Shaking Al Gore’s Hand

My time in Bonn is coming to a close, and I’m sure Climate Generation’s week two delegates are getting ready to arrive. I don’t leave until Sunday, but I’m planning on being a tourist for at least part of tomorrow and checking out a little bit more of Bonn. It’s a hard choice, though, because there are several events at the U.S. Climate Action Center that seem interesting with Michael Bloomberg and Jerry Brown speaking. That’s kind of the deal here, making hard choices between several competing events and discussions of interest.

Today I had a pretty easy choice . . . Al Gore was speaking! I was so excited to be in the front row to watch his presentation.

I’ve never seen him speak in person before, and it was powerful. He talked a lot about the damage climate change is causing. There has been a collective sense of urgency in many of the sessions I’ve attended, but I hadn’t heard such a complete and up-to-date accounting of the threat that climate change really poses for us—economically, physically, and politically. He had slides in his presentation from the recent disasters, including as recent as this week with the air pollution crisis in Delhi.

Al Gore did a good job of explaining climate change as a threat to civilization. Sometimes the environmental organizations, in my opinion, talk too much about “saving the planet,” or “saving the world.” The planet will be fine. Earth will get through this. Humans, however, might not. Climate change has happened before (as deniers love to point out), but not everything survived. The dinosaurs didn’t survive climate change, and we might not either.

I often think back to my evolutionary biology class from when I was going for my master’s in conservation biology and learning about carrying capacity, boom and bust cycles, limiting factors, and ecosystem collapse. Humans aren’t immune from these concepts. It seems glaringly obvious to me that we’ve exceeded our carrying capacity, or at least we’re about to, and that will be followed by a die off of our species. I know that’s super depressing, but it gives me some perverse comfort to think that we aren’t destroying the planet—we’re just destroying ourselves (and probably 50% of the species that are unfortunate enough to share this moment in geologic history with us).

But I also think that as sentient beings, we have the ability to shift that carrying capacity upwards by lightening our load and shrinking our footprint. To do this, though, we need more people to feel the urgency to act, we need more people to understand that there are solutions, and we need more people to understand that accepting climate reality and working toward solutions doesn’t mean they need to sacrifice their lifestyles. To the contrary, it means they are saving their lives.

There is so much hope to be found here if you know where to look. I’m planning on bringing that hope and a renewed sense of urgency home with me (along with the knowledge that I got to shake Al Gore’s hand!) And I’ll be watching the rest of the week from afar to see the progress the world makes in implementing the Paris Agreement.

Good luck week two delegates and keep us informed!

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