The Failure of U.S. Climate and Environmental Policy and Why There is Still Hope

U.S. climate policy. Resist!

Writing to a  class of international students “Climate Change Mitigation in the Developing World” about “climate policy where I live”

It is, of course, hard news from the United States with Donald Trump signing his “energy independence” executive order.   Among other things, the order calls for a “rewrite” of former president Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP is (was) the cornerstone of the U.S. INDC commitment to the Paris Agreement.

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World Wildlife Day | Saving Our Own Humanity

Elephants of Africa - photo by Thomas Schueneman

The Peace of Wild Things - Photo by Gary Bendig

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
– Wendell Berry

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Wilderness and the Age of Man

The Age of Man: Wilderness in the Anthropocene

Jason Mark’s 2015 Satellites in the High Country asks an essential question:

What is wilderness?

Is there any wilderness left on earth? If so, where is it?

If it is true that a radioactive haze has settled across the globe, then indeed, there is no wilderness left; no place left untouched by the actions of one species.

The philosophical among us may claim that there is wilderness in every human soul.

That is a debate best left to those smarter than I.

I suspect attempting the self-reflection of our place in the order of things, for which we are given only a momentary glimpse, is fraught with bias. Even if well-intentioned.

All men are liable to error; and most men are, in many points, by passion or interest, under temptation to it.
John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

On the one hand, caution and skepticism are warranted before we assume we are or can impact Earth on a geological time scale. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, to paraphrase Carl Sagan.

Claiming we live in the “Age of Man” may seem antithetical to the beliefs of most spiritual traditions. But many offer a sacred reverence for nature and a sense of place.

And so, on the other hand, is the Precautionary Principle.

If there is any reasonable possibility that the fate of the planet – the world as we know it – rests in our hands, then we are, indeed, living in the Anthropocene – the Age of Man.

I argue that this is the case. There is, I believe, sufficient evidence to suggest current human activity is impacting, at an epochal level, global systems and cycles.

Living within boundaries

 

Living within limits: the nine planetary boundaries
Planetary Boundaries

The only desirable way forward is learning how to manage human activity within the physical limits of the planet. Within that framework cultivate, as best we can, social stability, equality, and human dignity.

If that is the task, then urgency-of-purpose must balance caution of action. Whether we like it or not, we must literally shape a new world. We are shaping a new world. It’s too late to back out now.

The longer we allow short-term accounting, manufacturing of doubt, and willful ignorance to dominate the narrative, the more time is lost. Caution thrown to the wind. Left only for future generations to ask why?

And then there’s figuring out what’s for dinner tonight.

After all, I’m only human.