After eighteen years with the Quivira Coalition, a nonprofit I cofounded to support an emerging radical center among ranchers, conservationists, scientists and public land managers, I am moving on to new adventures. My goal now is to explore and explain the Age of Consequences – this unprecedented moment in time – and share what I learn and see along the way with the urgent hope that we are improving the world for our children, not diminishing it. I’ll be sharing what I discover in books, essays, this blog and on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/J-Courtney-White/376099995933244
Now comes the hard part.
At COP21 last month, I had the honor of being part of a delegation from Regeneration International (RI) that went to Paris to make a case for soil carbon as a mitigation strategy for climate change and I’m happy to report that our effort exceeded expectations! First, I’d like to add my thoughts to the stack of analysis about the Agreement itself, struck by 197 nations to limit greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to put a brake to climate change. Whether this effort is ultimately successful remains to be seen, of course, but for the moment, let’s enjoy a rare bit of good news. Here’s a dispatch I wrote the day after the deal was done:
There’s hope. This is so important. We’ve been staring despair in the face for so long I pretty much gave up thinking there would be any progress. The failure of the UN process to generate any meaningful action in twenty-one years led many of us to fear the worse from these now-or-never talks in Paris. Against the odds, however, a deal happened. This is a good thing. There are lots of problems with the Agreement and I’m certain it’ll be attacked by critics on the left and the right, but for the moment let’s bask in the simple signal it sends: our demise isn’t inevitable. I look at this issue through the eyes of my children and their friends: without the Agreement they would have abandoned hope. If Paris had failed what were the chances for collective action ever? Where would hope have come from? Congress? Wall Street? Silicon Valley? For myself, at middle age, it’s a different issue – I won’t live long enough to see the full brunt of climate change take effect. But my children and their cohort will and for them to be motivated to tackle the challenges bearing down they have to feel hopeful. Failure would have crushed their spirits, not to put too fine a point on it. The Agreement, despite its flaws, keeps the flame alive.
• The deal sends an important positive signal to the marketplace. This was the subject of a lot of discussion in the media prior to the deal and I think many people consider it the critical element in the accord. Nearly 200 governments have said officially “the end of fossil fuels is on the horizon” and that’s a very big development. How Wall Street and the other markets respond is an open question, of course. They may very well NOT respond – the inertia and profitability of Business-as-Usual being what it is. On the other hand, it might be time to buy stock in solar companies! Consider the alternative: without an Agreement the markets would have had zero motivation to respond and without markets there would be no practical way to accomplish climate goals. Now, the signal has been sent.
• The Agreement validates the science of climate change. This is huge. Most of the media focused on the target of keeping global warming to 2 degrees C above preindustrial levels – not to mention Agreement’s much more difficult 1.5 degree goal – but I think the more important news is that the governments of 197 sovereign nations endorsed the science in a highly public way. Data won and politics lost, finally! Deniers and their allied Confusionists are officially marginalized now. That doesn’t mean they’ll slow down their efforts or stop their charades, particularly in Congress, but any semblance of legitimacy has now been stripped away. I have no doubt they’ll bluster and object and pout and act all self-righteous, but at the end of the day they have to understand that they’re on the wrong side the science. It’s official!
• How the fossil fuel industry reacts will be very telling. Will they fight the Agreement tooth-and-nail or will they read the market signals and begin to move toward renewables? They have the power and the money to block progress if they want, effectively sinking the chances of implementing the Paris Agreement, or at least slowing it down enough it make it meaningless. It’s an open question.
• It was a great moment for soil carbon. Earlier in the week, a very important endorsement of soil carbon as a mitigation strategy for climate change was signed by various governments, led by the French, and a whole bunch of NGOs. Andre Leu, the President of IFOAM, an umbrella organization of organic farms, called this development the “biggest game-changer in the history of agriculture.” That’s because it signaled the arrival of regenerative agriculture as an answer to our troubles, not simply a fringe activity or another way of feeding rich people. Andre thinks this is a huge opportunity for soil carbon as a result. “We need to stop talking about it now,” he told me, “and start doing the things that put more carbon into our soils.” This represents a big breakthrough. Five years ago, our argument that we should be increasing soil carbon (aka the “carbon ranch”) was WAY OUT there in left field. Now all that’s changed.