Monday, November 23, 2009
I have hit my head with a tennis ball. It is dark, and I am in my back garden. In each hand I am swinging a chain with a ball attached to it. I move them around in figure-of-eight patterns above my head. My cat looks at me like I’m crazy, but when I get it right she comes to sit smugly at my feet. My left wrist is moving over and under my right in an impossible dance and the balls are spin ning, miraculously not crashing into each other or me. I am elated. It feels like someone has oiled my creaky brain. I immerse myself into movement that I can not understand, but which makes my whole being sing.
I am learning to dance with fire. When I am ready, I will replace the balls with burning wicks, and I will dance. If I get it wrong, I will get burned. It will be my trial by fire.
It has been a good year to learn to fire-dance: the Year of the Fire Dog, ac cording to Chinese astrology. And in African cosmology (a sangoma told me) it is the Year of the Fire Gods.
‘The fire-spirits are close by,’ he said. ‘It is the year for trials by fire.’
‘Global warming,’ I said. ‘That’s the trial by fire for humans. We must learn or we must burn.’
As I spin the balls around my body, I look up at the dark night sky, scattered with stars, and I feel as if I am learning one of the oldest dances of the universe. I sense the Earth under my feet - a spinning ball of rock dancing around a giant sphere of fire. Spheres of rock or gas are moving around each of the billions of fire-stars in the sky.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
We gather in this hall today, as some of the most climate-vulnerable nations on Earth.
We are vulnerable because climate change threatens to hit us first; and hit us hardest.
And we are vulnerable because we have modest means with which to protect ourselves from the coming disaster.
We are a diverse group of countries.
But we share one common enemy.
For us, climate change is no distant or abstract threat; but a clear and present danger to our survival.
Climate change is melting the glaciers in Nepal.
It is causing flooding in Bangladesh.
It threatens to submerge the Maldives and Kiribati.
And in recent weeks, it has furthered drought in Tanzania, and typhoons in the Philippines.
We are the frontline states in the climate change battle.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Developing nations did not cause the climate crisis.
We are not responsible for the hundreds of years of carbon emissions, which are cooking the planet.
But the dangers climate change poses to our countries, means that this crisis can no longer be considered somebody else’s problem.
Carbon knows no boundaries.
Whether we like it or not, we are all in this fight together.
For all of us gathered here today, inaction is not an option.
So, what can we do about it?
To my mind, whatever course of action we take must be based on the latest advice of climate scientists. Not on the advice of politicians like us.
As Copenhagen looms, and negotiators frantically search for a solution, it is easy to think that climate change is like any other international issue.
It is easy to assume that it can be solved by a messy political compromise between powerful states.
But the fact of the matter is, we cannot negotiate with the laws of physics.
We cannot cut a deal with Mother Nature.
We have to learn to live within the fixed planetary boundaries that nature has set.
And it is increasingly clear that we are living way beyond those planetary means.
Scientists say that global carbon dioxide levels must be brought back down below 350 parts per million.
And we can see why.
We have already overshot the safe landing space.
In consequence the ice caps are melting.
The rainforests are threatened.
And the world’s coral reefs are in imminent danger.
Members of the G8 rich countries have pledged to halt temperature rises to two degrees Celsius.
Yet they have refused to commit to the carbon targets, which would deliver even this modest goal.
At two degrees we would lose the coral reefs.
At two degrees we would melt Greenland.
At two degrees my country would not survive.
As a president I cannot accept this.
As a person I cannot accept this.
I refuse to believe that it is too late, and that we cannot do any about it.
Copenhagen is our date with destiny.
Let us go there with a better plan.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When we look around the world today, there are few countries showing moral leadership on climate change.
There are plenty of politicians willing to point the finger of blame.
But there are few prepared to help solve a crisis that, left unchecked, will consume us all.
Few countries are willing to discuss the scale of emissions reductions required to save the planet.
And the offers of adaptation support for the most vulnerable nations are lamentable.
The sums of money on offer are so low, it is like arriving at a earthquake zone with a dustpan and brush.
We don’t want to appear ungrateful but the sums hardly address the scale of the challenge.
We are gathered here because we are the most vulnerable group of nations to climate change.
The problem is already on us, yet we have precious little with which to fight.
Some might prefer us to suffer in silence but today we have decided to speak.
And so I make this pledge today: we will not die quietly.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I believe in humanity.
I believe in human ingenuity.
I believe that with the right frame of mind, we can solve this crisis.
In the Maldives, we want to focus less on our plight; and more on our potential.
We want to do what is best for the planet.
And what is best for our economic self-interest.
This is why, earlier this year, we announced plans to become carbon neutral in ten years.
We will switch from oil to 100% renewable energy.
And we will offset aviation pollution, until a way can be found to decarbonise air transport too.
To my mind, countries that have the foresight to green their economies today, will be the winners of tomorrow.
They will be the winners of this century.
These pioneering countries will free themselves from the unpredictable price of foreign oil.
They will capitalize on the new, green economy of the future.
And they will enhance their moral standing, giving them greater political influence on the world stage.
Here in the Maldives we have relinquished our claim to high-carbon growth.
After all, it is not carbon we want, but development.
It is not coal we want, but electricity.
It is not oil we want, but transport.
