The Path Ahead from Paris

February 9, 2016

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

We need to work together to create a “biosphere smart” economy

Paris was an unambiguous endorsement of ecosystem integrity and the need to move beyond fossil fuels. Protecting forests was much discussed and promoting an agricultural systems with carbon rich soil was introduced. That’s really huge – hard to overstate.

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The Paris Agreement alone won’t get us back to healthy blue skies, but Paris’ achievements should be appreciated as a major step forward.

While any of us can (and should) kvetch about what didn’t happen or didn’t happen well enough in Paris, here is a list of some of the positive outcomes that can help inspire the ecological-truth-telling-troops. The Paris Agreement alone won’t get us back to the healthy blue sky (280 ppm) gifted to us by the Holocene time period, but Paris’ achievements should be appreciated as a major step forward together.

  1. In Paris we birthed a global agreement designed to be strengthened: The shift toward a focus on 1.5 degrees Celsius is powerful, and the review of commitments every five years is perhaps the most important development.
  2. Protecting primary forest sinks and restoring other forests featured prominently in the talks.
  3. The groundwork was laid for agroecology and soil carbon solutions. While still not mentioned in this agreement, advocates will work to add soil prominently to the picture. This is currently under discussion in the technical body (SBSTA). The new agreement/system is flexible. A country may choose to do soil carbon conservation and restoration in the farming sector even if it’s not in the agreement. However, they must be transparent and show the reductions. There was also broad agreement on the need to move beyond fossil fuels, but fossil fuel elimination is not all we need. Many put forth a more holistic package.
    The emergent “Soil/Forest/Climate Coalition” will be a significant force at all future global climate meetings.
  4. UN Secretary General said: good global solutions help with good local solutions. Both were showcased at the talks.
  5. Reducing ecologically perverse subsidies was prominent and will help get us to a true cost economy.
  6. Nearly 200 country leaders assembled to take a moderately unified stance on global ecological issues. The atmosphere between countries was the best it has been in many years.
  7. The list of tragically unwise climate deniers is whittling down. In the US, anti-nature attitudes are primarily focused on the radical Republicans in Congress, a few of their big funders, and a few Blue Dog Democrats. The bulk of the American people back strong action, and that counts.


Beyond this Agreement:

We need to remember, climate change is not really “the” problem. Climate change is a result of something else bad that is happening. Climate change is a symptom of a gigantic and tragically designed economy.

The main culprit is the industrial economy. This capital growth-oriented economic system fosters the wrong technologies, wrong lifestyle, and wrong worldview. It kills the cathedral forests, the mighty oceans, and the blue sky – threatening much of life on earth. The economy’s mining, manufacturing, advertising, and high-finance captains disregard the ecological consequences of their powerful technologies. Locked into to a global economic system, most regular folks are led astray, while just hoping to get by. Simply put, the global economy’s very design disregards massive ecological impacts (pollution externalities). Coupled with outrageous financial greed and power, the unsustainable industrial economy shows a profound lack of reverence for the spirit of nature and life itself. This is not a wise path.

This is half the story. This is what must be stopped. It is not the better system we seek to achieve. Our movement seeks the health and livability of the whole planet – land, air, and sea. We want this for all people and the entire web of life. Over geologic time our planet’s earth systems evolved to nourish all life. We, as living breathing animals, are embedded in this great system. The human economy needs to support dignified lives for all. First, a better economic system will no longer hide or allow pollution externalities. Second, it must clearly honor nature’s carrying capacity limits in all nine of the key earth systems. Not polluting and staying within limits are two pillars of a biosphere smart economy, one that will protect and restore damaged earth systems. Working together to build a biosphere smart economy will also help us achieve many other humanistic objectives for a socially just world. This is the wise path that we need to take.

The Way Ahead:

We have to keep working to shift the frame of this final battle to include the polluting industrial economy as a root problem. Emphasize that the solution is to build a biosphere-smart earth system-based economy, which will get us to the ultimate goal of a healthy planet.

Guard against technology’s unanticipated consequences. Seek vibrant, dignified, low impact lifestyles for all. Birth rates must fall. To help return humanity to our world’s limits, there needs to be many fewer of us.

  1. Name the economic system root problem loudly and clearly.Call on all to work feverishly to stop this irresponsible out-of-control economic system that primarily feeds the accounts of the already ultra-rich.
  2. Demand a biosphere-smart global society that fosters humanity’s higher instincts of compassion and camaraderie. The wondrous web of animals, plants, and healthy soil microbes needs much more habitat and we need their kindness to survive and thrive. We need a world with large wild places interconnected to each other.

Randy Hayes

founder Rainforest Action Network, works from the U.S. as the USA Director at the World Future Council. Based in Hamburg, Germany, the World Future Council is a global forum composed of 50 respected individuals from around the world championing the rights of future generations and working to ensure that humanity acts now for a sustainable future. Hayes, a filmmaker in the 1980s, is a veteran of many high-visibility corporate accountability campaigns and has advocated for the rights of Indigenous peoples throughout the world. He served for five years as president of the City of San Francisco Commission on the Environment, and for two-and-a-half years as director of sustainability in the office of Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown. He also spent four years working at the International Forum on Globalization, a San Francisco-based think tank tasked with analyzing the cultural, social, political and environmental impacts of economic globalization. Randy sits on eight non-profit Boards of Directors and numerous Boards of Advisors including the Academic Advisory Board of the Presidio School of Management’s green MBA program. Hayes has a Master’s degree in Environmental Planning from San Francisco State University (Inducted in Alumni Hall of Fame scheduled May 2010).  His master’s thesis, the award-winning film The Four Corners, won the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award for “Best Student Documentary” in 1983. He contributed to Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Better World is Possible, published by San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., in 2004. Not satisfied with short-term thinking, his 500-year plan offers a vision of a sustainable society and how to get there. His corporate campaign activist peers honored Randy Hayes in 2008 with an Individual Achievement Award, given by the Business Ethics Network. Additionally he was one of the original set of inductees in the Environmental Hall of Fame. Randy Hayes has been described in theWall Street Journal as “an environmental pit bull.”

Tags: climate change, COP21 agreement, industrial economy, new economy, powering down