Over President's Day weekend, thousands of Americans will be traveling to Washington, D.C., for the Move Forward on Climate Rally on Feb. 17 to urge President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline and take significant action on addressing the climate crisis. A group consisting mostly of students from the Adirondack North Country region will also be boarding a bus and joining the effort; many of them previously participated in the November 2011 rally at the White House.
Who is the most powerful person on the planet for moving the world forward on mitigating climate change? Can we reject the mantra of "unlimited growth" as always being the solution to our economic woes, which does not recognize that we live on a finite planet? What would happen if the world's leaders got together and decided to invest 5 percent of the world's GDP every year for 20 years to mitigate the climate problem? Could the world's nations come together on such a grand scale, or is this just an unrealistic "pipe dream"?
Who really benefits from a transcontinental pipeline originating from a land-locked region that wants nothing more than to fetch a higher price on the global market to recoup its costly means of mining a highly polluting form of fossil gunk? Some politicians laud the Canadian tar sands as a near-domestic supply of oil, but they never acknowledge all the harm bringing this gooey black tar to market causes - especially its consequences in hitting the tipping point on climate change. NASA scientist James Hansen estimates that the tar sands are the second largest carbon store on the planet, which has huge implications for pushing us off the carbon cliff.
If concerned citizens around the country come together to push the climate movement forward, will we have a better chance to convince the great chief in Washington to lead the nation and the world to do the right thing? Perhaps we have an opportunity now to influence our president as he contemplates his legacy at the beginning of his second term. Will his inaugural words be followed by a State of the Union address (Tuesday) which also recognizes the grave global problem of climate change that can only be addressed by decisive action? If he speaks the truth, I believe the country and the world will stand behind him. At this point in human history, there is a growing transformation of consciousness among young and old, which knows it is far too radical to allow a business-as-usual approach to decide the destiny of life on planet Earth. As Gus Speth, the former dean of Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, remarked, "The only thing we have to do to be sure we will leave a ruined world for our children and our grandchildren is to do exactly what we are doing now."
Author and environmentalist Bill McKibben and other climate leaders believe the most common-sense approach in addressing the carbon problem is to financially divest from the fossil fuel empire of coal, gas and oil. Additionally, by putting a price on carbon pollution, we can more equitably invest trillions in a renewable-energy-powered, job-creating eco-economy and work to restore a healthier way of doing business with nature in mind. A carbon tax of $100 per ton of carbon dioxide would be close to the 5 percent mark of global GDP. The funds could be collected by national governments from the energy companies, which in turn would, of course, pass the bill to their customers. The customers would then use less fossil energy due to the higher prices. World governments could distribute the collected funds to its citizens, who in turn could use the extra income to invest in renewably derived energy sources. These strategies in combination would strengthen the market for renewables by pricing the true costs of fossil-based energy.
When Mohandas Gandhi was once asked what he thought of Western civilization, he remarked, "I think it would be a good idea." As long as we fail to address the climate crisis brought on by the corrupted, power-driven ways of Western man, we will never achieve true civilization as a people.
Young people who have grown up in a climate-compromised, polluted world are eager for a vision - a new dream of the Earth - to put their faith, hope and hearts' desire in creating a greener, livable future. They want to roll up their sleeves and take on the work of ecological restoration. They believe a tax on carbon pollution can help fund a return to living in greater harmony with the ecosystems of the planet. They are ready to get on the bus and help our president move forward on solving the climate crisis. They believe building yet another pipeline to transport toxic sludge from the tar sands of Alberta would only benefit the filthy-rich, soulless corporations of the 1-percenters. It will not take the country forward but will rather be one more act of despoiling the land of indigenous peoples and the many other-than-human species that have no voice in deciding their fate. The industrialized world's addiction to fossil fuels must be healed to remedy the ecological crisis that is dramatically unfolding.
For the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico to be built requires that one man sign his name on the dotted line of a presidential permit. When he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the world had in mind a different kind of leader who would give birth to a vision of a healthier, harmonious future for all. This is why the kids are getting back on the bus to request the great chief lead the country and the world on the greatest human-generated challenge to life on the planet. If we act in concerted and cooperative fashion, human beings may just have a chance to prove we are civilized after all.
Tom Huber lives in Rainbow Lake and works at Paul Smith's College.