Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Topics: Global Warming
It is now clear that we face a deepening global climate crisis that requires us to act boldly, quickly and wisely. “Global warming” is the name it was given a long time ago. But it should be understood for what it is: a planetary emergency that now threatens human civilization on multiple fronts. Stronger hurricanes and typhoons represent only one of many new dangers as we begin what someone has called “a nature hike through the Book of Revelation.”
As I write, my heart is heavy due to the suffering the people of the Gulf Coast have endured. In Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, and particularly in New Orleans, thousands have experienced losses beyond measure as our nation and the world witnessed scenes many of us thought we would never see in this great country. But unless we act quickly, this suffering will be but a beginning.
The science is extremely clear: Global warming may not affect the frequency of hurricanes, but it makes the average hurricane stronger, magnifying its destructive power. In the years ahead, there will be more storms like Katrina, unless we change course. Indeed, we have had two more Category 5 storms since Katrina — including Wilma, which before landfall was the strongest hurricane ever measured in the Atlantic.
We know that hurricanes are heat engines that thrive on warm water. We know that heat-trapping gases from our industrial society are warming the oceans. We know that, in the past 30 years, the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes globally has almost doubled. It’s time to connect the dots:
All of these are symptoms of a deeper crisis: the “Category 5″ collision between our civilization — as we currently pursue it — and the Earth’s environment.
Sixty years ago, Winston Churchill wrote about another kind of gathering storm. When Neville Chamberlain tried to wish that threat away with appeasement, Churchill said, “This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste, of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year — unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigor, we rise again and take our stand for freedom.”
For more than 15 years, the international community has conducted a massive program to assemble the most accurate scientific assessment on global warming. Two thousand scientists, in a hundred countries, have produced the most elaborate, well-organized scientific collaboration in the history of humankind and have reached a consensus as strong as it ever gets in science. As Bill McKibben points out, there is no longer any credible basis to doubt that the Earth’s atmosphere is warming because of human activities. There is no longer any credible basis to doubt that we face a string of terrible catastrophes unless we prepare ourselves and deal with the underlying causes of global warming.
Scientists around the world are sounding a clear and urgent warning. Global warming is real, it is already under way and the consequences are totally unacceptable.
Why is this happening? Because the relationship between humankind and the Earth has been utterly transformed. To begin with, we have quadrupled the population of our planet in the past hundred years. And secondly, the power of the technologies now at our disposal vastly magnifies the impact each individual can have on the natural world. Multiply that by six and a half billion people, and then stir into that toxic mixture a mind-set and an attitude that say it’s OK to ignore scientific evidence — that we don’t have to take responsibility for the future consequences of present actions — and you get this violent and destructive collision between our civilization and the Earth.
There are those who say that we can’t solve this problem — that it’s too big or too complicated or beyond the capacity of political systems to grasp.
To those who say this problem is too difficult, I say that we have accepted and met such challenges in the past. We declared our liberty, and then won it. We designed a country that respected and safeguarded the freedom of individuals. We abolished slavery. We gave women the right to vote. We took on Jim Crow and segregation. We cured fearsome diseases, landed on the moon, won two wars simultaneously — in the Pacific and in Europe. We brought down communism, we defeated apartheid. We have even solved a global environmental crisis before: the hole in the stratospheric ozone layer.
So there should be no doubt that we can solve this crisis too. We must seize the opportunities presented by renewable energy, by conservation and efficiency, by some of the harder but exceedingly important challenges such as carbon capture and sequestration. The technologies to solve the global-warming problem exist, if we have the determination and wisdom to use them.
But there is no time to wait. In the 1930s, Winston Churchill also wrote of those leaders who refused to acknowledge the clear and present danger: “They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent. The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences.”
With Hurricane Katrina, the melting of the Arctic ice cap and careless ecological mayhem, we, too, are entering a period of consequences. This is a moral moment. This is not ultimately about any scientific debate or political dialogue. Ultimately it is about who we are as human beings. It is about our capacity to transcend our own limitations.
The men and women honored as warriors and heroes have risen to this new occasion. On the surface, they share little in common: scientists, ministers, students, politicians, activists, lawyers, celebrities, inventors, world leaders. But each of them recognized the threat that climate change poses to the planet — and responded by taking immediate action to stop it. Their stories should inspire and encourage us to see with our hearts, as well as our heads, the unprecedented response that is now called for.
As these heroes demonstrate, we have everything we need to face this urgent challenge. All it takes is political will. And in our democracy, political will is a renewable resource.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)