CLIMATE CHANGE: Anyone Can Change Everything
Dr. Joe MacInnis
Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society®
42nd Annual Awards Program
New York Yacht Club
April 16, 2016
IT’S AN HONOUR to be in your company. Each one of you from Rolex Scholar to intern, from supporter to sponsor, confirm what can be done when good people do small things with great love.
A month ago, Jim Corry and Lionel Schürch of Rolex SA in Geneva asked me to talk to you for ten minutes about climate change. My heart sank. How do you describe the planet’s most pressing environmental problem—a biological crime scene—and our response to it—in 600 seconds? Faced with the possibility of certain defeat on this stage, I did what any ancient diver would do. I sat down and opened a bottle of black rum.
As the days passed and my anxiety increased, I kept thinking of the words from the Rolex Spirit of Enterprise mission statement: “Anyone can change everything.” An electric call to action. “Anyone can change everything.” But, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to use the words in my speech.
Two weeks ago, I’m in a service station filling my Toyota Prius. I put my credit card into the slot and look at all the cars and trucks. Black Cadillac. Ford Fusion. Big Hummer. An 18-wheeler sucking up diesel fuel. This is a front-line of climate change. This is where energy-intense carbon molecules really hit the road.
I ease the nozzle into my gas tank. During my lifetime, I’ve done this more than a thousand times. When you factor in all the ships, trains, and planes I’ve taken, I’m a poster boy for global warming. On the plus side, I’m a nation builder. My fossil fuel payments support the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
As the gas runs into the tank, my mind drifts to New York, this stage, and the speech I can’t write. I think of rising sea levels in Manhattan. There will be water taxis on Wall Street. Wind surfing on Park Avenue. At the New York City Yacht Club, you’ll go to the front door, walk out on a pier, and hail a yellow gondola.
I look at the cash window on the gas pump: $10 . . . $12 . . . $15. I’m more than a poster boy for climate change, I’m a carbon addict. Every day, in one form or another, I mainline diesel fuel, jet fuel, natural gas, and plastics. For years, I thought ExxonMobil and Volkswagen were ethical companies. I know I need help.
I pick up my receipt, slide behind the wheel, and drive off. The good news is that I’m in rehab. I have weekly sessions with my fellow addicts. We tell stories of binging on tail-pipe emissions at the Indy 500. People we know buying mega-stretch Hummers with a helicopter pad. But we exchange encouraging information. How 150 nations came together in Paris to sign a climate change agreement. How cities from New York to San Francisco to Toronto are shifting to green energy. How inspiring institutions and individuals including World Wild Life, Greenpeace, Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, and Justin Gillis are showing us what we can do.
My rehab assignment this week is to produce a short guide about climate change, and how we can adapt to it. With Rolex’s assistance, we have printed copies for each of you. Please read it. Absorb it. Pass it along. Take action. And remember . . . When it comes to minimizing the effects of climate change…with leadership and passion, “anyone can change everything.” Thank you, Jim and Lionel. It’s been a pleasure speaking to you.