Why haven’t we solved climate change yet?

Most conversations I have had with people around climate change include one commonly expressed frustration- if only people were not so foolish, and listened to the scientific community about climate change, we wouldn’t be in this fix! Why can’t people trust science when it tells them that climate change is real, and proposes solutions that can solve our challenges?

Well, one response that I often hear to this question, that the media also sometimes seems to catch on to, is – we must understand people who disbelieve climate science from their own vantage point. When we put ourselves in their shoes, we will see that their political leanings, their everyday problems and their perceptions about the world can make it difficult for them to understand climate change- which requires a stretch of the imagination anyway, embroiled as it has become with almost every other issue that faces us today. Coupled with the fact that science in the form of graphs and charts can often feel so disconnected from daily lives for most people, it isn’t that hard to see why they may choose to trust someone closer and more visible (a politician, the news, their friends) than distant scientists brandishing peer-reviewed papers.

But maybe this isn’t the question we should be asking ourselves at all! Maybe we need to reorient our gaze and ask: is there something else about climate change that makes it such a huge challenge for humanity? Is there a reason our technological fixes and an entire global governance regime has been unsuccessful so far in solving this global crisis?

Maybe one part of the problem lies with the way we have constructed our relationship with nature. In his new book The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, Amitav Ghosh personifies nature as an entity that has been watching and listening to us, and is now beginning to respond in her own way. That is not to say that nature is one homogenous entity- but in all her magnificent glory, perhaps our interactions with the mountains, seas, rivers, forests and deserts has not gone unnoticed, and because we started to divorce ourselves from her, nature is now knocking on our doors, letting us know that she exists and that she will not take this mistreatment sitting down anymore.

And that might point towards a much, much deeper problem in our structuring of the climate change crisis. Maybe the reason the climate crisis isn’t solved yet does not lie with the disbelievers and the skeptics at all. Sarewitz (2009) points out that policies over issues like health care, smoking, and financial reform in the US were taken even when faced with vociferous public disagreement or polarization. Moreover, he also argues that if skepticism were the major driving force behind the lack of climate solutions, countries with more common consensus on climate change such as Denmark or the Netherlands, might be performing far ahead of countries like US that don’t, in terms of reducing their carbon emissions (Sarewitz 2009). But they are not.

So what’s going on? If it isn’t the climate deniers, why are we unable to step up action for climate change? Could it be because we just aren’t ready to give up on the socioeconomic system we have created for ourselves? One that rewards excessive consumption, pushes aside all alternative lifestyles that may wish to harmonize more with the ecological systems around us and is loathe to give up on current inequalities because those who benefit from it the most are also at the forefront of the global climate regime? Seen in this form, climate change is not a problem merely for technology to solve, but one that calls on us to exercise our faculties in the sociopolitical and economic arenas, and to bring the social sciences (such as philosophy, sociology, theology, psychology) and the humanities into the playing field as well.

 

Sarewitz, D. (2011). Does Climate Change Knowledge Really Matter? WIREs Clim Change, 2, 475–481.

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The Thesis is only Part of the Process

Hello readers,

I know, I know! I did not keep my commitment to this blog the way I should have, and the way I wanted to. Life gets in the way. Today is a bright, sunny day when a spark of inspiration has hit me though, and so I will make the best of it while it lasts.

I’m nearing the end of my master’s thesis. It has been quite a journey- a large part of me is ready to wrap it up and move on to the next thing. But another part of me….is enthralled! I am falling in love with what I’m doing all over again, because as I do my literature review, I see my data through a whole other lens than I did before. I guess this is what learning does to you- I am discovering theories that I feel could enrich everything I’ve done so far, which does not seem as worthwhile and amazing as it did when I put the hours and hours of hard work into it in the past months.

I went back to my advisor last week with a whole new idea that could explain one of my research questions quite well, only- I never coded my data for it, and now it seems like it is too late. She told me something valuable that I am now abiding by: the thesis is simply part of the process.

When we’re doing the thesis, it seems like the end-all- it is almost as if one expects that by the time the last word is written and the finger lifts off the keyboard, the student researcher should be an ‘expert’ on whatever she chose to do her thesis on. She should now be able to field any question or query, address absolutely every little doubt that might arise in any mind.

What my advisor taught me however, was that the thesis is less of a final product, and more of just one piece in the part of the puzzle. This I think is one of the greatest blessings of academia (and its biggest curse)- everything you ever do is part of the process of learning. You’re always learning and updating and revising and un-learning and re-learning things you thought you already knew. Its all a big self-correcting system chock full of flaws.

