Sustainability in the early part of the 21st century

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It is hard to take yourself back to a time before you were alive. But that is what you must do to understand the world as it was then. To understand that there were gaping holes in our understanding of the world and of ourselves. It is hard to imagine the extent of these knowledge gaps; gaps that would, in time, be filled rather quickly and suddenly during a period of history that is today familiar around the globe.

In 2016, there was no true global consciousness around sustainability, let alone a United Council of Continents. There had been no Nigerian Revolution. No Walk on Wall Street. The unrelenting Climate Calamities of the second half of the 21st century were still unimaginable, in everything but science fiction. The Pacific Pirates would not become global anti-heroes for another 110 years.

Of course, as you know, by 2008, humans were no longer unaware of what they at the time called climate change. Scientists had shown that the world was warming and that humans were causing massive ecological change across Earth. They had even begun to understand the potentially compounding nature of global warming – the idea that there may be a tipping point from which a full return to normal life would take centuries.

But you have to work to imagine what life was like then. This was the dawn of the age of cell phones and personal computers. Personal automobiles were still ubiquitous and were in fact increasing in number. People laughed at television personalities known as political comedians. Landfills – giant masses of unrecycled consumer products – littered rural land and even floated in oceans. Massive planes and trucks the lengths of warships frantically paced back and forth, carrying simple commodities like fruits and vegetables thousands of miles to all corners of the globe, and spewing unthinkable and unnecessary tons of carbon. Microfarming would have been unheard of at the time.

You have to understand the world was still under the Capitalist regime.

You have to understand that there were still people who believed the warming of Earth was not real. You have to remember. This was the time of 9/11, not the time of the Climate Calamities. Poverty was an important issue, but very few saw its connection to climate and to humans’ relationship with earth. You have to understand, in 2016, a man by the name of Donald Trump was running for President, and he wanted to build walls and towers and war and he did not care about the Earth becoming warmer and this was not abnormal. You have to understand, this was a time of nationalism and consumer anxiety. Some called it the age of social media, where people competed, at the cost of our ecosystem, to out consume one another. This was a time when those in the West could get anything delivered to their homes at the stroke of a computer key (yes, they still had computer keys, then) and those in the East were moving in the same direction. This was before the Great Convening and before people had learned to sacrifice.

You have to understand, this was a time of unabashed, ignorant bliss.

Was there anyone who had even started to comprehend the impending problems that would plague the second half of the century? Absolutely. Known as Climate Justicers (some historians believe they called themselves the Climate Justice movement), these activists across the world aimed to show humanity the nature of its destructive force. They foresaw a world in which a global, grassroots (what we would call stone-toes), sustainable conscious would arise and upend capitalism. They knew that the only viable path was to immediately end the consumption of fossil fuels, to provide reparations to the developing world, and to learn to live within our ecological means.

Climate Justicers in the early 21st century led a valiant worldwide campaign that actually received a fair amount of attention at the time, especially considering the economic and political context under which it was waged. Their demands – to immediately slash emissions, to ensure harmony with nature, to reject commodification of nature and carbon, and to commit substantial resources to addressing climate change – were seen at the time as extravagant. They were, in fact, remarkably close to what we now know would have been necessary to prevent what has taken place. Unfortunately, Climate Justicers were mostly quieted by global powers that made only cursory (though some at the time believed them to be significant) attempts at addressing climate change.

By 2020, five years after COP 21 (held in Paris), some hoped that a significant paradigm shift had occurred. People believed a synergy had developed between national leaders’ top down approach to solving climate change the Climate Justicers simultaneous bottom-up approach. In some ways, that was true. However, with the extent of the problem still unrealized, the solutions they attempted simply did not mend their problems quickly enough.

However, from that period of time came one critical and forward thinking change that would inform many of the global reforms you see today. Namely, city planners began to envision (and sometimes even came close to creating) “sustainable cities.” Almost all of the staples of our modern cities – regulations that limit sprawl, buildings that self-regulate temperature through zero-energy means, hyper-localized food systems, distributed energy, household waste and water recycle systems, tiered housing rates, community spaces that substitute for personal space – began to surface in the early 21st century. Indeed, during this time of rollicking capitalism and relative climate myopia, a sneakily ardent combination of government leaders, Climate Justice heroes, and creative city planners managed to plant the seeds of the global sustainability you see today.