Urgent Messages

1.  From the Olympics

In the opening and closing ceremonies at the Olympics many speakers, notably IOC President Thomas Bach, pointed out the importance of the Olympics as a symbol of what can be possible when all countries of the world to come together in peace.  That sounds nice, but it’s probably more apt to think about what happened with the original version of the Olympics, which persisted for quite some time. That message is not so rosy.

The original Olympics functioned even more as a symbol of peace, because there was an actual truce during the Olympic period.  But the overall lesson of the Olympic experience was that good feelings are not enough.  The Olympics did not prevent the horrendously bloody and unnecessary Peloponnesian War, fought between prime participants Athens and Sparta. 

Symbols aren’t enough.  If we don’t work at peace, it won’t happen.  There are more than enough parallels of that past with the current situation between the US and China.  If you want peace you need to remove reasons for war.

2.  From the fires and floods worldwide:

Messaging about effects of climate change has been more than a little confused.   We read about how front-line communities will bear the worst of climate issues (true enough but that makes it someone else’s problem).  We see maps of how different countries or regions will be better or worse off.  The NYTimes once had an article asking readers to plug in numbers to see if they were rich enough to escape the worst.  The most frequent objection to the Paris Accords is that we need to go back and renegotiate a better deal.

Nature is telling us something else.  We’re all in this together, and there is nowhere to hide.  Scientists have correctly indicated the directions of change.  But the world has never been here before, so it’s impossible to predict every bad thing that is going happen and where.

What’s more, carbon dioxide just accumulates in the atmosphere, so climate effects are going to continue getting worse until we can stop burning fossil fuels.  There will be more and more unexpected phenomena with more and more damaging results.   All the talk of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere is not going to produce results any time soon (and even if it works will itself take monumental amounts of energy).  So there’s only one answer—migrating the world’s energy requirements to sustainable sources.

This has to happen worldwide and we have to work together.  It may be contrary to all of our normal modes of behavior, but if we don’t all win we’re going to lose.

In the end the two messages are largely the same. We’ve fought two world wars, and now we’ve now got a third one against climate change. We have to learn how to behave when we’re all–unavoidably–on the same side.

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