The UK Guardian has put me in a gallery of “climate change abolitionists, those engaging in an uphill battle to challenge the broken systems that threaten our survival.” They also want your suggestions for who else to add (click here).
Climate change abolitionists: who is fighting for a more sustainable world? It took Abraham Lincoln and others many years of campaigning to abolish slavery — but who are the contemporary figures fighting to abolish dangerous climate change?
Well, I don’t really think I should be mentioned in the same breath as Lincoln — unless you are talking about our mutual love of the figures of speech and my book Language Intelligence: Lessons on persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga.
The Guardian has a good piece by Andrew Winston accompanying the gallery,”The campaign to abolish slavery has many parallels with the work of today’s climate change activists: it takes bravery and determination to try and make the world a better place.”
I agree that there are many parallels, many of which are spelled out in that article — and in an even longer piece in the Boston Phoenix, by Wen Stephenson, “The New Abolitionists: Global warming is the great moral crisis of our time,” which argues ”the climate-justice movement must embrace its radicalism to fight it.”
And readers of my books know I think metaphors are important — and that our inaction on climate change is a great moral crisis, the greatest moral crisis of our time. But it is also useful to spell out the differences.
Obviously slavery was not merely a great moral wrong, but cruel and inhumane to millions from the very start and for as long as it was occurring.
Unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions became immoral only when we learned that they would destroy a livable climate — and while we certainly need to go to zero this century, ideally by mid-century, we don’t have to go to zero tomorrow whereas, of course, slavery needed to be ended completely and instantly.
So what are we “abolishing”? Climate abolitionists are not fighting to eliminate growth. Eradicating slavery did not rid the world of cotton or tobacco, and moving away from carbon will not mean abandoning human and economic development – in fact, it will help ensure it. What we want to abolish is our outmoded, broken economic and energy systems that threaten our survival, in part because they put no value on human and ecosystem inputs and impacts. We’re seeking a new way of powering our world that will save vast sums of money (variable costs of near zero), avoid the significant health impacts of burning dirty fossil fuels, and conserve our planet’s ability to support not only our entire $70tn economy, but our very existence.
I do think that is where we need to start. Development will continue, but it will have to continue as CO2 is pulled out of the economy ASAP. I’ll have more to say about “growth” soon.
Stephenson’s piece focuses on Tim DeChristopher. Here are two excerpts: