Shock, and Awe

Greta Thunberg

I just watched Greta Thunberg’s speech at the R20 Austrian World Summit, and we have all been called to task. I have been called to task. “We will not let you get away with it anymore.” she says, speaking on behalf of the awakening youth of this planet. 

She points out that most people don’t know the crisis at hand. She’s right.

Those in the know, are in the know. We talk mostly only to each other. When we do talk to the general masses, we point to technologies that will solve the problem, as if there is an easy and single-solution fix. 

  • An increase in electric vehicles can’t fix everything, as if we can buy our way out of this problem. We need to change how we travel. 
  • A carbon tax or a Green New Deal can’t fix everything, as if there is no real work to be done, and as if signing a piece of paper is all that matters. It is only in the fast and furious application of the funds from that carbon tax that we can build progress and hope. It is only in co-creating synergistic solutions and putting in massive effort that a GND will provide traction in the necessary direction. 
  • Building green and zero net energy buildings won’t fix everything, as if the materials in that building somehow don’t have a carbon burden. We have to change our linear systems of manufacture and design to be closed loop, and feed our soil and air and water if we “waste” anything. 

None of this is easy. All of this is necessary.

What have I not done? I have not been assertive enough in my work, or insistent enough about what we can achieve, now. I have not spoken overtly of climate change because I don’t want to get into a political debate. I have not reminded those I work with and work for that their existence (and mine) is at stake with every choice we now make. It is time to be blunt with these facts.

“You have to explain that to us, repeatedly, no matter how uncomfortable or unprofitable that may be.” 

GT at R20 in Austria

She points out that we (those of in the know) say the right things, but that this is not enough. She is right.

Our words and the words of leaders sound right, but then we approve a new airport, or build a building the same way we always have, or expand the roadway to add a few more lanes and ease congestion, or set a policy to build green buildings and then allow projects with tight budgets to “opt-out” of that policy. We embrace the challenges of climate shift (which is a term that is waaaay too gentle) in speeches, and then build affordable housing in flood zones, or allow processed food to cost less than real food, and rename fossil fuels as containing “freedom molecules” for chrissakes. 

“People will think we can solve this crisis problem without anyone making a real effort. And that is very dangerous because specific isolated solutions  are no longer enough, and you know this.” she says, causing us to face the reality we wish to ignore. Those in the know can no longer deny, but we still want someone, someone other than us, to give us the solution, preferably a simple one.

“We now need to change practically everything. We now need a new way of thinking.”

GT at R20 in Austria

What have I not done? I have not assessed my own way of living enough, nor made some hard choices. I have done a lot, and should be proud of those things, but no one can rest on the past. The future is all we have left for us, and we need to make it. I need to rethink food, in particular, understanding the massive burden in eating meat, and doing what I can to not order out, because my family has fallen into that incredibly wonderful trap of urban access to so many delivery choices. And I need to figure out more, learn more, question more…and this scares me, but I also need to face the terror that is to come if I (we) don’t do the real work that is needed. I need to do this in order to understand enough to get my ass in gear to do the work. The real, constant, iterative, hard, re-working of practically everything.

She points out that we must take action and stop the debates.  She is right.

“We must stop playing with words and numbers, because we have no longer have time for that.”

GT at R20

We see this all the time. The info-sharing on-line that devolves into a back and forth about how my solution is better than yours because it draws down 10% more GHG emissions, or costs a bit less. The resilience projects that don’t achieve all they need to for the community, and then also fail to warn that community to start packing because they must move out within 20, maybe even 10, years, and prepare for destruction even now. The inaction that comes from a desire to find the perfect solution. Well, face up to the FACT that none of the solutions matter if we are not applying them. And face up to the terrifying fact that we need them all, and soon…now.

What have I not done? I have complained that we rely on policies that no one follows, but I have not held other people, or even me, consistently to task. I have not challenged people because I’d rather convince them and win them over. Perhaps it’s time for me to say step aside, instead. I welcome you to learn what you can from my successes and mistakes, but get out of my way so I can do the work I can do. I have not been clear enough in saying “yes, this is excellent work, and we MUST ramp it up xx% for the next project, let’s figure out how”. I have not asked, over and over again, what else we can do in this moment, this opportunity, this project, this decision. I have not asked tough questions such as “do we really need to build this” or issued the instrumental challenge of “show me how this gets us off fossil fuels”. 

I have not had the tantrum that is piling up in my soul at the lack of commitment and lack of real actions. 

I have not explained this repeatedly, no matter how uncomfortable or unprofitable that may be…

I need to build my own capacity to share and exemplify this message and help get the real work done. We need a mind shift throughout the world in order to re-envision and create the systems we will use in our near future and far future, to work in tandem with Nature. The technologies are present, for the most part, however, I need to understand and help others understand that technology will never be enough. We need a culture transition. We need to apply our minds. I need to face the truth that “This is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced” and start acting accordingly.

Are we enough? According to Greta, we are, and I believe this to be true. I intend to look for the proof as we get busy. The reality is that we need all of us working on this crisis, every day, in every way imaginable, and many ways not yet imagined. 

Does everyone YOU know understand? Take action, now. It’s past time.


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