We Could Have Saved Ourselves, but We Didn’t

"We could have saved ourselves, but we didn’t. It’s amazing. What state of mind were we in, to face extinction and simply shrug it off?" So says an archivist from the year 2055 in a world ravaged by climate change as portrayed in the recently premiered film The Age of Stupid. On 21 and 22 September The Age of Stupid appeared on over 700 screens in more than 50 countries around the world in yet another urgent appeal to world leaders to take decisive action against climate change.

Wild at Heart along with the British Trade & Cultural Office organized and hosted Taipei’s screening of the film with a turnout of over 500 including representatives sent from Taiwan’s National Security Council, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, National Forest Service, Central Weather Bureau, and National Research Institute.

Beginning in the grim post-apocalyptic world of 2055, the archivist reflects on human history leading up to the critical moment when we knew the dangers we were facing, knew we were capable of addressing them, and then let the moment slip past, dooming ourselves to a drastically altered world, not nearly so suitable for the survival of humans and the other species that evolved alongside us. Massive over-exploitation of oil and other fossil fuels, consumerism, denial, stubbornness, entrenched interests, and ignorance are all implicated as complicit in the demise of human civilization. Luckily it is only 2009 and we still have time to ensure a more pleasant future for ourselves and future generations. But time is very short.

For the past several years all major scientific bodies in the world including the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, major National Academies of Sciences, and other prestigious scientific associations have all been reporting that the climate is changing, human greenhouse gas emissions are largely to blame, and humanity must reduce these emissions to avert devastating climatic shifts. Governments and political leaders have been slow to respond, but as the gravity of the threat becomes ever clearer, momentum is building, and a breakthrough may be at hand.

The September 22 Global Premier of The Age of Stupid coincided with the convening of the UN Summit on Climate Change, attended by nearly 100 world leaders. The objective of the summit as stated by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was to "mobilize the political will and vision needed to reach an ambitious agreed outcome based on science at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen." The critical moment occurs at the end of this year from 7 to 18 December at the International Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. During this conference world governments will come together to create a climate change mitigation and adaptation strategy that will come into force after the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol at the end of 2012. The agreement they create must be more ambitious and more serious than any international agreement that has come before it, and the scale of the necessary concerted action is beyond anything humanity has ever attempted.

Despite Taiwan's ambiguous international status and limited involvement in international bodies, Taiwan can and should play a major role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Taiwan’s annual per capita CO2 emissions from combustion of fossil fuels are currently about 13 metric tons annually compared to a global average of about 4.5. Taiwan’s heavy industries including petroleum refining and plastics, steel production, and fossil fuel dependent electricity generation are responsible for over half of all emissions.

To successfully reduce these emissions we need to show our governments that we are alarmed at the threat of climate change and demand a decisive response. In these last crucial months we should take both personal and public actions to demonstrate our awareness and alarm. If humanity is to transition to a low carbon lifestyle, our habits and expectations must change. In the words of Yann Arthus-Bertrand, the French photographer and a 2009 Time magazine hero of the environment, "We [in high-consuming societies] have to live with less. Less food, less meat, less fuel, less shopping."

So don’t wait for the change to happen, be the change yourself! There is no better or more-important time to start biking or using public transport, stop buying so much unnecessary junk, eating more healthily, and being conscientious about energy consumption. There are also several public events coming up where we can demonstrate en masse that we no longer will tolerate inaction on climate change. In Taipei 350.org is holding a rally on Saturday 24 October at 4pm in Xinyi District. If you’re not in Taipei, look up a local action near you or start one yourself. Other events include:

Green activism in the 'Age of Stupid' (The China Post)