Got plans for your life? Your future needs you now

By Timothy Den Herder-Thomas

The next six years will determine your future.

Perhaps you think I mean the way any six years determines futures. Or perhaps you think I mean the typical meaning of future in a college setting; what you will decide to do with your life, where you will live and work, who you will become: how you fit into the existing system.

The next six years will be a crucial pivot in the transformation of that system. I want you to be ready, because the foundations of the life you are planning are in the process of change. The future we must prepare to live in is radically different from the one you now see: before you start cursing your ill-luck, think of the opportunity.

We are the ones who will build a new society out of the end of the fossil fuels and the beginning of a climate-conscious era.

Whit Jones, one of activist buddies at Carleton, is currently participating in the 12th UN conference on global warming in Nairobi. He is part of a delegation of around 20 US students speaking for the youth of America as the UN debates the state of the Kyoto Protocol and the future of confronting global warming. The Bush administration chose not to attend. Kofi is currently over there doing his best. Whit posted an update on the Global Youth Climate Movement Blog; you can check it out dated November 15th. The conference began with amazing news from America; we have a Democrat controlled House and Senate. America is waking up to the fact that we have problems, and at least with ballots, they will do something about it. There will be changes: very big changes on the climate front. The current chair of the Senate Environment Committee, James Inhofe—who once cited a Michael Crichton novel as evidence that ‘global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people’ – will be replaced by Barbara Boxer, who has promised action on climate change. Bills are already in Congress, and may now move forward, calling for 80 percent reductions in carbon emissions over the next several decades—the reduction that the largest scientific study in history concluded was required. On the state level, the massive Democratic majorities, plus the substantial number of supporting Republicans, will make it nearly impossible for Governor Tim Pawlenty to continue to stall the Renewable Electricity Standard while saying that he supports renewable energy.
Sounds exciting right?
Big news for you: this problem will not be solved solely by UN diplomats and progressive politicians. The pressure is definitely on, but this one will require a complete revamping of American culture, the global economy, and our role as citizens. Here’s why:
The ability to do things is called energy—kudos to those in Olin Rice who have figured that out. Currently, the primary source of ability to do things for the global economy and our daily lives are coal, oil, and natural gas. You burn roughly a pound of coal simply by leaving a single incandescent light-bulb on for a day. What about your food? The average American food calorie takes 10 calories of fossil fuel to produce: you need natural gas for fertilizer, oil to run machinery and fuel trucks, and coal for electrical processing. This is insane.
Remember the base of the food web is supposed to be sunlight through photosynthesis. The economy you’re counting on for a job runs on energy; electricity for phones and lights and wires, transport for trans-global shipping and trucking, power for manufacturing, and more. Suburbia, in many ways the heart of the American dream, was built on cheap energy: power for large houses, gas for long commutes. Now factor in energy costs doubling roughly every five years. Running out of oil and gas will take decades, but scarcity pumping up prices is starting now. I won’t even start on the economic impacts of global warming; it does not look promising.
In 2012, the Kyoto Protocol will be over. Europe may or may not have met it. The US is unlikely to have done so, even if it signs on in another two years. None of that is important: Kyoto will be a tiny first step even if it does succeed—it still assumes that to shift the world, you regulate corporations. It’s time for a new framework: to shift the world, the people must participate. Only if we are willing to say “YES, we will act for a solution even if it screws around with our peace and quiet for a few decades” can we reclaim our future. It’s not just solving a problem, it’s redefining our role as participants – claiming global citizenship. We need to build the bridge between daily life and global operation, and we don’t have much time.

The people who run the world have their hands tied on this one. To solve the problem, we need to re-found humanity on modern energy, by which I mean it wasn’t fossilized a hundred million years ago, but instead comes from the sky and the land. Our politicians and global diplomats are still operating in the business as usual economics, politics, and culture. You probably are too.

Game plan: start now. Live efficiently, with sunlight and bicycles, don’t plan for suburbs in your future. Your buddies and neighbors are comrades; talk, plan, think, act – join me in working with citizens outside of Mac. They know how to make this transition, they just don’t believe it can happen yet. Switch your tech: efficiency will save you money as well as your future. Then we go renewable; if we do the first two steps, we will need only 40 percent of the energy we currently use: we can get that easily from the wind, the sun, the land.

I am starting a campaign for a future defined by citizens; it starts in Minnesota, right here, right now; and aims for the global. I am not going to stop, because there are thousands who want it to work, who just don’t act because they can’t believe America will back it up. America is warming up; the movement has been growing exponentially for years.
Do you believe it? This can be a life’s work, or simply a lifestyle—you don’t have to be a crazy activist. Either works; take your pick, but start now.

You believe? Put down this paper and shoot me an e-mail. You can’t wait for this future.