So the amount of things I want to write about are simply staggering at this point. It seems like I am falling behind again. I am finally getting around to writing about topics that have been sitting for months. I really wish I could write full time, but that is little more than a pipe dream at this point.
Be that as it may, today I want to talk about sustainable development, and the future of human civilization. There has been a lot of chatter about these topics lately, what with the climate talks in Paris, and other places as well. I have talked about these things at length in the past, but as things move forward there is always more to say on these topics. The question becomes, where to begin?
Back in September, the UN released a set of new goals, known as the Sustainable Development Goals. These are replacing the old goals, which expired at the end of 2015. As NPR reports on the matter;
“The goals are meant to guide development priorities around the globe over the next 15 years. “
It also points out that these goals are highly ambitious. In my mind that is okay, because there is nothing wrong with aiming high. Remember that old adage about aiming for the moon, and even if you miss you still land among the stars. It needs to be pointed out that these are goals only, and are not binding in any legal sense. I will be talking more about that in a minute, but suffice to say that little the UN puts out is binding in most senses of the term. The is because it is a global council of nations, not any kind of world government. However, even that being said, I think the world having goals is better than nothing at all. Hell, it may be on a volunteer basis, but it at least gives us something to measure our efforts. For example, I signed on to the Pagan Statement on the Environment. Is it legally binding? No. Does it give me something to guide my actions? Absolutely.
In addition, I find that many of these goals align with my own views. I have always been of the view that we need to tackle the future holistically, top down as well as bottom up. We need to reshape how we do things on the local level, as well as at the national and international level. That is because things like climate change are global problems, that are effecting every nation across the globe. At the same time, to tackle these things on a global we will need solutions at all levels of organization, locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.
I want to touch on just a few of these goals, because I feel they deserve some further exploration;
“2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
This goal calls for a doubling of agricultural production by small-scale farmers.”
We will need agriculture going forward, there is no way around that that I can see. At the same time, we need to move away from things like CAFOs, and massive industrial-style farms that are huge polluters, geared entirely for profit, and generally just unsustainable. We would need to get away from such methods of production, while at the same time still growing enough food for everyone.
“7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
This goal calls for universal access to electricity and more renewable energy.”
In the future, we will need access to electricity. The very reason I am able to write this post, is because of electricity. However, long gone are the days were we can rely on fossil fuels, and as such things like coal and natural gas will have to be phased out. Also, we will have to find alternatives to replace them, which is where renewables come in. While all renewables have their associated costs and problems, I think with current technology it is possible to create a sustainable grid. The costs of things like solar and wind are dropping rapidly, and things like fusion are getting closer all the time. This is to say nothing about future technologies that have not yet been invented or explored. I am not saying any of this will be easy, or cheap, only that it can be done. It is possible, and within our ability as a species to transition away from fossil fuels. It will be a long process, and many things will need to change. But I think it can be done.
I honestly urge you to take at look at the list, because there is so much more to say on all these things. Of course, this is not to say I agree with everything wholesale. For example;
“8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
This item sets an ambitious annual economic growth target of 7 percent per year for the poorest nations.”
I have very mixed feelings on this one. I am not denying there is room for growth, especially in poorer countries. There is a lot to be done, and a lot of it ties into things like equality and fair income distribution. Economic development, especially truly sustainable development, can go a long way to shrinking the inequality gap between rich “have” countries, and poor “have not” countries. However, I think at least part of this goal reinforces the “infinite” growth model of economics. We cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet, period. That is something that will have to be looked at in more depth, because it is just not feasible or sustainable in any way.
Which brings me to the COP21 conference more recently in Paris. A lot of people have expressed disappointment with how little was binding about the agreement that was reached. I have very mixed feelings about this one. According to NPR, there are some parts of the pact that are binding, and some that are voluntary. While I would have liked to see a binding pact, let’s be realistic about the UN…. It really doesn’t have the authority to create a globally binding treaty. I didn’t really expect anything binding to come out of the talks.
But that fact that nearly 200 countries came together and agreed on a course of action at all, that is huge. In addition, one that outlines very ambitious goals, on relatively short time scale. These countries have proposed to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees C, as well as to redistribute billions of dollars to help developing countries switch to alternative and more sustainable sources of energy. In addition, it gives signing countries 5 years to come up with a long term plan to meet these goals. In effect, creating a system of self-evaluation and international peer pressure. Maybe not perfectly binding, but like the goals above, its a step in the right direction.
Yet, I still have my reservations of course. As NPR points out, individual governments still have to adopt the deal…
“The agreement still needs to be approved by the individual governments of the countries involved. But the U.N. won’t be waiting for all 196 nations to give the green light. Countries have from April 22, 2016, to April 21, 2017, to officially sign on to the agreement. Once at least 55 nations — representing, between them, at least 55 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions — have signed on, the pact can go into effect.
It will kick in 30 days after that requirement is met. ”
I honestly have to wonder if America will be one of those countries. With the Republican majority in the House and Senate, I have serious doubts. Especially going into an election year… I think this is an immensely important deal, even if it is not perfect. Hell, it may even be too late to do anything about climate change, but that doesn’t mean we should give up. While some are disappointed in the deal itself, I for one will be more disappointed in America refuses to do anything about the very real challenges ahead.
Maybe it all makes me a dreamer, but I think that humanity as a whole is capable of weathering the storms ahead. Our civilization can endure, with certain necessary changes. These are global recognized problems at this point, but whether or not we can muster the political will and resources to meet these challenges has yet to be seen. In many ways, things like peak oil and climate change do not represent just technological problems, as much as legal, political, and cultural problems. It is not just our technologies that have to change, but also our legal, economic, and political systems, as well as our cultural assumptions and patterns of behavior. In so many ways, the choices in front of us will determine the future of the human civilizations, as well as that of the entire planet.
There are plenty of challenges ahead, and these challenges all present the opportunity to adapt, change and grow, as well as to leave the fossil fuel era far behind us as we move forward and reach for the stars.