The climate countdown continues

On 31 October 2021 COP26 begins in Glasgow. Hopefully, COP26 will act as an inflection point in the efforts to decrease global warming. With its success the climate countdown will continue. Hopefully, more nations will sign on and make quantitative commitments to end their emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Otherwise, greenhouse gases will continue to flow, the air will become warmer, destructive weather events will become more frequent and intense and humanity will increase fragmenting. All because Mother Nature will adapt to our mischief whether we like it or not. The earth will survive whether or not we do.

Here are some thoughts about the situation.

First, the bad news

Although there has been much hue and cry in the press and elsewhere about climate change, much of it has been about what we should do, not what we’re doing. We’re wasting energy in hand waving rather than digging in. We’re either not paying close attention to the very conservative IPCC findings or we’re waiting for someone else to start working. I wrote about this last month and last Spring. It’s always someone else should be the leader because it costs too much for us to do something positive.

The commitments made so far all have due dates in the relatively distant future, especially for those whose time span is ordinarily the next quarter. Apparently our fearless leaders operate in the panic-mode philosophy: just muddle along until they (or, better, whoever replaces them) reach the OMyGod point — we have to make up all that change by next year? Like the proverbial frog in the pot, they don’t pay attention to the increasing temperature until it’s (maybe/almost) too late. As I noted in that earlier blog, the longer we wait to act, the bigger the bill we have to pay.

For example, as part of the G20 conference recently concluded, the participating nations agreed to stop financing coal developments — in other countries — but not in their own countries. That is, they’ll put the responsibility for finding alternatives on someone else.

What’s needed now are milestone (kilometerstone?) commitments as well; points along the route between now and the end. What’s due next year, the year after, the year after that and so on, so that we all can see how well we’re doing in honoring the commitments before Mother Nature shows us. We also need the transparency that goes with it.

In that group of misled leaders I have to put the presidents of China, India and Brazil, as well as the Republicans and a couple of Democrats in the US Senate; all willing to wait a few years to be convinced that climate change is real and that they have a responsibility for it. In most cases their hearts (and wallets) are with the CO2 emitters, not with the millions who will pay for the consequences of continuing climate change.

Only continued and continuing pressure on these people will make them change or accelerate the rate at which they change. So keep up the pressure on them or the countdown will be held at T-minus <some positive integer>. They must specify and honor those commitments.

Now some good news

Despite my rant above, some good news is happening. The pressure for change is growing in government and industry as well as in the general public.

For example, I attended (virtually) a four-day webinar put on by the US National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine on the future of electric vehicles. For four hours each day a train of experts discussed everything from the basic principles of electric motor design, to the impact of millions of EVs on the electric grid, to issues of equity for the users of the vehicles and their communities. It gave a convincing picture that, while there are many issues, competent people are working on them.

This particular webinar series is important because it addresses the issues of a change that replaces a ‘traditional’ industry with something quite different. This is exactly the sort of thing that is needed for other cases as well, from agriculture to medicine to window design. Energy conservation and delivery from the thrall of fossil fuels are core issues for all.

Despite the doubts, I’m hopeful. We’ll see next week and the ensuing months.

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