I know that is scary. It scares me too. But it also excites me. So yesterday when I purchased a book that I hope will help me understand my own research better, despite knowing that I will be unable to read and add insights from it into my thesis before the thesis defense, I did not worry too much. I will use those insights later- I need to create at least two more products over the summer from my current research, and this knowledge will also be useful as I move forward and try to learn deeper and better about all the things I want to become an ‘expert’ in (and by ‘expert’ I mean an ‘expert learner’).

 

 

COP 22: RQs, Re-exploring the Medina and a Long Walk

I slept through half the night and stayed up excited about the coming day(s) for the other half, only to be exhausted by the time the day actually began. That’s jetlag for you. Warning: jetlag may show through this post because I am a bit too hazed to be fully aware of what I am typing.

Day 2 in Marrakech began with a groggy-eyed breakfast and figuring out what to do with the coming few days. I realize there is only so much planning you can do, and the rest is to be left to the gods of fate and to grabbing random opportunities when they present themselves to you. I did develop a list of badly-worded research questions though:

  1. What do development NGOs gain from attending COPs? Besides the obvious networking opportunities that may turn into projects or funding sources, NGOs often use these situations to share best practices with each other. From the point of view of a learning organization, these could be enriching experiences that for processes of exploration and exploitation- i.e. discovering new ways of doing things, or discovering new tweaks to old ways of doing things in order to fit current projects. But a lot of this could be true for any conferences. Beyond that, the question emerges: what do these NGOs specifically gain form this particular format of COP in this particular setting for the specific purposes of climate change adaptation and climate-sensitive development?
  2. What kinds of capacity building initiatives are on the cards for the Paris Agreement? What details of the mechanisms being strategized for the coming years? What sorts of implementation will take place? I don’t know how close I can get to answering this question but some initial insight will be useful. Capacity building is emerging as an important arena, given that certain catastrophes are now almost unavoidable. The cool thing about it is that it includes both adaptation and mitigation.
  3. What do the clashing of different kinds of agendas mean for climate justice at the grassroots? COPs are sometimes criticized for being too business-friendly in terms of the actions that are taken- for instance, carbon markets are not even close to being the greatest solution for the lives of locals worldwide (reasons can include local pollution justified by distant carbon-friendly action, the lack of a sum zero between the carbon-release and the new carbon sink created, discrimination and exploitation of locals around new carbon-sink zones, destruction of biodiversity to create monocultures that are sometimes later exploited for other purposes thereby defeating the entire purpose of the mission).
    On the other hand, climate negotiations have been constantly marred by the Global North-South divide. So while countries like the US are responsible for the majority of the problem, emerging economies of China and India are undergoing their dirty-development phase. To say the least, this creates some very fragile situations that must be navigated through with ease.
    I want to think about how business-development and North-South conversations clash with one another. Are there ways for them to bridge gaps or find common grounds for conversation? If so, how is this achieved through the COPs? If not, what kinds of clashes of discourse occurs and how does it shape actions that do get taken?

After spending a couple of hours sorting through some events I would like to attend in the coming days, I got dressed and headed out for lunch. As I travelled through the medina, I realized that I had somehow left a part of myself in Morocco over the summer. Forever and always now, I will carry with me the fondest memories of this country and its hospitality. As I rediscovered familiar old spots, and got greeted by people shouting, “India? India!” at me with wide smiles, I felt safe and in a strange way, at home. At the same time, as I was soon to discover, I should have remembered that a few days in a country and even a few trips to it, are not enough to make me think I know all of it.

I had a craving to visit the Earth Cafe- a great place in the middle of the medina that serves some unique vegetarian dishes heaped with piles of vegetables. It isn’t traditional Moroccan food in any way but a unique experience nonetheless. I forgot to take photographs while I was eating in there- but the food was delicious. Today I had a veggie burger which was inside out!

After lunch, we (me and my companion who is also here for COP22 but isn’t staying in the same place as me) walked around the medina, trying to figure out what our route for tomorrow should be. There are shuttles from most of the five-star hotels that run almost all day except for Sundays. And so, instead of taking a cab, we decided to be brave and walk in the afternoon heat. Marrakech seems to be gearing for winter, as the night was quite chilly, but the afternoon sun can be a little intense for a 2.6 mile (or so) walk. And I might also add that alongside all the good work Moroccans have done with the COP, some of their chaos has crept in. The signposts were a little confusing, to say the least, and the guards were unhelpful because they didn’t know what was going on. Due to these reasons, we were unable to register ourselves today and will need to spend time tomorrow in doing just that.

