I'm writing this as we await the final draft of the Paris agreement on global warming. I'll leave till next time how an Oxygen Tax can rationalize whatever arrangements they come up with. Right now, honestly, I'm too tense, too struck at the consequence of this moment.
Does life hang in the balance? Or are we thinking more dread-filled thoughts than the situation actually warrants?
It seems every generation in our time has to face decisions with implications that amount to choices about global life itself. For the last generation it was whether to unleash nuclear warfare that could result in a nuclear winter. Today it's whether we can control our baser instincts to exploit the very life out of earth itself, in one giant dance of victory over nature, consequences be damned. It feels like we all have too much power and not enough knowledge. Like putting a gun in the hands of a child.
I see it as this generation's Cuban Missile Crisis. Then the question was: Follow the generals' advice and pre-emptively launch nuclear missiles? Even though that might provoke annihilation on two continents? We were within a hair's breadth of letting it happen (If one man stopped it most dramatically, it was Vasili Arkhipov, the Soviet submarine officer who persuaded his sub's captain not to fire a nuclear torpedo that would have set off a nuclear exchange around Cuba).
Or, how about our 1492 moment? Should Christopher Columbus land (on what's now Watling Island in the Bahamas) and find wealth, but also risk spreading diseases? He did land, of course, and the result was the death of perhaps 20 million native Americans. Twenty million. That is Holocaust-scale. Of course he couldn't know the horror he was about to unleash. And at that nexus moment, he had smaller things to worry about, like gold. Just like us, today.
At this nexus moment, we're trying to balance immediate needs, the seemingly inexorable expansion of our exploitation of the planet, with the right of exploited nations to catch up (like, 1400 new cars are added to the roads of Delhi every day yet India has so far contributed far less Co2 than, say, the United States) versus the sheer awesome cost of Doing the Right Thing.
But if we ever doubted this is the time to address the problem, there's always the red planet up there, Mars, showing us what happens when you do tip the balance, and nothing you can do will stop the die-off.
My question is: why isn't everybody frightened, terrified of the swingeing extremes we are pushing Mother Nature into, of the consequences of our thinking only about ourselves, not the rest of the life family, the trees, the animals, the tuna, the Monarch butterflies, the children we create?
Whatever plan they come up with, it will be flawed. We have to realize it will be just a start to some kind of progress, not quick or realistic or massive enough to turn this tanker around. And because nations fear giving the UN too much power, all will rely on a voluntary deal between countries with competing interests. Scary. Like Europe with no central bank, the world can't bring itself to create a body with teeth to make sure agreements turn into action.
So what do they still need? They need a UN-type body to oversee an all-encompassing framework for the various schemes to be applied, whether carbon tax or first world reparations, or massive clean energy subsidies. And they need to make it to everyone's advantage to flip what they really value. In my ideal world, up-valuing and rewarding oxygen-creation will be the mechanism, the key to a rebalanced earth. It's symbolic too: The flip from carbon to oxygen is the flip from death gases to life gases. An oxygen tax, in other words, rewards the creators of oxygen and sequesterers of carbon, and charges the exploiters of carbon. (See my previous blogs.) If everybody is paying "tax" for the one thing we all need, then it becomes not a question of reparations and blame games, but applying all of our money to fix the earth's life-system, the lifeboat we are all clinging to.
In some ways it's so simple. Just breathe in through your nose. You'll know what I mean.
Meanwhile we wait. And hope.
J'ai confiance en toi, Paris!
More on specifics next time.