paris to pittsburgh

Last week, my church hosted a viewing of the 2018 documentary Paris to Pittsburgh, describing the efforts of cities and states to live up to the environmental standards of The Paris Agreement. You may remember that the Agreement is a worldwide covenant to reduce the harm we are doing to the planet, to try to address the climate crisis. The film is about the efforts of cities and states to live up to Paris, though the U.S. has now withdrawn, courtesy of our narrow-minded president. But watching the film, I was disappointed. really disappointed. These are my thoughts.

Experts have known for more than 7 decades that we are damaging the planet by our emissions. Fresh water is disappearing; major storms, flood and fires are increasing and threatening our livelihoods. Habitat is disappearing for people and animals. Perhaps 9 billion people is more than the planet can sustain, along with dwindling populations of wildlife and the ever-increasing populations of farmed animals. 

This film makes the urgent point that the problem is worse than we thought. In America, our ruling party hates science and is doing its best to take us backward. But there is hope. So the (frustratingly off-point) central theme of the film emerges: “Renewable energy is the greatest economic opportunity of the 21st century.” Renewable energy can create jobs to save dying cities, provide student-debt-free futures for students graduating into high-paying energy jobs, open vocational avenues for former prisoners and gang members, lower operating costs for industries, increase populations of lesser-known towns and villages, lower insurance costs for coastal cities, save families and whole cities on high costs of electricity, lower the costs associated with global hostility and regional instability, and make us all feel hopeful again. And this film goes on to tell us how it can do all that. 

It may save our economy, I would suggest, but what it will not do is save the planet, which becomes clear if we listen to the subtext. Here is what it says, deep into the documentary: If we do all the things this film wants us to do, we just may—may—reach the goals set out in the Paris Climate Accord. But we have to realize: the goal of the Paris Accord is not to reverse the damage we’ve done to the planet. The goal of Paris is to limit to merely double the damage we have already done. Merely double. The global temperature has risen 1 degree Celsius since the industrial revolution; the Paris Accord wants it to rise not more than 1 more degree…

…which may stave off the end of the world, but may also leave us with a world we don’t know how to live in.  

The trailer for the film promised conversation about so many things, but it focused narrowly on renewable energy costs and the damage of fossil fuels and coal. The global climate crisis is so much more broad than that. Energy is a substantial part of the problem. But it is not the only thing. Science tells us it isn’t even the biggest thing. 

A study by the Guardian, a study called “the biggest analysis to date,” and cited in Forbes magazine last June, noted that “researchers concluded that shifting away from meat and dairy is the single most effective way to regenerate our ecosystem and prevent its destruction.” “Livestock production,” it said, “is the single largest contributor of emissions around the globe (more than planes, trains and cars combined). Removing it from our food system could allow the planet to regenerate. Raising animals for food is also the largest contributor to wildlife extinction around the world.” “Even the lowest impact beef” [meaning that family farm every anti-vegan seems to have grown up across the street from] “is responsible for six times more greenhouse gases and (requires) 36 times more land than a plant-based diet.” Fish isn’t the answer, either, the researchers went on, as fish farming produces massive amounts of methane. 

While this film touted in the trailer and promo notes that it includes conversation about food sources and sustainability, there was not one word about a plant-based diet. And total food conversation accounted for less than 1 minute of the 75-minute film. Yes, there is a segment about Iowa, shot partially on a dairy farm. It focused on the way that solar panels can lower the cost of all the machines it takes to produce milk. The farmer noted that farming isn’t a great way to make living, but, he said, “it is a great way to raise a family”—while they showed adorable footage of a young boy bottle-feeding a calf powdered milk, which becomes necessary when you take babies away from their mothers. So, maybe it’s a great way to raise some families. (And by the way, 2500 dairy cows produce the same amount of waste as a city with a population of 400,000 people.)

I have been frustrated for a while with public conversations about climate change, because it has seemed to me that solutions generally range from solar panels to electric cars to better light bulbs, with forays into recycling, outlawing plastic straws and taking our own bags to the grocery. All important things. But not enough. We have a serious problem. And, despite this film’s ongoing theme, our serious problem is not primarily—or even secondarily—about the economy. 

I am no expert and certainly my carbon footprint is something greater than zero. Maybe you’d rather I not bring it up now. Half a solution is better than none, right? No. Not really. The thing is we need serious people to take action, but I don’t believe we do ourselves any favors when we avoid conversation about the single most powerful contribution we make to the problem—the single-most powerful contribution we can make to the solution. 

Greta Thunberg, speaking at the World Economic Forum, said: “I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” 

This is way too important for us to half-ass. 

About Deb Conrad
I’m Deb Conrad, pastor, teacher, photographer, writer, antique-lover, cat-mom, wine-drinker and old-house-seeker. I have a bike by Burley and knees by Stryker. I play guitar marginally, bowl when I can. I live in Flint, Michigan, with previous lives in SC, NJ, PA, MD, Washington DC, TX, CA and KY. I founded and still help run UrbanSpirit, a poverty education center in Louisville (link below), where I meet interesting people and try to do what I can to change the world. I'm pastor of Woodside Church in Flint, a groovy place if ever there was one.

One Response to paris to pittsburgh

  1. Jinny Sutherland says:

    Amen.

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