First UN Press Briefing

December 2, 2008

December 1 –  Please forgive me ahead of time for the length of this post, but it is perhaps the most important contribution I can make to the climate crisis ‘debate’.  The idea at its core is a paradigm shift that humanity must make, in my humble opinion, if it is to step back from the brink of initiating a slow extinction of itself and of all Life on Earth.

Immediately after the US press briefing came the first UN press briefing.  This was my second chance to accomplish what I came to do in Poznan.  Let me digress for a moment.

Several weeks ago, when the financial crisis in global stock and credit markets took hold in earnest, when 5 5% to 10% losses became familiar almost daily experiences, I had an epiphany of sorts.  While financial pundits, governments and investors were bemoaning the massive and unprecedented ‘loss of wealth’ experienced in the stock markets of the world and dire forecasts of economies grinding to a halt were scaring the wits out those in positions of wealth and power… it hit me like a cream puff between the eyes, that this may in fact be a blessing in disguise, that the overheated economies of the world which support and sustain their expansion and so called health by bleeding the planet of its precious black blood (petroleum) and sacrificing it on the alter of Profit, to the ‘gods of accumulated wealth’ of the religions of Consumerism and Economism… that this market collapse was in fact a big step back from the brink of slow, painful self-destruction.

Sure there would be pain, both the mental kind from ‘margin calls’ to the wealthy speculators of the world whose job it is to stoke the fires of their religion of Greed and Avarice by ‘leveraging’ (buying securities on borrowed money)… as well as the real suffering of people losing jobs and life savings, students unable to pay for college, and choices between buying food and paying rent.  The latter class of ‘real suffering’ is not to be applauded, but the suffering will either come in a small way now or in a massive way later if those fearsome climate ‘tipping points’ are, in fact, reached and surpassed.  The choice may be some human suffering now (no birds or bees were jeopardized by a stock market meltdown in point of fact), or massive suffering for all of Life on Earth down the road a piece, where the meltdown of the polar ice caps will wreak havoc and devastation on the biodiversity of Earth.

Soon after my epiphany, links started to appear in my inbox to articles by notable climate change personalities, with admonishments that the world should not back away from funding the needed changes for mitigation and adaptation, and that this was an opportunity for ‘green growth’ after the markets were unfrozen.  The first of these to come to my attention was from Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Climate Change Secretariat himself.  I want desperately to him that it was a much bigger opportunity than that.

Back to the present.  Here I am in a room with Yvo de Boer himself giving a briefing to the press.  I am in a position to say anything I want to him, on the record, in front of the cameras.  Pretty heady stuff.  I carefully honed my question, drafting and refining while the briefing went on.  But when time came for questions only three were taken, and two of these went to the Polish press as a courtesy to the host country.  I would not, after all these carbon-miles, get to ask my question.

Not being one to give up so easily, as soon as the press briefing was over, I was standing in front of Mr. de Boer, looking him in the eyes and asking my question.  I had literally come all this way to ask this question, to plant this seed.  “Isn’t the global financial meltdown an opportunity of massive proportions, an opportunity to step back from the brink of those fearsome tipping points, and so a blessing in disguise?  Isn’t it a ‘shock point’, during which we might redefine the very paradigm of ‘economy’ by which the modern world is run, from one where the highest good is the ever accelerating growth, consumption and accumulation of wealth?  Isn’t it this post-modern religion of Economism that is resulting in the fever of our planet?”  My question to him was as brief as I could make it, but intended to set a seed of change in the mind of this man, that Economism and Consumerism were dis-eases of humankind and of all Life on Earth.

His response was thoughtful, as he returned my gaze.  His reply was that, yes, it was an opportunity to reorient financial flows.  That the financial crisis came out of bad lending in the mortgage markets.  That if, after recovery, bad lending of a different sort ensued, lending to project of the old kind, then surely climate tragedy would occur.  But no, it was not a blessing in disguise because it was engendering human suffering… the suffering of African farmers, for example, whose livelihood depends on the cut flowers that they grow, and which would, as a luxury item, be left out of the shopping carts of Europe.

The answer was a good one.  He is a smart, wise, and compassionate man.  I would not mind in the least working under his leadership.  But wasn’t he missing the larger point?  Is it our right to threaten the existence of Life on Earth by our wasteful ways? Was I successful in planting my seed?  How can I make the world awaken to the idea that ‘the emperor has no clothes’, that the pseudo-religions of Consumerism and Economism are the idolatries of our age?  Will you, the reader, help me spread this new paradigm?

The healing of our world will not be done alone by substitution of ‘buying green’ for simple consumerism, but by humankind re-learning and re-membering to value uneconomic, immaterial ‘goods’ over the mundane material sort.

For the Earth – §