, inspiration, and a shining example of nonviolent civics.
So now, as Egypt struggles to find its collective footing in the new, uneven terrain of democracy, we observe how the world seems to have lost faith in the possibility that the Egyptian people and their institutions will find a way to establish, irrevocably, the post-authoritarian period. It may be a long struggle, and it would be the first such period in Egypt’s long and much chronicled history.
Nov. 22, 1963. Three shots. Historical shock. The near destabilization of the American system. A hurried reordering of executive leadership and governing priorities. Every question asked, and unanswered. Importantly. Exactly fifty years ago today, Pres. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jr., was shot and killed, in Dallas, Texas. Though official filings cite Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone assassin, no judicial process has ever found him guilty. Instead, we have the controversial and selective report from the Warren Commission, and the shooting remains a more or less unsolved mystery.
Ultimately, what matters most is what we learn and what we put into effect.