Low-carbon technologies now exist, to deliver all the goods and services we need.
Let us make the goal of using them.
Ladies and gentlemen,
A group of vulnerable, developing countries committed to carbon neutral development would send a loud message to the outside world.
If vulnerable, developing countries make a commitment to carbon neutrality, those opposed to change have nowhere left to hide.
If those with the least start doing the most, what excuse can the rich have for continuing inaction?
We know this is not an easy step to take, and that there might be dangers along the way.
We want to shine a light, not loudly demand that others go first into the dark.
So today, we want to share with you our carbon neutral strategy.
And we want to ask you to consider carbon neutrality yourselves.
I think a bloc of carbon-neutral, developing nations could change the outcome of Copenhagen.
At the moment every country arrives at the negotiations seeking to keep their own emissions as high as possible.
They never make commitments, unless someone else does first.
This is the logic of the madhouse, a recipe for collective suicide.
We don’t want a global suicide pact.
And we will not sign a global suicide pact, in Copenhagen or anywhere.
So today, I invite some of the most vulnerable nations in the world, to join a global survival pact instead.
We are all in this as one.
We stand or fall together.
I hope you will join me in deciding to stand.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
"Not only is another world possible, she is on her way.
On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."
- Arundhati Roy
As a climate activist, someone who spends the bulk of her time trying to awaken the community to the realities of climate change and peak oil and enliven people to do something about it, it’s very easy to focus on where we’ve gone wrong. It’s almost effortless to bemoan the amount of destruction we humans have heaped upon the planet. I have no problem alternating between fear, despair, and rage when I contemplate how many climate tipping points we’ve crossed and how close we are to losing the planet’s ability to support life and civilization as we know it. It’s so easy to feel both flabbergasted and powerless in the face of our apparent lack of passionate, gung-ho readiness to do something about it.
Despite the remarkable spectacle of people in 181 countries creating 5200 events for 350.org’s international day of climate action on October 24, despite the pole-to-pole call for strong action and bold leadership on the climate crisis, I am deeply influenced by the doubt most experts express at the ability of the delegates at this December’s international climate conference in Copenhagen to walk away from the table with a solid, science-based, toothy climate treaty in hand.
I want more than anything to believe we are capable of addressing the climate crisis, and in fact I do believe more than anything that we’re capable of it. I’m just not so sure we’re willing to take it on. Why? Because the reality of addressing the problem involves profoundly scaling back from the lives we’re currently leading.
We are a civilization which has built its foundations upon fossil fuels. We use them to get us to the corner store and we use them to get us into orbit. We use oil to make everything - from asphalt to aspirin, deodorant to duct tape, vitamins to volleyballs. We use fossil fuels to build our homes as well as light and power and heat them. Oil is the mainstay of commercial agriculture’s pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and antibiotics – and oil drives all the machinery and equipment used to grow, harvest, process, and distribute our food.
The reality we’re facing is that not only does all this industrial and agricultural activity pour carbon dioxide and a host of other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and heat up the planet – which is bad enough – but we’re also facing the fact that we have maximized global oil production. This is known as Peak Oil. We’re not running out per se, but oil is getting harder to find and more expensive to produce. Which means that all the elements of our society which have been based on cheap oil and the massive amounts of energy contained therein are going to get much more expensive as well – prohibitive to the smooth running of the global economy as it’s currently structured. Or, as Dr. Fatih Birol, chief economist with the International Energy Administration, recently stated: “We must leave oil before it leaves us.”
But here’s the thing: I don’t blame us. We may have wreaked incredible havoc on the planet, but we didn't mean to. In fact, I’m in awe at the depth and breadth of humanity's creativity and ingenuity. We found a mess of black sludgy stuff in the ground, and look what we’ve done with it! In fact, I look at what humanity has created during the vast scope of our history, both pre-oil and during this little energy boom, and I’m blown away.
We've made paintings on grains of rice and built rockets to the moon. We've made cathedrals and tinker toys and spandex and haute cuisine and rock and roll and the Hubble telescope and iPhones and sneakers and giant Buddhas and pyramids and mummies and illuminated manuscripts and samurai swords. We built the towers of the World Trade Center and then tightrope-walked between them. We research and dissect and explore and learn and dance.
So, what do I believe? I believe that if we can harness ourselves, we can clean up the mess we've made – even now, at the 11th hour. More than clean it up, I believe we can re-make the world with a constructive power that rivals and even surpasses our destructive power. I believe that even in a carbon-constrained world, we can have remarkable lives of novelty and meaning and humor and adventure and purpose and fun and love. I believe that in 20 or 50 or 100 years things probably won’t look anything like they do now, and that the shocks to our collective system and the changes to our way of life will be challenging to absorb at first. But I also believe that we are incredibly courageous, infinitely creative, and supremely adaptable, and I believe it is our moral responsibility to step up to this task placed upon us. It’s up to us. There is nobody else.
I also believe that no matter what happens, there’s meaning and value in taking action, in being part of this chapter of humanity’s story. Because in all likelihood, something or someone will survive. And whatever the conditions of their life are, whoever they are, I would want them to know that someone tried to hold things together on their behalf. I would want them to know that someone was thinking of them, living there, farther on down the road. I would want them to know that someone, whoever they were, didn’t give up.