Climate activists don't call themselves climate activists, it's the rest of us that does. Because it feels safer, amidst that scary climate crisis, to place the ones that express their care in the most confronting and the most vulnerable way, in a box. Just like the world tries to deny the entire climate problem.
Climate activists call themselves people. But if you do rise up for the cause and you are called a climate activist learn to be very, very proud of that name. And if you choose to keep seated, learn to become very, very thankful to those who against all the odds did try to stand on the good side of history. I respect these people deeply.
In December I will also go to Paris* myself. Not because I am naive. But because I am convinced. The world is on fire. And we need firemen. Millions of firemen. Millions and millions of firewomen. Everyone counts. And if we stand there, if we win or if we lose, we will give humanity a face amidst that raging fire - we will let our mother see we love her, we will let the future know we cared about them too.
2015 is a very dramatic climate year. The world has just experienced the hottest summer ever - and we will have an even hotter autumn and winter, globally. All in all 2015 is forecast to become the hottest year on record, beating the previous record that is just one year old, and ending all doubt where the actual trend is going: Up. And considering the root causes, there is no end in sight for that trend for many many years to come - possibly stretching the entire future of our unborn children.
Ever since American climatologist and former head of NASA's Earth observatory James Hansen testified before Congress about the scientific reality of climate change in 1988, the formation of the specialised UN body to help the world cooperate in lowering greenhouse gas emissions, the UNFCCC, in 1992 and the first basic climate treaty of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 - that has still not been replaced until this very year - the world has wasted decades, decades of postponed political action.
Keep reading - you are already outperforming our politicians...
There has been an extreme amount of scientific progress brought to us by the IPCC and all the individual climatological research centres in the world. Insights have been refined, tested, proven and repeated over and over again. Added to that are the actual live observations, showing that dramatic changes to the Earth's climate system are already taking place - from coral bleaching and ocean acidification, to shifting biomes, melting glaciers, increasing droughts and clearly increasing weather extremes. This is just the beginning.
The planet is big and the oceans are very large and deep. Their mass has created a time lag described as the thermal inertia of our climate system, first in Science in 2005 - by that same James Hansen - and by many other researchers since. That climate inertia is thought to span around 40 years - a 40-year delay between the moment an extra molecule of CO2 is added to the atmosphere and its warming effects are first observed. The conclusion is really rather depressing. We don't witness the results of our own emissions, directly. We witness what has been emitted up to the year 1975.
So when we look at the Arctic and see that a third of the sea ice is already gone that really isn't our fault. It's not the fault of those who knew. Since 1975 though CO2 emissions have doubled - and as our added CO2 works cumulative (on top of the natural atmospheric carbon cycle) - that means we have a doubling of measured global warming in the pipelines, and even exponentially larger planetary effects, already inevitable - if we stopped emitting fully, per tomorrow.
We of course won't.
It is 2015 - we have 'COP21', the Paris climate summit ahead of us, from November 30 to probably somewhere in the late hours of Sunday December 13. There is -finally- something bright to come from these negotiations: a new global climate treaty. The thing we couldn't agree on six years ago in Copenhagen. The treaty to finally replace and improve that out-dated and largely irrelevant Kyoto Protocol. An intention by all the world's states to cooperate in a fight that we will all lose if we do not choose and learn to work together.
But then there is the actual content...
From 2015 we look to the near future - and beyond. In 2030 the world is forecast to have 8.5 billion human inhabitants, 1.5 billion more than in 2011. Meanwhile global energy consumption is forecast to rise by 50 percent.
If WE don't act - who will?
Although those who are responsible for today's energy and climate policy, the current generations of elected politicians, the current heads of states, will always try to shift the discussion to the far, far future, helped by media and even some NGOs, painting the brightest of pictures with the emptiest of political promises for the years 2050 or even 2100 - when finally the world should be free of our fossil fuels addiction - we should know better.
The only guarantee we'll ever get to a fossil free future is us. If we don't manage to break the habit, if we don't manage to bring the policy, if we don't manage to breach the trend - when it's really needed - why be optimistic about our children's capacity to succeed where we failed? This really is humanity's test. If we fail we prove ourselves incapable, intrinsically incapable - unintelligent, in the quickly memed words of George Monbiot in The Guardian: "There may be flowing water on Mars. But is there intelligent life on Earth?"
The most committed campaigning groups for the Paris climate summit, 350, Friends of the Earth International & the united French groups of Coalition Climat 21, have joined forces for massive mobilisation during the two-week-long climate summit in Paris, with large emphasis on a show of strength during the decisive last weekend - with mass actions on Friday December 11 and Saturday December 12 - including the possibly largest climate march in history on 'D12'.
