We’re on a trajectory to crash the futures of most people on the planet and finalize the irreversible annihilation of a big chunk of the natural world because of a mix of predatory delay and terminal entitlement. Climate futurist Alex Steffen
Climate wise it’s clear that as we limp from ‘21 to ‘22 those who want to protect the economy from needed climate mitigation are still firmly in control.
There was no shortage of climate news this past year but when it came to action it was BAU. In Glasgow where the worlds leaders met to ratchet up ambition, the delayers in control managed to even water down the blah-blah-blah. This is after three decades of talk and failure, with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continuing to soar.
Why have we failed to mitigate what is rapidly turning into a possibly fatal for humanity calamity? There is an important new climate science paper — Three Decades of Climate Mitigation: Why haven’t we bent the emissions curve? — that is very informative.
In the paper, different teams of authors seeking the answer find consilience in how powerful actors subverted needed mitigation. The “Davos cluster” of powerful economic and political actors restricted mitigation to policies compatible with the core tenets of modern technological society; the “enabler cluster” of scientists, economists, and other technologists employed modeling, financial, and policy instruments compatible with business as usual to generate climate solutions:
“Three decades on, the scale of policy failure suggests that an effective strategy for delivering on Paris will inevitably involve a paradigmatic challenge to the hegemony and dogmas of economic growth, price-making markets, and the financialization of the environment … the failure to bend the global emissions curve stems from the strength of the existing paradigm of “progress” to resist change.”
Climate change is now unequivocal, undeniable, but the climate science is complicated and the climate dangers are still largely in the future. Those for whom profit this quarter is the all important concern can still obfuscate the science and minimize the potential calamities predicted.
Many, many opeds in economy dominated media continue to argue for expansion of fossil fuel production and use, playing down present extreme weather disasters and ignoring or minimizing growing existential risk. Here’s just one example: minimize or ignore the climate dangers while accenting the economic importance of fossil fuels. Each such oped buttresses denial in economic actors.
The climate science gets increasingly scary but coal production is set to hit an all time high. And not just coal: Canada set to smash oil production record. We need to reduce GHG emissions by at least one half by 2030 or we will have no chance of staying under a 2C rise in temperature. This is not the climate safety of staying under a 1C rise but hopefully safe below tipping points to warming that would crash our global civilization. Instead, frustrated by the delayers and their denial, we are racing to oblivion.
We desperately need a process for getting everybody on the same page about the degree of danger, risk and what mitigation measures are now necessary. We need a well facilitated iterated process at the national level with reps from all parties. The climate science and history of failed mitigation is robust and it should be possible to reach a much more proactive consensus that could unite parties and end denial.
Most importantly, we need national then international consensus to directly regulate a wind-down of fossil fuel production. Building renewable capacity isn’t necessarily emission reduction. As the climate science paper authors observe: “In recent years, the contribution of modern renewables to global energy use has grown rapidly, but nevertheless remains much smaller than the dominant fossil sources and, importantly, has thus far primarily added to the total energy supply, rather than providing any absolute displacement of fossil fuels”.
Orthodox decarbonization, the energy transition, was the logical mitigation plan that developed in the 90s. Without alternative sources of energy we could not stop using fossil fuels. There was time (and carbon budget)for this energy transition if the powerful actors at the time had not been far more concerned with protecting the existing economy from needed climate mitigation.
An organized, well supported plan with carbon pricing and/or industrial policy could have effectively removed most fossil fuel use by now and we wouldn’t have this crushing problem hanging over our heads. But energy transitions take decades we no longer have and building renewable capacity of a scale needed to displace 50% of fossil fuel use by 2030 is now a delusion, just a delayer strategy.
To bend the emissions curve in order to try and stay climate safe we now need a managed decline of fossil fuel production led by those countries that can, joined in carbon clubs of their trading partners, and quickly ratcheted up to a global plan.
To end decades of denial and procrastination we need to go on the offense against fossil fuels and the delayers. Immediately. Going into ’22 members of all political parties must stop being enablers of those resisting needed change and act in everybody’s long term interest to stop the denial and failure that imperils all we love and care about.
Photo: A giant puppet of a sea goddess made entirely of recycled materials walked through Glasgow during the COP26 climate change summit (November 2021). By Scottish government. Via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:STORM_at_COP26_(51670466079).jpg