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Global Climate Action Summit 2018
Blog 3: To every thing, there is a season – turn turn turn
Alison Holmes, our regular columnist, is on the ground in San Francisco in the heart of the GCAS
Only in the United States do you get environmental protesters at an environmental summit" was former Governor Bloomberg's quip as he patiently waited to continue his conference speech while a small group of protesters were helped off the stage and guided out of the Summit hall – chanting as they went:
"Our Air – NOT FOR SALE"
"Our Water – NOT FOR SALE"
"Our People – NOT FOR SALE"
The group had started early in the morning marching in front of the entrance to the Moscone Center and, for a brief time, blocked traffic and stopped delegates and attendees from entering. Most sounded polite as they invited those going inside to join their number, but some were more than a little hostile to those they called 'suits' (though 'sell-out' or 'scab' would probably have been just as apt in their eyes). Their concern focuses on what they see at Governor Brown's lack of conviction on fossil fuels by not banning fracking outright and continuing to allow drilling as demonstrated by the 20,000 permits granted during his tenure. And this concern was the focus not only of those with signs out in front and in the hall, but also the main jab of the leader in the latest issue of The Nation by contributor Bill McGibben in a specially themed issue focused on the Summit. A campaign known as 'Brown's Last Chance' accuses the governor of doing too little too late and essentially selling out to the oil industry. However, as Mark Hertsgaard points out in his interview of Governor Brown in the same issue, this governor has done more than any other in California history, and more than most leaders in the world. That seems little consolation to those apparently unable to take even a small sip of the celebratory wine that is flowing here at the summit, but who feel compelled to pour vinegar on even the best news. The Nation is not alone as this charge is found elsewhere in what basically boils down to a charge that Governor Brown is guilty of the crime of being too old, too political (in a bad way), and too steeped in 'the system' to take radical action and punish those 'responsible' for climate change. Indeed the main piece in that same magazine is entitled "The Climate Wrecking Industries" and names names of those they see as the real bad guys replete with black hats.
Perhaps such observers have forgotten that they have lived with the benefits of the fossil economy their entire lives or perhaps they don't see that pulling up the ladder of growth on those currently struggling in poverty around the world is likely to result in even more climate injustice. Whatever the underlying point of contention may be, the discussion represents the perennial tension between those who want reform right now this instant and those who believe the entire transformation of business and government might just require some very careful negotiation – which takes time and vision. The process of handing over the baton to the next generation is never easy and requires a delicate balance. What is the right amount of deference and respect for lived experience and what smacks of capitulation to the straitjacket of age and creeping conservatism?
Here, it has been striking to feel literal waves of vibration on the conference floor under the weight of so many gadgets. Every seat and table is strewn with wires and every face walking by has the distinct blue/gray pallor of a small screen held two inches away. Meanwhile, the summit app and social media ensure attendees are both alight (literally as our badges glow when we 'klick' to connect) and aflutter with all the networking going on in every corner. Some accuse the governor (or indeed all the 'suits' at the summit) of being out of touch, but one can't help but wonder what the next generation might say about this moment. Personally, I would not be surprised if they don't look back and point the finger at the upcoming generation's literal obsession with things like the ever faster, better, bigger iPhone (just announced with the ridiculous name of XS – pronounced tennis – and now on sale for near as damn it $1,500) as a taproot of the ills of the world. There is a sense of inevitability about the fact that each generation must disavow all that went before to prove their 'cred' while taking credit for all that seems to be moving in the 'right' direction. Thus, it may behoove us to be a tiny bit more gentle as we climb up to stand on the shoulders of those who went before and pause to remember that such perfect historical hindsight always casts an incredibly harsh light while those who had the courage to live those paths had to do so in the dark.
Dr. Alison Holmes is Associate Professor of International Studies and Politics at Humboldt State University, CA. She lived in the UK for over 20 years and worked at the BBC, ran BritishAmerican Business in London and was speechwriter to the US Ambassador. A PhD in International Relations from the LSE, she has been an Associate Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford, a Churchill Memorial Trust History Fellow and the Transatlantic Studies Fellow at Yale.