Exhausted, we took a cab ride to the medina. I walked back to my riad, but not before witnessing some of the artwork that is currently underway right outside the central Marrakech square Jemaa el Fena. It isn’t unique but definitely symbolic- a girl wearing a mask to cover her mouth from protection, animals dying off from our ruthless exploitation, the globe and her inhabitants suffering a similar fate. On the edge of Jemaa el Fena are booths displaying sustainable development initiatives in Morocco. A small fenced-off section displays hybrid cars.

Moroccans seemed to be enjoying these displays. On the other side, in the square the usual snake-charmers, monkey-tamers, food stalls and shopkeepers continue their daily work. Life must go on for them and while everyone knows that something big has come to their city, not everyone is aware of why.

Tomorrow COP enters the second week of its 22nd negotiations to make the planet a healthier one; for now I am too jet-lagged to type another word but must fight sleep for another 4 hours

COP 22: Arriving in Marrakech and Earliest Impressions

I landed in Casablanca for COP22 today. I flew in via Amsterdam and had to wait longer than usual while the officials verified that I should indeed be allowed to be there (Indians don’t get visa on arrival to Morocco and so this was an exception that took them some time to figure out). In spite of this initial hassle, once I was out of immigration, things were so much smoother than I expected that I barely had to lift a finger.

Moroccans have taken their hospitality to the next level with the coming of people from all over the world. They had arranged transit from the Casablanca airport to the city of Marrakech where the COP is being held, and from within the city to get us to our respective hotels. They went to great lengths to ensure that we wouldn’t get lost, given that Moroccan alleyways can be notoriously difficult for newcomers to navigate.

Still, once I found myself in the capable hands of the riad owners I had arranged my accommodation with, it took less than 5 minutes for me to completely forget what roads we had taken to get to where we were. And hence, although I am currently inside a gorgeous riad, I have absolutely no idea how to find my way out of it and then back in. I am also heavily jet-lagged. Good luck to me.

Initial Impressions from COP22

There isn’t much I have seen in the four hours I have been here. The streets are really busy and chock full of people and cars, which wasn’t something I saw back in July when I was here and so I assume it has a lot to do with the COP. There is some street art I spotted in places but I think there must be other spots where there is a lot going on. The city is bustling with life though- little pubs and restaurants on every corner are lit up, the roads have been decorated and there is a general sense of busyness all around.

My only interaction so far has been with a couple of Australians, one of whom is from the government’s environment panning and sustainable development division and talked to us a little bit about the kind of renewable energy work being undertaken in Australia. Their target is to meet 33,000 GWh of their electricity needs from renewables (solar, hydral, wind, bioenergy) by 2020. There continues to be resistance and an American-esque denial of climate change from man-made causes in Australia as well.

One recurring topic of discussion however, was that of Trump’s ascent into the presidency, which threatens to derail and cause more harm to large-scale climate efforts than the Bush administration ever did. This may be because we are on the cusp of fragile progress- the Paris Agreement is just days into being ratified and the urgency to do more has never been stronger, what with recently published evidence indicating that we may be headed towards 7.36 degrees C rather than the previously anticipated top of 4.8 degrees C by 2100. What this means is not just that the devastating impacts we have already begun to see will climb into greater severity and frequency, but that we could be tipped into a world we do not know and haven’t seen, drastically altering life as we know it (Neild, 2016).

There are two options here- we either continue with status quo or with our half-hearted attempts and wait for nature to unravel its wrath upon us, or we use this as an opportunity to voluntarily and steadily alter our ways of life until we are able to pull back from some of the worst things we are likely to see. Don’t get me wrong- we are still headed for a world of climate refugees, uncertain natural disasters, lost biodiversity, food insecurity and much more. But we can meet nature halfway and prevent her from the kinds of drastic alterations that would cause exponential damage to human and non-human life. This is what all scientists urge us to do- but it is easier said than done.

