Transcript by Melbourne reporter Tony Thomas, writer for Quadrant.org.au.
I am going to show some pictures and tell the story of the climate crisis and its solutions. There are really only three questions remaining to be addressed – first is must we change, we have had tremendous benefits from our reliance on fossil fuels, poverty has declined, living standards have increased and we still depend on fossil fuels for 80% of the world’s energy, so naturally it occurs to people when confronted with the issue of climate to ask, do we really need to change, must we change?
The second question is , can we change? If the answer to the first question is yes and the second, no, I don’t want to hear any more about it, it’s a formula for frustration and anxiety and depression. And the third question is, the most important , will we change.
Must we change? That necessarily involves looking at how high the stakes are, and how grave the risk we are running is, to build the necessary consensus and resolve to answer that third question, yes we must change, quickly and I hope you will be convinced.
Some of the evidence you will see and hear will be hard to see and hear. So don’t let yourself sink down because the answers to the second and third questions are very positive and inspiring and hopeful but one cannot be candid and honest discussing this issue without delivering some of the hard news about why the world really must change.
I always start with the image of the earth (Earthrise from space), floating in the void, capturing the emotional reality that this is our shared home. 18 months after it appeared (Dec 24 1968) it had a profound effect on human consciousness: the first earth day was organised and major environmental legislation was passed in many countries including my own.
The next picture is called the Blue Marble, the most commonly published photo in all history. Until recently it was the only picture we have of the illuminated earth, taken on the last Apollo mission.
This is the first home movie of the earth taken by a robotic space craft leaving our solar system.
This is the last picture from space I will show, it makes an important point, from the space station and it shows the stark contrast between the reality of the earth’s atmosphere and the impression we normally have of the sky if we walk outside and look up, the sky seems a vast and limitless expanse but in actuality scientists have long known and astronauts confirmed, it is a very thin layer surrounding the planet. That is the troposphere, breathable atmos-here and the stratosphere, and it is so much smaller in volume than we might assume. That accounts for its rather surprising vulnerability to humanity’s ability to change its composition in a truly dramatic way. And that is what we are doing. Mostly with the burning of fossil fuels. We are putting 110b tonnes of man made global warming pollution into that thin region every 24 hours – we are using it as an open sewer. There are many sources – transport, agriculture is a big part of it, 15% or more, the melting of the permafrost in the Arctic is now creating some worry for scientists who are now trying to get a better handle on it. The main part of it is the burning of the fuels and from this CO2 graph after WW2 the angle went steeply upwards and after the age of hyper globalisation began with the collapse of communism and new trade agreements, it gets steeper still. But in the upper right hand corner is the sign of hope that we are stabilising co2 emissions, it is not good enough but it is a good sign that we may right now be at an inflexion point. I mentioned transportation with oil and liquid carbon fuels plays a significant role especially in cities.
Overall we are releasing CO2 into the atmosphere much faster than at any time in at least the last 66m years. Records beyond that are a bit less accessible after the dinosaurs were wiped out. The cumulative eamount of global warming pollution that is resident in our atmosphere today traps as much extra heat energy every day as would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima class atomic bombs exploding every 24 hours. That is an enormous amount of energy (shows movie of atomic explosion and mushroom cloud).
When you multiply that blast by 400,000 this extra heat energy is radically changing the earth’s ecological system.
This is the only complicated slide I will show you , it is a bell curve.
(Shows in slides how hot days have increased vs normal temps). The extremely hot days have become 150 times more common than they were just30years ago.
This is having an impact on air temps at the surface, 16 of the hottest years ever measured with instruments have been since 2001, the hottest of all was last year and second highest the year before that. A comedian in the US recently said, the way you know this global warming is real is that the hottest year ever is the year you are currently in. That’s been the case for three years in a row. Last year was the 40th year in a row with temperatures above the 20th century average.
This is a NASA film depiction of the warming temps (shows globes with heat maps contrasting with the cooler 80s and 90s)
Heat waves here in Australia are now five times more likely because of global warming. Some of you watching Wimbledon just a few years ago saw the heat. The Australian Open was almost shut down because of a heat wave. Last year was the hottest year on record for several cities in Australia and the summer just passed was the hottest summer on record for many places in
Australia. The pattern in Australian capital cities is very clear, last February it was 47.2deg in Sydney, just last week in Athens 43deg; in Pakistan last month 54deg, perhaps the highest temp ever recorded in Asia. In Turkey two weeks ago, 53.7deg. This is a road that is melting (shows films of objects caught in soft asphalt) and the airplane stuck on softened runway in Washington. Emirates had 51.5deg 3 weeks ago
In Pakistan a couple years ago 1200 people died of the heat wave. The following year in Pakistan they dug anticipatory mass graves. Because it’s the new normal, they are wisely getting prepared for the toll of the heatwave. On a global basis everything I’ve shown you is air temps, caused by less than 10% of the heat energy that is being trapped, 93% is going into the oceans. Someone said global warming ought to be called ocean warming, it is important to realise the consequences of how much we are putting in the ocean. We measure it much more precisely now and it is increasingly worrying for the scientists. It has a number of consequences.
