That irritating Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, a sharp critic of empty posturing on climate change, aptly summed up the recent Glasgow COP26 international climate crisis confab: “Blah, blah, blah.”
The elephant in Glasgow labored mightily — and brought forth a mouse. Once again.
Thunberg and her cohorts — 100,000 of whom reportedly showed up to protest against climate inaction — justifiably are irritated. As anyone should be who may live to see 2100 A.D.
If we continue to confront climate change at this half-hearted, half-witted pace, by 2100 prospects for civilized human life on Earth promise to be … difficult.
Here’s the thing: We have succeeded in unmooring the climate/weather machinery that has allowed homo sapiens to thrive on this planet.
Now it’s really only a question of how much more unmoored, and destructive, we wish these systems to become. Or, if you like, of how little we care about continuing to live comfortably, and relatively cheaply, on Earth.
That are we willing to pay today to minimize death and damage from a more wildly unstable climate tomorrow?
Not much, came the answer from the Glasgow gabfest. The evidence says we prefer to endure a worst-case scenario rather than minimizing suffering.
Which is one definition of insanity.
As New York Times columnist Thomas Freidman pithily remarked about widespread climate change hypocrisy: “Everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die.”
Please, no sacrifices.
Long waits for action
So, as the world increasingly heats, floods, dries up and burns while our leaders twiddle and temporize, whatever shall we be thankful for in the wake of the pitiful showing in Glasgow?
Must we be satisfied with the news that for the first time, the climate agreement dares to print the hitherto unspeakable words “fossil fuels” next to “global warming”?
Though not in the service of urging phase-out oil and gas, heaven forfend. That’s a bridge way too far for the Oil Patch oligarchy that owns so many of “our” lawmakers.
Instead we’re asked to celebrate that coal-dependent, but sunshine-rich, India finally has agreed to come to the net-zero fossil fuel emissions reduction party. In … oh … 2070. Mighty China plans to marshal its famously can-do citizenry to reach net zero carbon emissions by … 2060. India and China insisted that coal use be “phased down,” not “phased out.”
Seriously, guys. Is this all you’ve got?
Or should we just applaud that for the first time, nations delicately are being urged to stop forcing their taxpayers to subsidize fossil fuels, the very things wrecking the planet?
Each year taxpayers worldwide contribute an astounding $423 billion to prop up the same industries that are leading the world to ruination, according to the United Nations Development Programme. American taxpayers donate $20 billion annually in direct subsidies to our abjectly impoverished oil, gas and coal companies.
“This is the definition of insanity,” announced John Kerry, former Secretary of State and chief U.S. climate envoy. It’s like dinosaurs subsidizing meteors, warned a talking dinosaur in a UN video.
What would happen if this $423 billion instead were redirected into worldwide efforts to speed up development and adoption of climate friendly energy sources?
My guess is that it would give us a good chance to win a race that we’ve set ourselves up to lose.
Shamefully, the Glasgow Climate Pact negotiators failed to agree to limit the global temperature rise to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-Industrial Revolution norms, as the 2015 Paris climate accord prescribed.
Instead, we’re on track for a whopping 4.5 degrees F. average rise in global temperature since the Industrial Revolution. (Since then, it’s already risen 1.9 degrees F.)
“We’re all well aware that, collectively, our climate ambition and action to date have fallen short on the promises made in Paris,” confessed COP26 president Alok Sharma.
Continuing on today’s carbon emissions trajectory means a global sea level rise of at least 2 feet and nearly half the world population facing recurring, life-threatening heat waves, plus ice sheet loss, permafrost thaw and irreversible ecosystem collapse, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Not to mention agricultural and food supply collapse, failed economies, mass migrations and social unrest.
Your basic ungovernable dystopia, in other words.
Six years ago, we rich nations that have burned most of the climate-destabilizing fossil fuels pledged during climate negotiations to pay $100,000 billion annually to poor nations that hadn’t. So far hardly anyone has paid anyone anything.
That money was supposed to help poorer or drowning island nations cope with climate change. But if rich nations continue on their deadbeat course, the lack of funding for these poorer nations means global warming will rise even more, to 4.9 degrees F.
One thing does offer hope for a swifter, better outcome than this unworthy COP26 effort. For the first time since the climate summits began, the delegates will return to negotiations the following year, not five years later.
Unprecedented worldwide weather calamities since delegates met in 2015 have changed the conversation. More of us have actually experienced some of what awaits if we continue our fossil fueled ways. Urgency about ever more dangerous, unpredictable, bankrupting climate malfunction is hitting home everywhere on this fragile globe.
If the ever-growing army of worldwide climate change victims make their irritation clear to their feckless national leaders, might these “leaders” next year find the courage to cowboy up and actually address the climate crisis?
Solveig Torvik lives near Winthrop.