To save climate, leaders must cut toxic ties with industry

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The most important climate conference of the decade began this week in Paris. Analysts are hopeful that the results will end up being more productive than those from Copenhagen, and more binding than those from Kyoto, as politicians are finally realizing that “business as usual” will mean the destruction of entire ecosystems, coastal towns, and in some cases, countries.

The science is quite clear: Exceeding the two-degree global warming threshold will have catastrophic consequences. At the world's current rate of carbon consumption, we risk a five degree increase in only a matter of decades. Though most of our carbon reserves would be better left permanently underground, world leaders in Paris are challenging the scientific consensus and debating how much carbon we still get to burn. The situation seems unpromising, if not downright depressing.

It seems unproductive, almost baffling, for politicians at a conference intended to save the planet from climate change to focus instead on making the fewest amount of concessions while still maintaining a decent international reputation. Yet that is exactly what politicians arrived in Paris to accomplish.

Politicians, in most cases, represent power more than what they actually possess. And governments tend to represent the power of industry, their symbiotic partner-in-crime, which feeds them the capital they desperately need to function. This pattern will stay fixed unless there is a major social movement to change the game. International treaties pose no threat to the existing structure unless the governments that sign them are driven by the people and not corporate interests.

Chances are that the Paris talks will be more conclusive and binding than previous climate treaties. Chances are also that it will not be enough. The real battle will be fought on college campuses, the streets, and online — anywhere citizens can come together to challenge the conglomeration of government and industry that brought about the climate crisis. Progress will be made as far as it is demanded by the people. The climate movement will have to push harder. Our future as a species depends on it.