This is sea surface temps measured around Australia. In the Philippines just a few years ago the super typhoon Haiyan crossed waters in the Pacific 3.5degC warmer than normal and became the strongest and most destructive ocean based storm ever to make landfall. It caused 4.1m climate refugees and killed thousands of people. Pope Francis went there and made an important point on the climate crisis that the effects fall most gravely on the poorest, around the world and in each country. So when the ocean temps increase the convection energy makes the average typhoon or hurricane much stronger on average. We saw this in the US with super storm Sandy which crossed ocean waters 5degC warmer than normal and became a very destructive storm to New Jersey and NYC .
This (slide) was the most criticised scene in my 1996 movie, (showing sea encroachment predicted into US coastal cities). The site of the World Trade Centre would be under water. In Sandy the Hudson River was literally pouring into the Ground Zero site, many many years before the scientists predicted it would occur. Now the second order consequences of the heating of the oceans include effects we are all feeling now, it disrupts the water cycle. This is not rainfall (on slide), this is water vapour off the oceans. When oceans get warmer much more water vapour goes into the sky and warmer air holds more water vapour. For every 1degC increase there is a 7% rise in the holding capacity and already we have seen average humidity worldwide increase by more than 4% This study is from 2011, the author says it is well above 5% now,
This leads to atmospheric rivers, named by Brazilian scientists, ‘flying rivers’, (slide: Hawaii to Silicon Valley by a river 2300 miles long, 150km wide) holding as much water vapour as many many times the volume of the largest rivers on earth. (He shows many slides of floods around the world, eg San Jose, Cal.) This is now happening all around the world, with record breaking precipitation anomalies and record downpours increasing dramatically. Montana, storm conditions trigger the downpour.
Watch rain splash off the city of Tucson. They are calling these ‘rain bombs’, it is something rather new. They would occur in the past once in 1000 years, 5000 years, but now they happen rather regularly. This is one 3 days ago in Paris; 49mm in one hour.
In Australia, there may be less rain overall but much more in these big storm events. When the water cycle is disrupted the places where the rain falls change and also the timing. In LDC’s dependent on subsistence agriculture, farmers have long relied on the cycle of rain and dry season for plant and harvest That is now getting all scrambled up, with a big impact on agriculture.
A couple of months ago, there was a 1 in 500 year flood in NZ and similar in Brisbane a couple of years ago. Last week in Lagos Nigeria, this (slide) was in my state just two months ago and another 1 in 1000 years.
I was in Houston Texas last year training climate activists , there was 240b gallons came down, equivalent of 3 days of Niagara Falls flowing right into the middle of Houston. In one calendar year they had two 1 in 500 years and one in one 1000 years. (Further flood slides from Quebec, Guatemale, Columbia, Rio, Lima, Chjile, Bangladesh, Guangzhou, UK, Spain, Madagascar).
Scientists used to say you cannot attribute any single extreme weather event to the climate crisis. But you have to say the odds of extremes increase, but now they are saying it very differently –
If you have a complex system causing a lot of consequences and you radically change it, every one of the consequences is different. With all this extra water vapour in the sky and all the extra heat energy in the atmosphere, every storm is different now.
And they are making advances in how much to attribute to the climate crisis but increasingly more of it is directly contributed.
This is what the reinsurance industry measures with climate related extreme weather events. The only plausible explanation of course is the climate crisis.
The same extreme heat that disrupts the water cycle also pulls moisture out of the soil, fromnthe earth’s top several centimetres and it makes the droughts deeper, longer and more destructive and they occur more quickly .
(Shows drought slides from Iran, Brazil, the Koreas, China, Vietnam, Africa, Western Cape, India)
20m people are near starvation right now, India had the worst drought in at least 140 years last year. In one state, hundreds of farmers committed suicide.
With higher temps, the land dries out, vegetation dries out, and there axre more fires, a very close correlation.
