Dealing with climate change can be intimidating, he said, but stranger things have happened. If we can take the global economy off its dependence on the slave trade, for example, we can surely do the same with fossil fuels.
For most of human history, it was thought that slavery was an inevitable piece of society. After all, it had been with us since before biblical times and was essential for much of the global economy.
But by the early 19th century, a few individuals in Britain began questioning the institution of slavery. Working on the local level at first, they slowly but surely became activists whose personal objections became woven into a broader movement. Their journey, Sterman said, wasn’t easy:
They had many setbacks along the way. The first few years, nothing happened at all.
After many more years, they finally got to the point where a bill was introduced into Parliament to abolish the slave trade. It was defeated after an extensive greenwashing and lobbying campaign by the planters and the slavers.
They brought it up the following year and it was defeated again.
They did not give up. They did not say, “Well, ‘mitigation’ is impossible! We can’t end slavery—it’s always existed and it ways will—let’s focus on ‘adaptation.’ Let’s focus on improving the conditions on those horrifying slave ships! Let’s focus on putting some regulations into the cane fields in Jamaica so that slaveowners will stop beating and whipping and raping their slaves! That’s gonna make things better!”
They did not do that. They kept their eyes on the prize. They continued to work for mitigation and they won.
“If we can do that, we can find ways to get off of fossil fuel,” Sterman said in closing. “We can do it. But will we? That’s not clear.”
The answer to that question depends on us and whether we can, as Sterman puts it, “keep [our] eyes on the prize.”