The climate crisis is not only about polar bears. Our own actions have ramifications in the world, so polar bears and other life forms are threatened by the degradation of complex life-support systems. Those natural systems depend on a stable climate, with carbon dioxide concentrations between 280 and 350 parts per million. Those same life-support systems help to make our world livable for human beings, so we have built a civilization that depends on that efficient, life-giving interplay of natural forces. 

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Success in our time is the achievement of a thriving economy and a participatory society fully free of the hidden costs that that come with using greenhouse gas-emitting compounds as fuel. On Friday, May 22, in Paris, Laurent Fabius, foreign minister of France, explained that the nations of the world are now working together “to make sure the decarbonized society is a definitive fact.” Major breakthroughs in local clean energy storage are giving low-carbon energy sources a clear path to dominant market share. We have moved into a new age of innovation and economic development. By way of smart policy, business decisions and technology advancement, prosperity is being decoupled from greenhouse gases.

We can now look ahead with clarity to a fabric of prosperous markets dominated by low-carbon development and sustainable abundance.

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Lake Superior is the largest body of fresh water in the world, by surface area, unless you count Lakes Huron and Michigan as one lake, because they are connected by an open flow of water 5 miles across. Where we draw boundaries determines how we rank the objects of our experience and exploration. On my first visit to Lake Superior, I had the privilege of being with two friends, who have redefined boundaries in ways that bring benefit to the wider world. Paul is a brilliant convener of friends and citizens, who brings people together, with a unique confidence in their ability to find each other’s virtues and build on them, together. David is a sailor and Arctic explorer, whose voyages have taken him through the Northwest Passage, in both directions, and around the Americas, fully 28,000 miles in one trip. Our time together in Minnesota reminded me that we are always at the edge of our prior experience; we are always exploring. We tend to think of our lives as bounded by known quantities, by economic limitations, political prescriptions, and the strict definitions our choices subject us to. We often fail to see how we can transcend systemic limitations.  So, it becomes important to think about how our experience is exploration, and how our way of thinking about possibility matters.

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Citizens’ Climate Lobby report from the Pathway to Paris working session at the World Bank Civil Society Forum

Our Pathway to Paris World Bank Working Session, held at the Civil Society Policy Forum on Wednesday, April 15, focused on the role of direct citizen participation in the global climate negotiations. For many reasons, direct citizen participation has been limited:

  1. One is there are already tens of thousands of people participating, representing interests, issues, places, solutions, grievances, and legal constructs.
  2. Another is that intergovernmental negotiations generally treat the interests of citizens and stakeholders as the province of their government officials. The sovereignty and political process of nations stand in for direct engagement.
  3. A third is that citizen participation is often equated to referenda, which are not always the best expression of the will of the people or the safest route to the policy that most benefits those voting.
  4. But a fourth, and perhaps most significant, is that we just don’t have a strong tradition of such engagement in multilateral negotiations.

Our working session produced powerful practical insights into the value of inclusive policy-making, stakeholder engagement, and outcomes that account for and embrace the complications of difference and variability. Read More

In response to Politico’s assertion that Lindsay Graham might be “too green for the GOP”

There are many more Republicans on Capitol Hill that want to act on climate than say so publicly, and there are many more who understand the human role. The divisive politics the two parties wage against each other, and the fundraising mechanics that drives our elections keeps most of them from speaking up, joining coalitions, or becoming the pioneers their conscience urges them to be. Most members of Congress are also aware that only 3% of voters under 35 look favorably on climate science denial; they know the time to act is past-due, and they will need to join the effort, soon. We (all citizens, and all climate policy advocates) need to start finding ways to let them emerge into the sunlight.

The vision of the GOP as a uniform and militant anti-climate machine is a myth.

Once we put aside such facile and presumptuous political reasoning, we can start to see each human being we engage with as a human being, and starting from there, we can find our way to real shared values. The most important values are universal, and it is the insistence that they are not that stops us from seeing how we can come together, lead together, and solve big problems together. Many will choose another course; but if you want to secure a brighter future for our nation, for our children and for the world, then you can put aside such cliche and such bias and start relating to people as people. Everyone is on a journey, and in the end, most people, especially those who are serving in public office, just want to do what is right.