Firefighters in Australia and the US say these are not your grandfathers’ fires, these are megafires, they have become first responders to the climate crisis.
(Slide of fifrefighter rescuiing a koala bear).
As few days ago in Italy, there were 100 fires in the Campagna. (Slides of wildfires in Califonia, US mid-west, British Columbia, Arctic, Siberia, Portugal, Chile).
Many fires are started by lightning but for each degree of warming, there is a 10-12pc increase in lightning strikes.
Russia 7 years ago had the worst drought in 1000 years of Russian record keeping, and the worst fires, 55,000 people were killed.
Four months later, Russia took all of its grain off the markets; Ukraine took much of its own off as well and food prices hit a record high for the second time in 3 years. And there were food riots in 60 countries including Sourth Asia.
It was the same in Africa, especially in Tunisia where a food vendor at the peak of the crisis set himself on fire and the video touched off the Arab Spring.
The vendor’s last words were not ‘death to the tyrant’ but ‘how can I live?’
It makes a point about the consequences for the political stability and prospects for governance if countries that are challenged in the best of times have to face a brand new set of challenges and that is what happened in Syria This (slide) is one of many farmers in Syria that lost his farm due to a climate related drought from 2006-10, the worst in 900 years’ record keeping in the eastern Mediterranean.
This was long before the Syrian civil war broke out. The drought destroyed 60% of all the farms in Syria. It killed 80% of all the livestock and it drove 1.5m climate refugees into the cities of Syria where they collided with another 1.5m refugees from the Iraq war. And the Syrian officials speaking to themselves, revealed by wikileaks, said ‘we cant handle this, there is going to be an explosion’, and the gates of hell opened in Syria
The refugee crisis has other problems as well but the underlying cause is this devastating drought and the high temperatures in the Middle East and North Africa. The refugees are destabilising Europe, in fact the Brexit vote had many causes but the most powerful advertisement that was run by those who wanted the UK to leave was an image that shows an endless line of refugees from the Middle East and N Africa at the EU borders.
Scientists including t at the Max Planck Institute in Germany are now warning us that if unchecked, the climate crisis will make significant areas of the Middle East and North Africa uninhabitable . The heat index is a combination of temperature and humidity. In one city in Iran two years ago it was 74deg. No-one can live in that for more than five or six hours. The cities that are visited during the Haj are in the regions that are most threatened.
The US Defence Dept has long warned about the political and governance consequences of the climate crisis including refugee crises, pandemic disease , food and water shortages.
The impact on food supplies is now capturing more attention because all of the food crops that we rely on today were patiently selected by Neolithic women during the Stone Ages and they bequeathed those plants to us, we still rely on them but they are optimised for climate conditions that we are now changing. The heat stress is beginning already and will decrease the yields of food crops and also the supplies of fresh water. The water use is only 10% domestic, 20% industrial, and the balance is in agriculture. As temperatures rise people, animals, crops, energy systems all require more water. Water scarcity is already having a harsh impact and we are seeing the unsustainable depletion of some aquifers, and disappearance of some significant glacier systems and snow packs and the destruction of many forest areas that also contain water supplies. Australia is the driest continent (water stress slide) but again ME and N Africa, N. India are particularly sensitive to water shortages.
The health consequences: one of the two leading health journals in the world is Lancet and it had a special issue and established a commission two years ago calling this a global medical emergency . Tropical diseases are moving to higher latitudes . Air travel is a principal cause but places where these diseases take root and become endemic are changing because of the changing climate. All of the infectious diseases are advantaged by the climate crisis. The relationship between humans and microbes is intermediated by climate and a warmer, wetter and more chaotic world favors the microbes. Here in Australia there has just been established a very impressive framework for a national strategy on climate change and well being. Two different agencies are pointing out the health emergency that is connected to climate. The carriers of diseases have a broader range: mosquitos bite more and they reproduce more quickly. In the US for the first time last year pregnant women were advised not to go to parts of the US, and in several regions of Central and South America doctors have issued a warning I had never heard before in my life, they told women, don’t get pregnant.
Air pollution: the co-pollutants that are put into the air with the burning of coal are creating an air pollution crisis , that’s known in India and China. This headmaster (slide) made his students take an exam outdoors during an air pollution emergency, he was fired.
(Slides of China pollution).
Average life expectancy in northern China has gone down 5.5 years. Globally we are seeing on an annual basis 6.5m people die from air pollution. I have talked to many mayors, the mayor of Beijing said, “My city’s not liveable”. That’s kind of an unusual statement from a mayor.
