The supposed good news is that almost all of the 196 nations on Earth agreed last week on how to save our planet from meltdown.
The bad news is that most countries won’t honour their individual agreements, and collectively they won’t save the planet.
We know the problems.
Since 1900, the number of parts of CO2 per million units of air has risen from 300 to 400. Average global temperature per year has risen one degree celsius. Another one degree will raise sea levels about two metres.
Heating up land and sea also changes weather in dramatic ways. Storms and droughts, hurricanes and floods are happening more often in more places on Earth, and they will get worse.
The basic Paris agreement is to cut carbon emissions to keep the global temperature rise ‘well below 2°C’ above pre-industrial levels, which will require immediate slashing of fossil fuel use – starting with top carbon emitters China, US, Europe, and India, which account for half the world’s carbon output.
But most major nations don’t have the will or the way to force the required behaviour changes – essentially ending capitalism and consumerism as we know them. The US government can’t do it because it’s owned and operated by corporates, and they don’t do self-sacrifice. And in this election cycle, US oil and gas companies will spend more than $100 million to fund candidates who deny global warming and demand more fossil fuel mining.
India – and most other developing nations – ask why they would back off now, when the colonials already dumped a zillion tons of crap in the air and made themselves rich doing it.
And even though renewable energy now costs about the same as coal, carbon expansion will grow from other sources such as cement, jet fuel, fertiliser, and cattle.
So – all the Paris pledges are more likely to add up to 4° or more, which would inundate coastal cities and swamp vast areas of agricultural lands, leading to the devastation of our species and most others within 100 years. A 2°C rise will submerge island nations and low-lying land, spurring ever-larger waves of migration, within 30 years.
However, there are four reasons to be hopeful:
- People will fight and adapt. The unity of the elites in Paris produced half-baked deals, but the fervor of mere mortals – the people united, you might say – told the corporate kings and their political fixers that they can’t keep fiddling while we all burn. Kids born this century are aware, and the one-percenters need to beware.
- Take-it-back. Oxford prof Myles Allen says (theecologist.org) the Paris agreement calls for greenhouse emissions to be ‘balanced’ by carbon sinks some time after mid-century – but to pre-empt disastrous temperature rise we’ll need to act faster, and Allen says we can begin now by requiring fossil fuel industries to take back the carbon they’ve already released into the air.
Prof Allen reckons a ‘CO2 take-back’ scheme is the only feasible way of stabilising the climate, because the alternative – a global ban on fossil fuel extraction and use – ‘is neither ethical nor enforceable’. Fossil fools call Allen’s #takebackCO2 solution mandatory sequestration, and they hate it. People in general love it.
- New rules for investors. In the past few years, thousands of community organisations, city councils, pension funds, schools/universities, churches, investment funds, and NGOs around the world have committed to withdraw investments from fossil fuel corporations to a total value of $3.4 trillion.
Mark Schapiro reports (newsweek.com) that business tycoons led by former Bank of England boss Mark Carney and New York billionaire/ex-mayor Mike Bloomberg aim to force companies seeking investors in Europe to reveal their own carbon footprints, and to predict the future impact on their share values from the rapid global transition out of fossil fuels into renewables.
- China. China is already the world’s biggest polluter and hundreds of millions of its citizens are breathing air laden with 25 times safe levels of pollutants.
But, China is run by a government that can dictate vast changes, and it is committed to group survival more than to the pursuit of unlimited individual material wealth. Already, China leads the world in manufacturing solar, wind and other clean energy equipment.
In the current Monthly, Robert Manne argues that it is the sheer size of global climate change and its probable consequences that incites denialists such as Donald Trump and Tony Abbott to their rabid frenzy.
Okay – the precipice may be too vast, too wide, too steep and too deep to comprehend, but when you’re in a runaway bus heading for any precipice, first step is shove the driver out the door and grab the wheel. Together, maybe we can turn the sucker around.