Ramblings

What is holding us back? I have some ideas, based on some classes and reading, but in the coming week I hope to unpack in more detail why some of our international solutions are lacking the kind of panache that we need to set the stage for a climate justice revolution. I want to know why our Nationally Determined Contributions aren’t matching up to scale. I already to know that a lot of it has to do with politics along the North-South divide (think: who is to blame for the crisis? who is likely to suffer the most? who needs to take the first steps? who needs to prioritize development? why do we again and again face the statement: “it’s just not fair!”). But even beyond countries, certain actors are continuously sidelined and rejected as fair participants in a discussion that can alter their lives before it alters those of anybody else.

I do not envy the task of those faced with making these decisions. To recognize the gravity of climate change, we have to draw in everything from geopolitics and war, all the way down to solar cells and hybrid electric vehicles. Taking action is hard because while we can trace climate change over time, we cannot possibly see it happening right before our eyes. Our defense mechanisms and cognitive dissonance starts to kick in- Maybe we aren’t causing this at all? Maybe it is God’s will? Maybe there’s nothing we can do? Maybe we will fail even if we do try. I’m just one person. And so on and so forth. Within this diversity of worldviews, most of the urgency is lost.

Climate change invokes passion and emotion- look at DiCaprio’s latest film for a glimpse of what I mean (Before the Flood). Read poems and speeches given by those on the front lines. This isn’t easy, but it’s happening. And we need to pitch in. Even if we call upon all our deepest, darkest emotions to do so. Fear can be a powerful motivator sometimes. We just have to allow ourselves to feel enough and not a drop more. Let’s see how this pans out.

Source: http://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-say-it-could-already-be-game-over-for-climate-change

Sustainability and Emotion

 

 

I first became a student of sustainability thinking, “here’s something I am vaguely interested in! Let’s see if I can make a career out of it.” What I didn’t realize was what the journey would do to me: today I know that this career choice is one of intense personal engagement… and emotion.

I can no longer separate the private from the public, the personal from the societal, the environmental from the human. All around, I see the harm we are doing and even with the knowledge that pain often does good, it is hard to accept that any pain need exist anywhere. For me, sustainability has become one meta-narrative about how unjust, unfair and painful this world can be. And I just can’t seem to let go.

Today I find that this emotion has never been stronger. I chose a dangerous path and now I find myself opposing so much more than I was every prepared to. And I know I won’t do enough as I reel under structures and institutions much, much larger than myself. Oscillating between hope and despair, today has been a long day f and perhaps this is the first time that something so much bigger than myself has affected me this greatly, not from the pages of a book or the dates of history, but from very current times.

It isn’t easy to separate sustainability from emotion. In fact, here’s a little secret: it is pretty much impossible! What is important is to keep your head up and forward, and keep going. And to hope that something will give way some day. Emotion can be the strength of sustainability, if we let it! So my hope today is to keep seeing the thoughts and posts of everyone who feels similarly about sustainability- and justice, to keep hearing your voices, to keep the music of love and peace and acceptance and diversity loud and clear, to not let ourselves be silo-ed and silenced and broken.

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Here’s a cute baby to make things better. http://redleafphotographync.com/the-enhancement-of-emotion-in-the-still-of-an-image/

 

 

 

Dear Readers

My Dear Readers,

I am feeling particularly adventurous today for some strange reason. And so I will take this opportunity to start something I have wanted to do for months now but the list of excuses ranged from: I don’t have the time, I don’t have the perfectly witty and creative title, and I don’t have the perfectly-crafted mind for this.

Today I decided to put aside ALL of those self-doubts and simply create a new blog, give it the first title that popped into my head, and start typing. So far so good!

You can ask me: what is this blog going to be about? A perfectly valid question. I aim to tackle a bunch of different things here (hopefully) but most of them should be geared around my research focus(es). These are: the complexities surrounding climate change in terms of politics, learning, adaptation, capacity-building and mitigation (on days I feel really adventurous); issues of equity and justice; human rights and a critical and (hopefully) post-structuralist narrative on sustainability; and questions of gender and feminism.

I understand that this is a tall order and in my mind I am clearly setting myself up for failure. I think that if you do choose to be a reader of this blog, it is important for both of us (you and me) to remember one thing: I am an imperfect, troubled learner who intends to nonetheless keep trying, all opinions and expressions on this blog are likely to turn out to be (or already be) 100% wrong BUT there is true strength in keeping up with this journey.

With that said, the only other thing I want to add here is that the reason I was bold enough to take this step today was because I learn best when I write and I write best when I do it on a blog. So, while a blog’s inherent worth is in just “being” its own virtual space for something, for me this is actually the means to the end of learning. I hope you are able to find your own end to help you stick around! See you soon,

Snigdha.