The French use an interesting slogan: "Si on ne fait rien, personne ne le fera à notre place." If we don't act, no one will do it for us.
That about sums it up.
*) Probably good to say at this point that going to Paris is easy from the Netherlands (where I live) as it is from almost all European countries. We can bike there - and we will - some of us will even walk. If you live anywhere in Europe: come to Paris. If you live elsewhere: send your love - and please do rally for your local COP21 support marches!
Our voices are true - our voices will be heard
There is large celebration in going to Paris. Considering why we do it, and considering with whom we'll be standing there, walking, chanting, as we will try to drown the dark and secretive murmurs of the fossil lobbyist of companies like Shell and Exxon who we know will also be there. These fossil lobbyists will even be inside the buildings that will refuse our entry, together with politicians that say they represent the people. But even though the fossil whisperers may be inside, we will be outside in the streets, in the open daylight, and we will be with many, many more. And our voices do not need to whisper, because our voices are true. Our voices will be heard.
There is a very sad story in going to Paris too. We know in advance that countries just do not act when they are needed to. Our own home countries we know do not act in line with their promises. The entire world has agreed we should limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius - with some groups of countries (supported by scientists and NGOs) calling for a safer & more ambitious 1.5 degrees target.
It creates a really confusing picture split by what needs to be done, what is promised, what is pledged, and what is actually done. These create three large gaps in a row: Firstly the gap between what is really needed (350 ppm - a maximum of 1.5 degrees) and the far more dangerous 2 degrees target. Secondly the gap between currently pledged 2030 emissions targets and the 2030 emissions targets that are needed to keep at least a 50 percent chance of reaching that 2 degree target. Still with me? And thirdly the gap between those weak emissions targets and actual climate and energy policy of countries - policy than in practice often seems non-existent, with not-reaching-targets as the general norm. This simple graph shows it all.
If countries would live up to their current Paris commitments (2030 emissions targets) that would bring the world on a 3.5 degrees warming path. Perhaps our massive presence can persuade some of the willing to step up, just a bit further. Perhaps we can end the absolutely massive and insane global governmental subsidies the world's fossil industry keeps receiving each year to destroy our mother planet. Perhaps we can at least place on all of our agenda's how wrong this is. Perhaps we can learn - all of us - to tackle these issues in our individual countries when we get back home, where the fight will be much more concrete: keeping some 80 percent of fossil fuel reserves in the ground - requiring action from very many people on very many different fronts.
Diverting money away from fossil fuels, and divesting from that industry also shows another thing the world will have to do: invest. Invest in renewable energy, invest in each other. In our shared interest of maintaining a habitable planet poor countries simply need help: not just for adaptation, but also clean development. Entire continents will have to switch to renewable energy sources - a challenge that is only possibly if we learn to greatly improve our global energy efficiency, if we radically fight energy waste and even dare - in the sake of climate justice - to cure the disease of greed anywhere on the planet, because calculations will not fit if we stick to that insane endless growth mantra.
For hardened climate campaigners Paris might be a two-week chance to take a break from all our valuable work at all our valuable fronts and get to meet each other - to remember the world is in this together, to see there are people like us, everywhere - by far the most beautiful encouragement there is.
There is also sadness, gratitude - and anger
Paris is also a chance for us to express a sad goodbye to the things we know we will keep fighting to preserve but that we also know we are now likely to lose nonetheless - the loss that global leaders will actually seal in a poor Paris deal - that many media will let them get away with, as cameras don't focus deeply enough on their eyes, their very pupils - to get a glimpse of their souls when they know full-well that they sign a 3.5 degrees warming deal.
In 2015 the World was on Fire and no one could save us but we. It's strange what desire is lurking inside of me. You are looking at a satellite data plot showing the extreme CO2 emissions resulting from the current (October 2015) forest fires in Indonesia and the Amazon, which are in turn caused by drought - one of the feared positive feedback loops to climate change.
It is really weird to understand this, to take that time. I have never seen a coral reef in my life. But I know their beauty is beyond compare, I know their value a birth-givers to the oceans cannot be missed. I also know that all of them will be gone when the world is 2 degrees warmer. All of them. Unimaginable. But when I stand on the Place de la République, when I will march with the hundreds of thousands through the streets of Paris, when I'll look at the flowing waters of the Seine I will think of the coral reefs I've never seen.
