Those old enough to remember – but young and vibrant enough to still have a memory of things past – may recall with longing the phrase “TW3.”

That Was The Week That Was.

It was an early 60s satirical BBC television program, and for two years an American counterpart, both hosted by David Frost.

The “TW3” acronym came to mind most recently in my being absorbed, as were so many other Americans at least via their television screens or their social media of choice, by the events first in Washington, D.C., and then in New York City and Philadelphia.

I refer of course to Pope Francis and his extraordinary series of comments, gestures, presentations, tiny Fiat, and more during his first-ever visit to the U.S., both as a human being and as the Pope.

Think of it as “TWc3” – That Was the Climate Week That Was.

In reality, it was more than a week, this particular period leading up to the important December international climate negotiations in Paris. It’s fair too to point out that the Pope’s exceptional time in the U.S. made it “the week” for things beyond climate change.

But there’s no doubt that it set a tone. A tone in which the “Big Mo” – momentum –  for now at least is strongly on the side of the Paris negotiations’ potentially leading to meaningful international action to address human-caused climate change.

That’s a long way from suggesting that the ultimate outcome of the critical December meetings will be “enough” to hold-off the harmful impacts long projected by the science community. Nor is it reason to be confident that the Paris negotiations for sure will lead to a level of continuous progress  that the underlying science dictates is needed.

Optimistic? Maybe. But confident? Not so fast.

But it is a step, and an important one: A major global step in what inevitably must be a prolonged effort. Without the first step and countless successive ones . . . then what?

Think of the various events leading up to this “Big Mo” over just the past several weeks, keeping in mind the earlier agreement between the U.S. and China that in December 2014 clearly set things in motion:

  • Among Pope Francis’s earliest words on arriving in the U.S. September 22 were his references the next day at the White House urging meaningful action to address climate change. It was an emphasis he carried throughout his visit.
  • The Pope’s velvet-gloves reprimand to the joint session of the U.S. Congress on September 24 reiterated points he had made this past June in the Laudato Si papal encyclical. Without using the words “global warming” or “climate change,” he made clear to U.S. congressional and executive branch and other government officials – oddly missing three conservative Catholic members of the U.S. Supreme Court (Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas) – that the time is now to avoid handing-off to our children and grandchildren a far less hospitable planet. That he delivered his compelling message without angering or humiliating those science-doubting congressional members may made his remarks all the more powerful.
  • Addressing global leaders the next day at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, Pope Francis didn’t skip a beat in his call for climate action now. Seldom in recent experience has U.S. mass media attention focused so directly – and so favorably – on one individual, much less than on one overriding climate message.

While Pope Francis’s U.S. visit and climate emphasis deserves much of the credit for the climate action momentum many now feel, the remarkable thing about the “climate week that was” lies in what one might call the supporting roles. Keeping in mind that the “week” here goes beyond just the strict calendar definition, consider that:

  • With the Pope having scarcely left the Capitol and the Capital, Chinese President Xi Jinping came to the White House and, among other things, announced a major new cap-and-trade carbon approach for the first time putting a cost on carbon emissions for Chinese industries. That international parties at odds on many counts can come together on climate change says a lot.
  • All of this was happening as the newly crowned world’s largest automaker, Volkswagen of Germany, was severely rattled by exposure of, and its confession to, deliberate and scandalous cheating on emissions testing of millions of its diesel-powered vehicles sold in the U.S. and elsewhere. Think it’s not a climate change story per se? Think it’s not an element in the American and global publics’ attitudes toward corporate responsibility? Think again.
  • Adding to the momentum over the past few days are the mere glimmers that the Republican party’s near-death grip resistance to climate change science and action may, like Greenland’s land ice, itself be thawing and melting away. It’s started with rumblings by a few GOP members in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives that there might be something to all this climate concern in the first place. It continued with reports of survey findings from Republican-backed pollsters that the party’s leaders may be out of sync with many of their party’s rank-and file on climate change issues, including those identifying themselves as conservatives.
  • Can’t ignore the “landfill salad” chef-works prepared for national leaders at the U.N. General Assembly meeting to highlight the food waste/climate connection.

Amid this “long climate week” of big-mo developments came, one must note, news of the death of the iconic Yankee catcher Yogi Berra. How does that news factor-in to all this climate discussion? Think of just two of his “Yogi-isms” in the context of the upcoming and time-sensitive December climate talks in Paris and the need for action there:

  • “It gets late early out here.”
  • “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

None of which means that a slam-dunk set of meaningful, measurable, and enforceable global actions now appears a sure thing in Paris in December. Even less, as a timely new study has cautioned, that the actions coming out of Paris are likely to be sufficient to avoid harmful impacts from the ongoing warming.

But where there’s momentum, there’s at least potential. Albeit, as poet Robert Frost cautioned, “and miles to go before we sleep.”

That momentum likely will crest and wain over the coming weeks leading up to the start of the Paris negotiations, and there surely are more obstacles to be overcome in reaching meaningful global commitments than there are clear pathways to progress.

But take heart. Think how things would feel now if all the momentum were in the opposite direction. For now, at least, that isn’t the case.

Thinking back to the late David Frost and his “TW3” brings to mind the late great Walter Cronkite of CBS News fame. He might end this column, as he did each of his CBS News broadcast, by simply saying:
“And that’s the way it is.”

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