Climate change: Promisies, promises, promises

Recently President Joe Biden chaired a virtual international conference on climate change that included many of the world’s leaders. The conference gained a number of new or updated promises by nations, including major emitters like China, Europe and the US, to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 2030. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that these ventures are still mostly promises. Actual major reductions in GHGs have yet to be seen. The Covid-induced global slowdowns in transportation and other forms of energy consumption, big as they were, were still largely masked by emissions elsewhere. For example, China added several coal-burning power plants to its active inventory in 2020. The result is that growth in GHG emissions today is still largely unchecked. Furthermore, for each year the promises are unfulfilled the required rate of decrease of GHGs in following years goes up if we are to meet the promised goals.

Current status

Here’s what the emissions in CO2 have been through 2019. Other GHGs such as methane make the picture worse.

Now both the European Union and the US have been decreasing their GHG emissions in the last decade but China and India have not. Both China and India complain that, since they are developing countries, they need to be given some leeway by the developed world.

The problem with that complaint, of course, is that we are all in this world together; the atmosphere is national-boundary indifferent. What China or India emits, we breath, and vice versa. Equity or not, we’re all warming together — although the low-emission developing world will get the worst consequences of climate change. For whatever reason the rise of the growth curve in the chart appears to be inexorable. That must change very, very soon if those promises are to be kept.

Next steps

The major countries are like huge ships; they turn very slowly and the turn takes great political energy. They are also like Evergreen’s Ever Given that got stuck crossways in the Suez Canal. It made some progress then ran into immovable obstacles. So now it’s time for the tugboats.

We collectively need to push, pull, tug and prod our governments to forget their bickering among each other and within themselves. We collectively need to get them to move and fulfill or exceed their promises. We collectively need to support the changes needed to make this happen.

And, most of all, we can’t depend on ‘them’ to make it happen. We need to do it ourselves, by whatever options are available to us. We need personally to cut down on: fossil-fuel-enabled travel, meat and dairy consumption, household air leaks and drafts, among others. We need to reduce or eliminate our consumption of all energy resources that involve fossil fuels. We need to plant more recyclable trees. If we’re buying a new vehicle make it electric. Those of us who can need to telework.

If enough of us take those steps soon enough we may reach the point where the world is no worse than it was in 2030.

But we need start today.

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