The burning of coal also puts mercury into the soil and ocean. The top layer of the ocean has 3 times as much mercury now, primarily because of coal burning, and because of the CO2 the ocean has become up to 30% more acidic than 30 years ago.
Australians are rightly concerned about the fate of the Great Barrier Reef . 93% of it was affected by bleaching last year and the two years now concluding represented the worst bleaching episode ever and it is correlated with the highest sea surface temperatures in the region.
There was news yesterday of a new study warning that we are beginning what they have long predicted would be the sixth great extinction . The other five go way back –like 66m years ago caused by an asteroid collision in Yucatan that wiped out the dinosaurs. Today what is colliding with the earth? We are. But the good news is that we can change what we are doing to stop that collision and the damage it is causing.
A couple of illustrations of this extinction crisis. Australia has about 10% of all the biodiversity in the world and a huge percent of the species uniquely found here- koalas, duck-billed platypus, are examples.
Land based animals and plants are now being forced to move poleward at an average rate of 4.5m per day. And that is on our watch. We are responsible for it. In the US 18 months ago there was a massive storm through the mid-west and it continued up to the North Pole and it raised temperatures at the North Pole by 28deg. Smack in the middle of the cold dark winter night the North Pole started melting. It has been melting for some time now. It happened again this past winter, last February it was above the freezing point in the middle of winter.
(Slide of methane leaking and being lit in Siberia).
(Slide of ‘methane blister’ crater). There are 7000 of these now. That is not a crater from an asteroid, that is an exo-crater from a methane explosion.
The scientists are not yet confident that they truly understand the full risk that might be posed by this thawing of the permafrost. Some I know caution against too much anxiety over this because they just don’t know, but it is one of the risks that we are running.
And the land based ice is melting, raising sea levels. (Slide of glacier in Greenland 70 years ago and now).
And here are NASA’s measurements of the loss of ice in Greenland. It is quite extraordinary, about one cubic kilometre per day. I was in Greenland last year, this was one of those temperature spikes that pushed temperatures way above the melting point. (Shows film of glacier crumbling at surface in real time). The glaciers are literally exploding in the high temperatures.
The news 12 hours ago was there was a massive Antarctic iceberg detached, the size of the island of Bali. Antarctica is melting, more slowly than Greenland but the melt rate is accelerating. The scientists have been waiting to watch the Larsen Sea ice shelf. Last night it broke off – twice the size of the Australian Capital Territory. It involves enough ice, if melted, to cover all of Australia to a depth of 15cm. This floating iceberg will probably not raise sea level but when the ice shelves at the edge break off, that’s been happening in West Antarctica, roughly the size of Greenland, and now we are seeing these meltwater lakes on the top of Antarctica. So this is an area twice the size of California where there was meltwater.
So that melting ice raises the sea level and the cities most at risk by population are shown here (slide), as well as low lying Pacific Islands, and the gulf areas of Bangladesh. (Slide- cities most at asset-risk.) No 1 is Miami (slide of flooding there in king tides). I was there on a sunny day, and I saw ocean fish swimming in the streets.
(Slide of octopus in a parking garage).
Australians are now already feeling the first impacts from this. A sea level rise here in Melbourne of 1m which is the minimum in prospect this century –it could be much more – would have a big impact. North of here in Sydney already sea level rise with storm surges is causing damage.
To answer the question, must we change, yes we must. One more- for two years in a row the world forum in Davos has pointed out that climate is the Number One threat to the global economy. We have sub-prime carbon assets now. The Bank of England governor has pointed out that the majority of proven reserves are not burnable. At some point investors will realise they are worthless. (Slide of carbon-based fuels burned during 150 years, and amount in last 17 years). The proven reserves now, here is the amount the scientists tell us we could burn, and still have a chance of saving our civilisation. The rest is unburnable, $22 trillion worth. That is one of the main reasons it is the biggest economic global threat.
Can we change? Make the right choice? Are we capable of changing? Yes, we have the solutions at hand.
If we absorb and use it especially in the cities , for the 10,000 years of urban civilisation until quite recently no more than 15% of the human population lived in cities. Now in this country it is almost 90% and in many developed countries 80-90%, and now on a global basis cities will have almost 70% of the human population by mid-century. So what happens in cities is absolutely critical.
The most optimistic projections 17 years ago about wind energy were that by the year 2010 we might reach 30GW. Well we have now beaten that by 16 times over. The cost is coming down dramatically. Australia has rapid wind capacity growth. (Slides of wind farms). It is now the cheapest form of energy in many areas along with solar.
