By John Friedman
My goodness it is easy to get depressed. CO2 levels measured at Mauna Loa in Hawaii are above 400 ppm; stronger and more frequent hurricanes have devastated entire cities, islands and U.S. territories; and all the while the U.S. Federal Government is doing more the eradicate the term ‘climate change’ than opioids. White supremacists are carrying torches in American cities and shouting Nazi slogans. The rash of sexual harassment incidents and cases seemingly everywhere; and once again so many deadly attacks and innocent lives senselessly lost.
A year ago, I quoted Aman Singh, "it is at the precipice that we evolve." Darwin found those species that were most ‘adaptable’ to changing environments to be most successful. We have certainly had to adapt to quickly changing natural, political and social environments this year
It would be easy to think that 2017 was the year that 'nature got angry' from floods in India and Nigeria to hurricanes in the Caribbean and wildfires in the US and Europe and a number of deadly earthquakes. Most of these have been scientifically linked the fact that our planet is warming and weather patterns are shifting. Perhaps rather than seeing this as the 'wrath' of nature, it is a loud, unequivocal demonstration of what how inhospitable our planet can - and will - become if we do not act. And it is becoming increasingly obvious to even those who would attempt to deny the reality.
Ironically, President Trump's lamentable decision to withdraw the USA from the Paris Agreement seems to have galvanized increasing support for the treaty. In response to that announcement - which does not take effect until 2020 and could therefore be reversed before any substantive changes are made - 20 states and 50 cities have pledged to stick with prevailing scientific wisdom and maintain – and in some cases accelerate – their efforts. Similarly, businesses that have been saying for years that ‘sustainability is a business strategy’ are demonstrating that that is more than just words (being ‘politically correct’ if you will.) And at COP23, France's President Macron urged European nations - and promised France would pay the entire cost if necessary - replacing the $2 million annual contribution withdrawn by the US from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Despite fears that scientific voices would be silenced on the subject, in November a report was approved for release by the White House in which 13 federal agencies released their conclusions that says there is “no convincing alternative explanation” that anything other than humans are the dominant cause of the "unambiguous" global temperature rise that has created the warmest period in the history of civilization.
And the November elections also seem to validate that the majority of Americans recognize that climate change an issue and deliberately put into office leaders and supported initiatives to address it.
While incidents of overt racism, bigotry and violence are on the rise, it is time that America faces the sobering reality that many of tried to explain; we have ‘turned over the rock’ and exposed the nasty reality that was always hiding beneath. Emboldened by supportive rhetoric from lofty places, Americans who hold attitudes that the majority find abhorrent are now feeling free to express those opinions publicly. It is important to note that they always had – and should have – the constitutionally protected right to do so. But from the horror and murder in Charlottesville, Va., have also seen peaceful counter-protestors in Tennessee as people and communities are now better prepared to respond to white nationalist rallies.
Similarly, another group that has remained silent for too long is starting to stand up; thanks to brave women (and some men) who have had enough of sexual harassment; companies and organizations are starting to recognize the problem that they have ignored for far too long (and covered up for WAY too long).
The only way to end these attitudes is to build a society that is just and fair and fights to eliminate prejudice and ignorance, not just send it underground to fester.
In the year when the Guardian declared #fakenews as ‘word of the year’ I would conclude that one can make the case that in this year when we have been sorely tested, we have also facing some very uncomfortable and important truths about our society and world. While it may seem that we have taken – and are taking – giant steps backwards, it is important to remember that evolution happens when the climate changes. And faced with this ‘climate change’ - people, governments and businesses are standing up and speaking up for what matters – environmentally, socially and economically. That will, ultimately be the thing that matters most from 2017.