Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are standing on the lip of a cliff. Far below their feet, a river rushes through a canyon. A posse led by the relentless Joe Lefors is closing in for the kill. Butch suggests jumping. Sundance declines.
Butch: “What’s the matter with you?” Sundance: “I can’t swim.” Butch: “Why you crazy, the fall will probably kill you.”
Flash forward. We are all standing on the top of a cliff. Seven and a half billion of us are either fleeing the relentless effects of climate change, denying that we have a problem or worrying about what will happen if we jump into a sustainable future that is still just a technological vision. Can we swim in a river of sun, wind and wave energy that doesn’t yet exist?
Yes, the fall may kill us but climate change is a deadly certainty. According to a bunch of smart scientists working with the UN IPCC, we have about 12 years to make our move. After that, a global temperature increase of more than 1.5° Centigrade will be locked in and civilization will hit the fan. If you think Puerto Rico and Mexico Beach, Florida, look bad, just stick around.
So what about that river? Is it even real? Are we leaping off into nothing?
The problem is not technological. Much of the sustainable energy production, storage and distribution technology that we need to survive is already available. It is getting more efficient and cheaper every day. The real issue is human consciousness and human behavior. Can we pull our homo sapien act together in twelve short years?
Call me crazy but I think there is hope. Some of it I get from an incredible book that just arrived on my doorstep, out of the blue. (Secret Santa, plead identify yourself.) Google “The Human Planet, How We Created the Anthropocene by Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin.” Order it from you-know-whom. Read it. This treatise explains everything. Well, almost everything.
As they say, long story short: We have created this planet. Human activity now drives the chemistry of the atmosphere and the oceans, the composition of sediments, the temperature cycles. Like the Pottery Barn, now we own it.
Over our 200,000 years of walking upright, we have repeatedly changed everything. Each huge transformation has involved technology and communication. With agriculture, which changed the climate and enabled us to organize ourselves in large numbers, came written language, which made possible instruction manuals. With the industrial revolution, which powered rapid development of incredible new toys by burning fossil fuels, came the printing press, which spewed written language all over the place.
Now we are choking on carbon liberated from those fossil fuels and we need to change everything again. We have the Internet and 12 years. Let’s get started.