We try

“where the hummingbird, wherever there is a fuss,
just rises and floats away”

—Mary Oliver

To make the attempt
at something more
than the least and the longing
somehow to venture upward
into blue fine ethers
where wanting is not misfortune
where time does not steal
where happiness is an aching
and the shine of history
turns new and nubile
every morning by sunlight
spilling over sunlight
and without lament

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“I’m optimistic partly because of what I do, working with citizen volunteers actively building relationships,” Robertson said. “We don’t have to argue about climate change or throw snowballs — that’s all distraction. What’s happening is that we’re getting closer to a time when ideology is no longer a part of the discussion. Instead, it will be about how fast and efficiently are we going to do this.” [Read the full article here…]

[ The Note for March 2015 ]

We need non-expert voices in the room. No individual expert knows everything, many decision-makers are themselves non-experts, and considering stakeholders’ voices leads to more legitimate, relevant and viable policy outcomes. Significant improvements in the prevailing condition require disruption of the status quo. The status quo implicitly extends from the status quo ante, the prevailing norms that preceded the current state of affairs and on which the structures we know were founded. Expertise is rooted in an examination of these two states, and can provide a sound and reasoned reference for how to move into the future, but when we look to achieve a post status quo reality, where human conditions are greatly improved and the previously unavailable has become commonplace, we have to recognize that we are looking beyond what is known. Expertise unaccompanied by the power of imagination and a hot contest of ideas can lead to planning not well adapted to visualizing, comprehending or catalyzing disruptive optimizing change.

Any human being knows more about her own local experience than someone who has never been there. How do we know what people live? Ask them. The non-expert voice may not know that one should not demand the ideal. In discussions that touch on issues decision-makers have come to see as too knotty—for very real, but not definitive, reasons—people who only see a problem still waiting to be solved will focus attention on solving it. Stakeholders, if allowed to speak, will demand the unresolved be dealt with. Think access to health treatment, education, clean water, mine-clearing or peacekeeping forces. Experience of the status quo ante often tells the experienced that any attempt at the ideal inevitably falls short. While this is often true, someone has to make the attempt, so that our imperfect achievements are oriented toward achieving as much progress as possible. There are crises that are persistently difficult to cope with, but which require disruptive optimism nonetheless.

The optimist is not the fool who sees all and only through rose-tinted glasses; the optimist is the rational actor who is insistent enough on rational action to aim for the best outcome within the realm of the possible. The optimal, while within the realm of the possible, may actually remain beyond the reach of all that we yet know. Closed spaces for discussion of ideas are inclined to incomplete thinking. No expert knows everything we need to know about past, present, and future, much less about as yet over-the-horizon shifts in the landscape. If we limit the number of minds available to the task, then limit the kind of thoughts those minds are supposed to prefer, then limit the language through which they are allowed to express their ideas, the field of information exchange will be limited, though the stakes may be global and existential.

Many powerful decision-makers are themselves non-experts in fields where they are required to make resonant executive decisions. How do they learn all they need to know about the existing landscape of possibility? The non-expert might be a generalist with deep intelligence in many subjects, someone who is expert in another area, or even a novice with a fresh view. If advisors are drawn from multiple disciplines, some will be seen as non-expert (the ecological integrity of the water cycle is not always seen as germane to national security discussions), but the resulting multidisciplinary outlook will give decision-makers a much better view of the landscape. Including stakeholders gives us the added benefit of direct information about lived human experience.

When we plan 195 national strategies to build low-carbon economies, we enter into a process without precedent. There are many capable minds with much experience, but no expert in what is to come. To see into the terrain where disruptive change emerges, we need to look beyond the bounds of standard discourse. We can inhabit the landscape of expanded possibility where disruptive optimizing change occurs, if we commit to a process that is open, collaborative, ongoing, and boundless.

Our political system is not, strictly, a macroeconomic guidance machine; political leaders have a lot of responsibilities that take day-to-day precedence over direct macroeconomic maneuvering. Stewardship of our civic infrastructure can provide direct benefits to citizens, communities, and enterprise, and so our analysis of how well our policy choices work to motivate real macroeconomic health and improvement needs to consider those other values.

We all know, from one perspective or another, how ideological preferences influence what one analyst or another might refer to as “just the numbers”; this is one of the main reasons there is such heated disagreement about whose policy preferences do better at creating value for households, communities, and enterprise. By adding to our value considerations a G.O.O.D. economic analysis, we can better see the generative capacity of a given policy priority, economic trend, or technical innovation.

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Value is real, substantial, discernible, but what constitutes value for one group might differ in subtle ways from what constitutes value for another. Those differences might also be radical, and that radical difference in how value is explained can be the flashpoint for conflict of the worst kind. Value is an experience: for some, it constitutes receiving more than one is required to sacrifice in an exchange; for others, it is the experience of fairness; others view it as the experience of things “as they should be”, whatever that may mean for the person or people in question. Because we seek value, and value is something about which we have a sense, we treat it as something that must be conveyed, communicated, carried across the divide between two distinct, or competing, world views. Money communicates value, but clumsily. Politics communicates value, also clumsily. Language communicates value, but usually through some complex of cultural specifics: we are a free country; we believe in participatory democracy; we worship one God; we honor religious liberty; we want to see imaginative innovators prosper, because they have produced something of value that serves others. These communications of value are also value judgments, estimations of value. Value is asserted, but how it is anchored remains a subject for debate.

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