In Paris I will remember Marc Cornelissen and Philip de Roo, two young, caring and devoted Dutch climate researchers, whom I have never met, who in the spring of this year, tracking across the ice on their skis and with their sleds, while trying to improve Arctic sea-ice satellite thickness measurements, by copying these with field work measurements, fell through thin ice - the one trying to save the other - and both drowned, far away from home.
I will ask myself at what cost the fossil industry will continue, not only polluting, but also denying, lying, funding merchants of doubt, pure evil. Satellite measurements of sea ice thickness are very reliable. Climatology is an extremely advanced science. Why do climate scientists need to go through their hardships of having to prove over and over again what has already been shown so obviously, what has already been known since the time of the first atmospheric scientists like John Tyndall, Svante Arrhenius, Joseph Fourier, masterminds of the 19th century.
When in Paris I will think of those two climate researchers who drowned in the open waters of the Arctic Ocean there is sadness, and there is also gratitude, to them, and to all the others, because without climate scientists we would have wandered through the endless night of ignorance - towards our collective deaths.
But there is also anger. What is at stake is enormous. Climate change, in synergy with all the other human-induced stress factors like deforestation, overfishing, other forms of pollution, stands out as the major driver of the Holocene Mass Extinction - the mass dying of major life forms, both on land and in the oceans, possibly within this very century - if we do not manage to do what is necessary to combat this problem: to breach the emissions trend between now and 2030 - to have a revolution, this year in Paris, and in 2016 against the entire fossil fuel industry.
Everyone pollutes, everyone is part of the problem. But the ones who actively try to prevent us from cooperating, the ones who try to prevent us, humanity as a whole, from turning towards a brighter future, the fossil lobbyists, the merchants of doubt - they really are murderers. You don't survive an escalating mass extinction, when even agriculture might collapse.
I don't call climate activists climate activists. I call them good people. People who listen. People who care. People who take action.
My land is already gone. Literally
If warming surpasses 2 degrees the entire Greenland ice sheet will collapse. This might be a very slow process, but it will be inevitable. That translates to some 5 or 6 meters of sea level rise, globally. Possibly a same amount of water could come from the West Antarctic ice sheet - as new research shows that one is probably equally unstable. Sea levels will also rise by another meter per degree of warming, simply caused by the thermal expansion of ocean waters.
As I come from the Netherlands it means my land is gone, literally. We think we can raise our dikes, as we have done so many times, but we are overconfident, ignorant in that sense, as we are also a major river delta. You cannot pump the entire Rhine and Maas rivers to the ocean, using just windmills and solar panels. Forget it. Forget your country. Forget the country of my father and mother, my grandparents, their grandparents - the country that produced Rembrandt, and in that same 17th century was - oh irony - leading in wind energy. From my grandparents to theirs, that many generations to the future - and it will be swallowed.
Should I care for my own country in Paris? There is too much to care for. Current commitments for the Paris climate summit, I repeat, bring us en route to 3.5 degrees warming. That excludes positive climate feedbacks, like the ones we can currently witness in practice, as both Borneo and the Amazon are burning due to drought, increasing the global 2015 CO2 emissions to unseen heights. Due to such climate feedbacks, three degrees might be 4, and 4 might become 6 - if indeed the Arctic and deep-sea methane bombs go off, a clear possibility.
So, no - I do not care for my own country. It's too specific. I care in general. Three degrees warming and 90 percent of the Amazon rainforest, that last wonderful wilderness, will be gone. Gone. For good. The endless biodiversity. The carbon it stored. The rainfall it helped to create.
I have never seen the Amazon, as I have never seen the coral reefs, as I have never seen the Greenland ice sheet. I don't have to see them to feel they mean as much to me as my own country.
If we stand in Paris we stand to commemorate the things we will lose. For me it's been a journey of six years after Copenhagen. I had my hopes up high. The summit failed, but the snow flakes started falling. A gentle touch of Gaia as the police pepper sprayed the remaining thousands of people.
Look at the skies, look at the soil, look at each other. This is who we are
I would never have stood there if my own father had not shown me the buzzards in the sky when I was just a 5-year-old kid, the plants between the grass, the rocks in the wall and minerals in the rocks, the footsteps of previous generations everywhere around us, and how always there is so much more to see when simply you keep your eyes open. One day I will hope to do the same.
I saw the soothing snowflakes that dramatic day in Copenhagen and I know for better or worse we will stand there, there in Paris, and beyond, our future generations.
Thank you so very much for being able to stand alongside with you as we write our story.
Do you want to join us in Paris? Here are three important websites:
See you there. December 11, December 12. And if you feel like it, the entire two weeks. And an additional word of thanks to all the Parisians who offer us shelter during that time!
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