Copenhagen: Getting Past the Urgency Trap

The article below appeared earlier this week at Grist.


Copenhagen’s still three weeks away, but climate activists are already voicing their enormous disappointment about everything that’s not going to get done there. The heat is rising, and we’re all feeling the overwhelming urgency to get a strong global agreement that will get the laggards off their butts and launch the structural reformations most of us know we need to fix the problem. A lot of us, it seems, loaded all our highest hopes onto this one conference, wanting desperately to believe that this would finally be the moment the long-awaited Grand Transformation would occur.

But the hard truth of the matter is this: change of this magnitude never happens with a single conference, a single treaty, or even a single disaster. The structural changes required to get us off carbon and onto a truly sustainable footing challenge the economic assumptions that humans have lived by for 2500 years. Change that wide and deep will be the work of an entire century, maybe two. (If we’re smart and lucky, our grandchildren may live to see it mostly done.) All of us are well aware of the precarious time crunch we’re under here; but humans change only as fast as they change, and forcing the issue isn’t likely to help. And it may even hurt us in the long run.

We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and we’re not going to get out of it in one dazzling planetary stroke of universal enlightenment, either.

The good news: big, deep changes like this one tend to proceed in a fairly predictable order. If we understand the whole arc of that process, we can have a little more patience with where we are, and think a little more strategically about what comes next.

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