As a United Nations panel reported last fall, humanity is facing a ticking clock to severely cut carbon emissions to prevent catastrophic effects of global climate change.
At the Sun Valley Forum in Ketchum on Tuesday, speakers addressed what needs to happen between now and when that countdown clock expires in 2030, and beyond.
The forum is held annually and organized by the Sun Valley Institute. This year’s event was held at the Argyros Performing Arts Center, the Limelight Hotel and Forest Service Park. The forum started Tuesday and concludes Friday.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report found that human-caused atmospheric carbon dioxide must decrease by 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.
That’s a tall order in a short period of time, but one of the forum’s keynote speakers, filmmaker Louie Psihoyos, noted how quickly sweeping change can happen in the U.S.
He showed his audience a photo of a busy street in a metropolitan city in the U.S. in the early 20th century, when it was clogged with horse-drawn carriages and only one automobile was in sight. Next, he showed a photo of the same street 10 years later, when it was clogged with automobile traffic and only one horse-drawn carriage was visible.
“If you’re in the environmental realm, there’s a lot of darkness right now,” said Psihoyos, who is executive director of the Oceanic Preservation Society. “Change happens very fast. Technology happens in about 10-year increments.”
Psihoyos said film is an influential medium for communicating the necessary changes to the public. His films include “The Cove” and “Racing Extinction.” He said filmmakers are misusing their opportunities to communicate to a captive audience.
“Film is the most powerful weapon,” Psihoyos said. “We have 90 minutes to change their minds and hearts.”
Martin Chungong, secretary-general of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, followed Psihoyos and said legislative bodies like Congress and parliaments must do more to reflect their changing constituencies and societal priorities on environmental protection.
He said the public perception of lawmakers is frequently overwhelmingly negative.
“Ask a person on the street, ‘What’s a legislature? What’s Congress?” Chungong said. “It’s a group of self-serving, corrupt individuals. Parliaments should be delivering on the aspirations of the people.”
He said the representation in legislative bodies must be diverse, and the lawmakers themselves must strive to be transparent and accessible or they risk losing public trust. That requires more women leaders and more involvement of young people in the political process and legislative bodies.
“We are talking of an institution that has to be representative of society as a whole,” Chungong said. “It is not an institution that lives in an ivory tower. There is a clear correlation between representation and trust in democracy.”
Jennifer Morris, president of Conservation International, said the next 11 years will require working in collaboration with nature, rather in opposition. She said even cutting carbon emissions from fossil fuel consumption to zero next year would not achieve the reductions identified in the Paris climate accord, because it doesn’t address land use and land conversion such as deforestation. That means protecting and restoring forests, mangroves, peatlands and the ocean.
“We need those big ideas,” Morris said. “The IPCC report, it didn’t really tell us anything new. It put us on a countdown clock. What’s brilliant about a crisis is that it focuses the human mind.”
Justin Winters, executive director of One Earth, said severe impacts are already reverberating around the globe from just 1 degree Celsius of warming. The effects are worse than originally predicted, she said. Reaching 2 degrees of warming would result in 3-10 feet of sea level rise, permanent drought in a quarter of the world and displacement of millions of people.
“This is not the future we want,” Winters told the audience.
She said targets set forth in the Paris Agreement are not sufficient to sustain life in the future. Her group has three goals to achieve by 2050: 100 percent renewable energy, 50 percent of ecosystems, restored, protected and connected, and zero emissions from agriculture.
“Put nature at the center of solving the climate crisis,” Winters said. “We can make transformation action occur quickly. Traditional conservation measures are not enough. All of you were born into this time because you are the transformation.”