In 1979, when I was a senior in high school, the “energy crisis” had descended on us, an insightful few were starting to talk openly about global warming, and the first World Climate Conference took place. By 1981, it was with resolve that I started to work on climate-related issues, although I didn’t know at the time I was focused on what was an emerging existential crisis. I certainly didn’t refer to my efforts as “helping to address climate change.” I was void of any unique clairvoyant vision that there would be dozens of global climate gatherings, a Paris Agreement of 2015, or something called COP. It’s more like a life-purpose was emerging, leading me to Glasgow and COP26.
My ongoing efforts and concerns regarding climate change are altruistic – protection of the living Earth as we know it. My impatience has grown exponentially, too, because of my self-centered concern for the world in which my daughter and two grandchildren will live.
The Haudenosaunee people, the original inhabitants and stewards of the place I call home in upstate New York, and some of the first people globally to promote sustainability starting centuries ago, teach us to be attentive to seven generations. This is not just about those who have come before, but I argue – most importantly – those yet to come. As National Public Radio reported recently during their coverage building up to COP26, young people around the globe increasingly are losing hope that we will make the needed progress in protecting future generations of the Earth’s awesome living creatures.
Yet humanity has had a snail’s pace of response toward addressing climate change. Specifically, the pendulum of policy change I’ve seen in my decades of professional engagement on this issue is slow. I’m troubled about our collective inability to effectively engage climate deniers, and I’m equally anxious about what I see is a growing divide, with scientists and science driven to the sideline, also slowing the pendulum of policy change. Members of the academic community, including me, have some responsibility for this.
Why do I want to attend COP 26? I want to learn new ways to communicate, and if provided the opportunity, help focus attention at the nexus of policy, communication, and science, with the goal of accelerated change. Policies that can’t withstand the changing political wind, and an overfocus on education targeting individual choices – while both important – will not save the day. It’s cliched, but we are in dire need of a paradigm shift in how we, collectively, are pressing forward with solutions. Time does not afford us the luxury of extended, contemplative action. To move the planet forward, we need to deliberatively embrace impatience.
About the author:
Mark Lichtenstein, who is attending COP26, is the Executive Operating Officer, Chief of Staff, and Chief Sustainability Officer at the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry, where he also teaches sustainability. He is an associate in the Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School, led Syracuse’s Center for Sustainable Community Solutions and Environmental Finance Center, served as an expert witness to the federal Environmental Finance Advisory Board and is a member of the National Roster of Environmental Conflict Resolution Professionals. He is an honorary board member of the National Recycling Coalition and served eight terms as president/CEO. He led the first national Sustainable Materials Management Summit focused on the Circular Economy and traded the first recyclables through the Chicago Board of Trade. He has been engaged with regenerative efforts throughout the Americas.
Editor's note: Please check back every day, leading up to the beginning of COP26 on Oct. 31, for new pieces from climate leaders in the Planet Forward network.