Glasgow

Journalist George Monbiot maintains that the only hope we have is to leave the oil in the ground. Leave the coal. The natural gas. If we want to spare ourselves the worst of what’s coming, we have to leave it all where it is.

Maybe we could leave the forests, too. Even the ones ravaged by the pine beetle; in a century, maybe two, they will come back around. In the meantime we can return to the selective harvesting practiced decades ago, no more clear-cuts or plantation-style reseeding.

It’s (almost) too much to hope for, too far beyond the realm of what seems possible. And yet.

In two essays, one before Glasgow and one as the conference got underway, Mr. Monbiot argues that, if we were serious, we could transition to cleaner energy in months, not decades.

“There’s discomfort in environmental circles with military analogies,” he writes, “But the war is among the few precedents and metaphors that almost everyone can grasp.” He’s referring to the second world war, when the U.S. and other allied nations turned their entire economies toward a single mission. If we did it once, we can do it again, “The only thing that stands in the way is the power of legacy industries and the people who profit from them.”

Kind of a big obstacle, that.

The reports coming out of Glasgow are grim. I heard one head of state from a country so smogged by emissions their people cannot safely breathe the air argue for the right to gain all the comforts and elegancies the fossil fuel age has to offer — for another 50 years! — before they transition to something less harmful. Assuming said transition doesn’t mess with their economy too much. Seriously!

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, no matter when the transition comes — and it will have to come, because the water is rising — it’s going to mess with everybody’s economy: household, community, nation, world. And it’s likely that we’re going to see some devolution going on, not in 50 years, but in 15. 10. 5.

Now.

It’s happening now. Those cargo ships tossing about on the ocean, awaiting their turn in port? They’re a bellwether. This unceasing pandemic? Ditto.

Things are going to be different. Things are different already. But isn’t the sunset beautiful?

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