WILLIAMSTOWN — It may be early to judge the success of the Congress of Parties 21 that brought 195 nations together in Paris this month, but surely some measure of joy is appropriate — and gratitude to those who worked so hard. Yet that takes some effort, due to the circumstances.
It is clear that the world — at least the United States — was distracted and unable to appreciate fully what was going on. The host city was still dealing with the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks, of course, while in the US wounds from the Dec. 2 San Bernardino shootings were all too fresh.
And then, beyond that, in this country we have been subjected to the ongoing spectacle of the Republican presidential candidates, among them especially the one who appears drunk on the adulation of the ignorant, demanding almost constant attention. Their views, antithetical to climate progress, opposed to immigration and based on the belief that the only answer to terrorism is being more terrible, seem to be taken seriously by a disconcertingly large swath of Americans.
The science of climate change, immigration and terrorism are related topics — and related to COP21. For example, the number of Syrian refugees, while staggering, is only a forerunner to the onslaught of those uprooted by rising waters and desertification, the results of climate change. We must prepare and we must welcome.
We're told that terrorism is funded in a large part by the same oil and gas production that heats the climate. Shifting to green energy could reduce that flow.
Also related is the vast division between those who don't have and those who do — and those who want to defend what they have with their personal arsenals. Since, beyond our individual efforts to live sustainable lives, we must depend upon governments to take bold steps, the gated community syndrome, the attitude of "I've got mine and I don't trust the government — or you," exacerbates climate change. It's not a pretty picture.
Politics as usual
Many US congressmen, because they don't believe in the science or because they are out to sabotage the president at any price, or because they can't continence anything that might be "bad for business," have promised to do what they can to undo the agreement.
Furthermore the climate talks left much if not most to what follows, without guarantees, to the diligence of the nations in doing what they promised and their willingness to do more in the future.
And yet, and yet, quoting President Barack Obama, "This agreement sends a powerful signal that the world is fully committed to a low-carbon future. We've shown that the world has both the will and the ability to take on this challenge." We hope.
His message will be tested, yet we should all heed it in order to rise out of the morass. Dec. 12, 2015, could be the date that changed the course of the Industrial Revolution from burning coal, oil and gas to obtaining energy from zero-carbon sources, such as the sun. That is amazing. Global markets are responding, in their imperfect way, as investments shift along the energy spectrum.
Our hearts must either shrivel in despair, I think, or find in COP21 sources of hope, sources of joy. We may say, and should say, that it is not enough and not soon enough, but we are selling humanity short if we fail to proclaim that the Paris achievement is momentous. And, as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, "There is no Plan B."
At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.