Offshore wind is becoming a major source, particularly in the North Sea. It generated more than 100% of Denmark’s needs last year for a period. For 5 days in a row in Scotland, they used nothing but wind (power). In the UK where the coal revolution began they get more electricity now from wind and they went one day without burning any coal for electricity a few months ago. The introduction of efficient, cost effective batteries is going to really accelerate the trend. And the world’s largest battery is not in the US but in SA, soon to be installed within 100 days or its free. Elon Musk is a personal friend of mine, I really like his style.
Batteries added to solar is going to be the most significant event ever in the history of energy systems. We are in the early stages of a sustainability revolution, which has the magnitude of the industrial revolution and the speed of the digital revolution. In less than eight years, virtually 100% of all lighting will be LEDs. Already some of you are saving money by changing street lights and in businesses, with costs falling on a continuing basis. Electric cars: so many car makers are shifting to electric. Volvo from 2019 will only sell electrics and hybrids. They are not going to sell internal combustion engines any more.
China has announced that all of its taxis will have to be replaced by electric versions and India announced last month that within 13 years all the cars and trucks in India will have to be electric — an amazing change since the Paris Agreement by India.
15 years ago the most optimistic projection for solar were that by the year 2010 we might be able to install one GW per year. We beat that by 17 times over, and last year we beat it by 75 times over. We are seeing an even steeper solar curve than for wind, because the cost is coming down so much faster for the cells. In the US two months ago, one of the utilities signed a contract for solar electricity at less than 3c per KWh. Both Chile and Abu Dhabi have signed contracts at 2.4c KWh. That is less than half the cost of electricity from burning coal.
Australia is building solar capacity dramatically. A new rooftop system is installed every four minutes here. In the US the percent of homes with solar is rising fast.
Economists used to think that economic growth and emissions had to go hand in hand. They are decoupled now because of the sustainability revolution and renewables.
The trend is toward grid parity. When it is grid parity it is the threshold below which the unsubsidised cost from solar is less than from coal or gas.
If you have competition between an old product and a new one, with costs near-equating, it is a little like the difference of 1deg, the difference between ice and water.
And in markets it is the difference between markets that are frozen up, with enthusiasts saying let’s get going, and markets where there are streams of capital flowing massively to new investments. That is the point we are at now, with renewables. Investments in renewables overtook those in fossil fuels globally in 2010 and the gap has since grown.
And the projections by Bloomberg New Energy Finance are the gap will grow further. If you add nuclear the gap gets even greater.
Here in Australia last year $3.3b was invested in renewables. The subsidies for renewables are really tiny compared to those for fossil fuels. When the G20 met last week, studies showed that the G20 subsidised fossil fuels at four times the rate for renewables.
Back in 1980, ATT the biggest phone company in US looked at mobile phones…it projected 900,000 users by 2000. This year there was 900,000 sold in the first three days, they sold 120 times more for the full year and there are now more cell phones than people.
The price came down fast even as the quality improved, and the majority of people in the third world lived with no landlines or phone grid. So they leapfrogged to cell phones.
What about the landline electricity grid? In the LDCs we are seeing a leapfrog to solar panels on grass huts, and pay as you go business models. Bangladesh until last year was the fastest deploying country for solar panels. Parents there want their children to have access to digital information and jobs there. China is leading the world in solar right now, (slide) this is the largest solar farm in the world, just opened.
India has done an incredible U-turn, they just got bids for renewables cheaper than from their dirty brown coal, so of course they’ll switch. They’ve (down-graded) hundreds of coal plants and are scaling up on solar. We are at that inflexion point right now. Some countries are operating now solely on solar. Germany an industrial powerhouse, some days got 86% of its energy from solar.
California six weeks ago got two thirds of its electricity from renewables. The Vatican has pledged to be the first carbon neutral country. They are very small and God is on their side.
Chile is an inspiring story. When President Michelle Bachelet
came back in 2013, there was 11MW of solar, but at end 2014, 400 MW, and end 2015 almost 850 MW of solar. (Graph of huge plans for solar in Chile).
There are many countries near a breakout like that, like Algeria. The world gets more energy in one hour from the sun, than all of the energy the entire global economy uses for an entire year. If we could just harness a fraction of that and use it successfully, we could solve the climate crisis. The jobs alone, in the US, solar jobs are growing 17 times faster than all other jobs. There are 10m jobs already in the world in renewables; the single fastest growing job in the US is wind turbine technicians, and don’t forget the retrofit of buildings in all cities. Energy and cost savings, job creation, making buildings more climate friendly…
In the US last year, almost ¾ of all the new electricity generation capacity was from solar and virtually none from coal, in fact (slide of shuttered coal-fired plants).
