Abolition

Some time ago western civilization faced acrisis of unprecedented proportions. A crisis that had profound impacts on thefuture of the world. A crisis driven by Western Europe and North America, butthat impacted the fate of millions in Asia and Africa and the Caribbean.

The politics were bare knuckled. Opponentsasserted change would have devastating economic consequences. Proponentsemphasized the moral imperatives.

Opponents claimed that change would destroythe economy, putting thousand – no millions – out of work. They said “they toowere concerned, but the changes must be carefully considered and phased ingradually”. They said special exemptions must be made to ensure existingindustries don’t shoulder an unfair burden. They sought to delay implementationand to exempt or create exceptions for certain industries.

Opponents funded challenges to the scienceand the economics. They funded public relations claiming proposals woulddisrupt food supplies, advantage competing nations, reduce the standard ofliving of the average person, devastate coastal port cities, and threaten thenation’s security.

Opponents urged caution, further studies…half-measuresin their increasingly transparent attempt to preserve the status quo.

It was the definitive political battle of itstime.Slavery poster

The political and economic elites – fat onthe excesses driven by the status quo – resisted most strongly. They sought tocontinue to get rich on the subsidies. They hoped to continue amassing enormousfortunes from permissive policies. As officers and directors of companies theymade money from the continued exploitation. As shareholders they demandedcontinued double-digit growth. 

But slowly over a generation, the tidechanges. Opponents resisted bitterly. First with denials, then tacit acknowledgementfollowed by pleas for further study, then non-binding solutions, thenhalf-baked legislation filled with exceptions.

But the people – led by a few heroes -couldn’t be ignored.

Their grassroots movement for change wasdriven by churches, intellectuals, activists and concerned citizens. They heldrallies, signed petitions, boycotted products, gave sermons. Slowly politiciansfollowed. First with rhetoric, later with legislation targeting trade,ultimately with an outright ban. 

Poster of slave shipAfter decades of sweat and blood, theysucceeded, slavery was abolished. First in France,then in England(and its empire), finally in the U.S fifty years later.

The world economy didn’t collapse, westerncivilization didn’t disappear. The Europeans and the British Empire ruled the world for another 150 years.

The similarities to global warming areilluminating.

Climate change deniers cite argumentssimilar to those espoused 200 years ago by pro-slavery forces. As with slavery,it is the political and economic elites, particularly in Canada and the U.S., who resist the changes neededto forestall a climate collapse the hardest. They have the most to lose.  In the short term they are benefiting mostfrom the massive emissions produced by over consumption and inefficiencies inour carbon-driven economy.

But our generation can learn from theAbolitionist movement. We can learn how to build a strong, diverse, politicallyformidable movement. We can learn how to influence money flows from bad actorstowards good. We can learn how to better engage churches and tap into peoplesdesire to be moral. We can learn to persevere against seeming long odds.

Our challenge is huge. Life as we know itis threatened unless we radically alter our consumption. We must fundamentallytransform how we relate to the planet. Like former slave owners we musttransform our way of life. How we feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, buildhouses, organize our communities, and travel. It won’t be easy. Sacrifices willbe necessary.

Many of today’s oil companies, developers,car manufacturer’s, and corporate farmers are the plantation owners, slavetraders, sugar and rum merchants, and shipping magnets of two hundred yearsago. They are the ones getting rich by not being accountable for the millionsof tons of carbon dumped annually into the air we breathe. Many of them fundthe climate deniers. Many of them try to sow fears of economic disruption. Manyof them say the challenge is too great, that addressing the problem is toocostly, that incremental change is all that is possible. All because they fearlosing their privileged status.  

But we know better. To succeed we must overcometheir self-interest and force them to make the changes needed to reduce ourcarbon emissions.  Like Abolitionists, weknow that figuring out new ways to produce our food, manufacture our products, resourceour industries will be hard. But we know it can be done-it must be done.

Like Abolitionists, we will persevere, butwe can not wait a generation for action. 

As they were in abolishing slavery twohundred years ago, our European partners are ahead of us. They are takingconcrete action on capping and reducing green house gasses while we continuingtalking and studying. We need to catch up fast. 

Like a revelation the atmospheric sciencecan help save us carbon-sinners. As the old spiritual Amazing Grace reminds uswe were lost, but now are found, blind and now can see.

Reversing global warming is not just amoral imperative. It is not solely based on our concern about our lessfortunate brothers and sisters that live in the Artic, in Africa or Asia or on low lying islands. It is not just about ourimmortal soul. It is not just about saving the Inuit, the Polar Bear, people onthe low-lying Maldives Islands, in Bangladeshor in drought stricken Africa. 

It is about us. It is about the survival ofour species. It is about our future, our grandchildren’s future.

So lets get to it!

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