Gung Ho, Climate Policy, and Striving Together For a Greater Good

For years, we have focused on what we can do, as individuals, to address climate change. And though much has been achieved through the efforts of many valiant individuals, these admittedly heroic efforts have fallen short. This short-coming is through no fault of those who have attempted, alone and without aid, to surmount it. It is simply that the scope of the problem that is climate change is greater than any single person, or any fragmented group of leaderless people, can adequately manage.

If we are truly going to address the issue of climate change we are going to need to learn to act a little bit more like Marines. We are going to need to adopt the practice of ‘Gung Ho.’ In other words, we are going to need to learn to work together.

Though there is much we can do alone, including using less energy, eating less carbon intensive foods, purchasing solar panels for our homes, driving an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle, riding a bike to work, using public transport, switching out for more efficient light bulbs, and a host of other positive actions, there isn’t much we can do, alone, to make those good choices and actions more appealing or more available to others. And when the pace of emergency grows, as it has in recent years, it becomes more clear that we need to step out of our individual worlds and join with others in our communities, our states, our countries, our nations and even throughout the world to address these problems.

Simply put, sometimes problems exceed the ability of an individual to manage. It is during these times when we must make use of the agencies available to us in order to work together for a common good.

Thankfully, our government systems already provide many of these agencies. We can contact our Congressmen. We can express our concern through media bodies, through the net, and at town hall meetings. We can enhance policy discussion by sharing our input and experiences. And, through these agencies, we can encourage our governments to adopt sound policies and to work with other nations to address the growing problem of climate change.

With expanding zones of drought gobbling up ever-larger sections of the world. With Arctic sea ice in full retreat. With the Greenland Ice Sheet beginning to soften up. And with Arctic methane beginning to emerge as an amplifying feedback, it is high time to establish national and international policies to both prevent further climate change and to mitigate the effects of the climate change already happening. We have spent years quibbling and arguing. But now, for the good of us all, it is time to act.

Some countries have already accepted the need for sound climate policies and these countries have benefited from their own actions. Australia, for example, after suffering a 1000 year drought, recognized the necessity of responding to climate change and put serious policies in place to begin that process. With the US having suffered its own series of extraordinarily dry periods — the driest 800 year period on record from 2000-2004 and the recent major droughts of 2011 and 2012 — it is high time that national climate change prevention and mitigation policies are established.

Climate change will not stop and wait for us. And if we wait for things to grow worse, events can quickly spiral beyond our control. The size of the problem is comparable to the threat posed by nuclear proliferation during the Cold War. Though different in many respects, the need for coordinated action and policy measures to address a wide-ranging threat makes it a useful corollary. We may also compare the current climate difficulty with the ozone threat dealt with during the late 20th century. Both were major issues and both were made manageable through sound policy measures established by nations around the globe.

Both nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation policies as well as chlorofluorocarbon reduction policies resulted in a safer world for all inhabitants of all nations. They contributed to peace, stability, and the healthy economies of all participating nations. There is no reason that climate change policy could not also function in this manner.

In general, the goals of nations engaged in climate change prevention, mitigation, and adaptation policies must be simplified. General goals of reducing carbon output, replacing fossil fuel infrastructure with renewable infrastructure, and of making countries more resilient to the ravages of ongoing climate change should be put in place. Broad definitions should be applied. But very specific long-range goals should be established. We should call for voluntary compliance but we should also put in place serious measures for keeping track of compliance, as well as mechanisms to incentivize that compliance.

Approaching this problem, we must be careful not to allow the special interests of powerful industry players to dominate. However, since some industries will clearly be losers in any transition away from fossil fuels, incentives should be put in place that provide a means for these industries to survive short-term, and prosper long-term, should they take part in a transition away from fossil fuels. For example, government subsidies to fossil fuel industries that replace a significant and growing portion of fossil fuel out-put year-on-year with renewable energy output could be provided. An example of such a transition would be the outfitting of mobile oil platforms to serve as mobile wind generation platforms, finding areas with the highest wind concentration and then transmitting it back to the mainland.

That said, since the false comforts of a dangerous status quo are so appealing, there will be pressure from these interests to only deal with and adapt to the problems caused by climate change and not to address the root cause itself — fossil fuel burning. Unfortunately, bowing to this directive would consign the world to a global warming future that it could not economically or politically adapt to. The threats to world food production, to coastal towns, to livable climates, to the health and well being of citizens for many nations of the world is far, far too great.

The impact of 1000 parts per million CO2 on the climate system, a level that will almost certainly be reached if business as usual fossil fuel emissions continue, is a force that no single nation on this Earth is equipped to handle. And planning to deal with such an instance would be to plan for the dismemberment of human civilization before the end of this century. This is not an acceptable outcome, so adaptation-only policies must be recognized for what they are: plans to fail.

Yet we should still hope that our swift action can result in a good end. Though we are very likely to experience a period of difficulty, though we are already experiencing some difficulty due to climate change, we can still prevent the worst impacts if we start working together immediately. And in doing so, we can affect changes to our countries, lands, and ways of doing business, that result in a more resilient world. In a world that relies on sustainable energy sources. In a world that has managed to balance its populations and consumption with the world’s resources. In a world that has a future well beyond the span of the 21rst century. If we do so. If we start to do so now, we can begin that good work which will enable a greater prosperity and improve the prospects of all people.

This is the promise of a good, sound climate policy. And we should not turn away from it. Instead we should embrace the benevolent spirit of working in ‘thy brother’s service’ in the spirit of ‘Gung Ho.’ We can certainly do this. And we can do this the right way. The way that avoids conflict, domination, and the threat of disintegration. Let us join to take this path together. To take the road of stabilization and to enjoy the rewards of good work. To set our feet on a path toward shining futures and to enjoy the comforts of a world of shrinking troubles.

And of the other way? Let us say no more of it than this: that way lies the abyss.

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