Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Climate Change and the Talks in Paris

The United Nations Paris Climate Change Conference and the 21st session of the Conference of Parties (known by the acronym COP21) will be meeting in Paris from November 30 to December 11 where they will be discussing the impact of greenhouse gas emissions  and climate change. For years there have been experts warning us of the dangers of climate change, yet it has been a controversial topic that has elicited reactions that range from from trite dismissal to political polarization.

Why the Controversy?

I am baffled by such widespread questioning of even the reality of climate change and astounded by the number of people who doubt that human activity is contributing to changes in the environment. The reason for my bafflement is that I remember a time when people paid attention to the scientists, listened to news reports, and lawmakers made some needed changes.

It was back in the late 1960s and early 70s that I recall seeing many news broadcasts on the effects of pollution, especially the harmful smog in urban areas holding dangerous pollutants in the air and the environment. One particular broadcast I recall seeing as a teenager was of a newscaster reporting from Los Angeles, talking about the fact that trees in the San Fernando Valley were dying as a result of smog and acid rain. It was a frightening thing for me to consider as a young teen.

The upshot, however, of those scientific studies and news broadcasts was that congress actually passed legislation to combat pollution. The Clean Air Extension Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972 both expanded the regulations to reduce automobile emissions and industrial waste pollution. Even Richard Nixon, in his 1970 State of the Union address stated:
Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions. It has become a common cause of all the people of this country. It is a cause of particular concern to young Americans, because they more than we will reap the grim consequences of our failure to act on programs which are needed now if we are to prevent disaster later. Clean air, clean water, open spaces-these should once again be the birthright of every American. If we act now, they can be.
Later that year, as he signed the Clean Air Amendments of 1970 acknowledged that the air and water must be clean for our environment and for future generations. As a result, trees begin growing again in areas where they had been dying.

Today, we see more trees dying in California and across the globe due to the devastating droughts that are a part of climate change. We are seeing polar ice caps melting and constant warnings from our scientists, yet the "political will" to do anything is ever so recalcitrant. Moreover, many continue to question whether it is actually human activity that is having such an impact upon the environment. 

Hope for Change

If we were able to pass legislation leading to positive environmental changes in the 1970s under the Nixon Administration, surely there is hope for action today. While much of the political and corporate recalcitrance seems to be centered in the U.S. and some of the developing countries who are unwilling to slow down corporate industry, there are voices of reason among other nations, and many protest throughout the world this week to call attention to the problem of climate change. 

For example, in Paris, even though the march was cancelled due to concerns over safety in light of the recent terrorist attack, over 10,000 pairs of shoes on the Place de la Republique to serve as a visual reminder of the people's concern for the environment. 

Also in Paris, the Indigenous Environmental Network organized a healing ceremony in front of the Bataclan theater before thousands gathered to participate in a human chain action in the streets of Paris.

Indigenous Healing Prayer in front of Bataclan Theater in Paris.
Yesterday, on November 29th the Indigenous Environmental Network organized a healing ceremony in front of the Bataclan theater before thousands gathered to participate in a human chain action in the streets of Paris. It was a beautiful ceremony featuring Indigenous youth speakers from North America, the arctic, and the pacific islands. Our delegations always see it as a necessity to have prayer before any large action. We offered kind words, song, and calls for climate justice and peace. #DefendProtectRenew #IndigenousRisingVideo produced and originally postedby @The New Internationalist
Posted by Indigenous Environmental Network on Monday, November 30, 2015

For a more in-depth look at the effects of climate change, posted below is the two-part BBC documentary by David Attenborough from 2006 (or you may just want to read an account of the films presentation here).


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