We are changing rapidly no matter what the person in the White House says,
This is a statement from Goldman Sachs: The prices for batteries and solar panels will continue to drop. That will drive this transition regardless of who’s in the White House.
Can you imagine what I feel (about Trump?).
Here’s all the cities that have committed to run on 100% renewables (slide). Mayors and city councils are competing to go 100%. They are mobilising businesses and citizens, and the big city of Atlanta made that commitment.
Georgetown Texas is one of the most conservative Republican cities in Texas. The mayor there is a CPA and he looked at the projection of these cost curves and figured out that already now and especially in future, he could foresee huge amounts of money for his ratepayers. Just two months ago they reached 100% renewables. In Kentucky, there is a famous coal museum which just switched to solar power because it saves them money.
China has been declining in coal use for the last three years and in emissions, and this year will be the fourth with reduced emissions. India is really moving too.
The global emissions growth has flattened, we have to bend it back down. Annual emissions can’t just be stabilised, they have to be reduced.
Can we change, yes we have these technologies now, cheaper than the old dirty coal oil and gas. They create more jobs, they make the air cleaner, and a side benefit, they save the future of human civilisation.
Here’s what Australian cities and states are doing already. (Slide: States and their 100% net renewables targets). Sydney wants 100% renewables by 2030 and Melbourne zero net emissions by 2020. Congratulations.
Of Australians, 75% believe that climate is a global risk and 81% support action to prevent the damage from the climate crisis.
We can change. We have the tools, people, public opinion, technology, the economics.
Final question: will we change? A year ago, December, virtually every nation agreed in Paris to go to net zero by 2050 or soon after. Many are now ratcheting their commitments upwards. Paris sent a powerful signal to business and industry and investors. In Australia large investors are saying, No we will set our own (higher) targets, to be a part of the solution. Business knows that their licence to operate is bound up with whether all of us can solve this crisis.
This is a moment in history that must not be wasted or missed.
400,000 people marched in the streets before the UN Summit on Climate, and then a few months ago, I was in the crowd marching on the White House. (Slides)
Join those using their votes and voices to solve the climate crisis. We are on this shared home and it is under threat now. The good news is that we can remove that threat by changing in right ways.
I close with a quote from one of the great poets of last century, Wallace Stevens, a business man that became a poet:
“After the final ‘no’, there comes a ‘yes’. And on that ‘yes’ our future world depends.”
The climate movement , not least in cities, is right now in the tradition of all the great moral causes that have improved the circumstances of humanity throughout our history. The abolition of slavery. Women’s suffrage and women’s rights. The civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. The late Nelson Mandela said it was always impossible until it was done. The movement to stop the toxic phase of the nuclear arms race and more recently the gay rights movement. Some of you may disagree with that. I don’t. I did earlier in my life. But all of these movements have one thing in common. They all have met with ferocious resistance and have generated occasional feelings of despair from those who knew the right direction and wondered whether we could ever get there. The late Martin Luther King Jr once said to a supporter in the bleakest hours who asked, How long is this going to take? He replied, How long? Not long. Because no lie can live forever. Because the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice. How long? Not long. The late economist Rudy Dornbusch said things take longer than you think but then they happen much faster than you believed they could.
That’s the inflexion point we are now at but it requires leadership from cities and remember that years from now, there will be a future generation that inherits the earth we bequeath to them and they will ask one of two questions. If they live in a world of political disruption and chaos and diseases, stronger storms and more destructive floods and worse droughts and sea level rise forcing retreat from coastal cities and political chaos, they would be justified in looking back at us and asking, “What were you thinking? Couldn’t you hear what the science was saying? What Mother Nature was screaming at you?”
But if they inherit a world that fills their hearts with hope, with the millions of new jobs being created and cities leading the way and businesses working with governments and civil society to retrofit buildings and install renewable energy and create sustainable agriculture and forestry, and if they can look at their own children and say with conviction and sincerity, your lives are going to be better too, I want them to look back at us and ask a different question, How did you find the moral courage to rise up and change and take the lead and create this better world? And part of the answer is that cities from around the world came to Melbourne in 2017 to the Ecocities Conference. For anyone who doubts we have the will to change , always remember the will to change is itself a renewable resource. #