National Geographic : 2015 Nov
before. And one reason for that was that the production of renewable energy—wind and solar and hydropower—is booming in China, as it is in many other countries, because the cost has plummeted. Even Saudi Arabia is bullish on so- lar. “The world is tipping now,” says Hans-Josef Fell, co-author of a law that ignited Germany’s renewable energy boom. It’s the kind of tipping point we want. We’ve seen others. In the past half centu- ry we’ve created a world in which people on average live two decades longer than they did before, in which they cross oceans in a day with barely a thought, in which they communicate instantaneously and globally for barely a penny and carry libraries in the palm of their hand. Fossil fuels helped make it all possible—but by the second half of the 21st century, if a climate disaster is to be averted, we’ll have to be moving forward without them. Anyone who thinks we can’t complete that revolution doesn’t appre- ciate how utterly we’ve already changed the world. Anyone who thinks we won’t choose to complete that revolution—or at least not fast enough—well, that may turn out to be true. We’re on an unprecedented adventure whose outcome can’t be known and whose stakes couldn’t be higher. We’ve lived through other global transformations, but for the first time ever we’re trying to steer one, to secure a more hopeful future for the whole planet. The late novelist E. L. Doctorow once de- scribed his writing process this way: “It’s like driving a car at night—you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Fixing climate change is going to require improvisation like that. We don’t have to be able to see the whole road ahead to a happy end—but we do have to believe that we can get there. That’s what the negotia- tors will be trying to achieve in Paris. They ’ve stopped thinking they can write a treaty that will bind every country to a specific quota for re- ducing emissions. Instead they’re looking for a way to “send a very strong signal to the business sector,” Tubiana says, to “create a self-fulfilling prophecy that the low-carbon economy is hap- pening.” When we look back at 2015 from our warmer future, we’ll know if this was when the prophecy started to come true. —Robert Kunzig the turning point.