It’s that time of year when it’s useful to look back on what has been accomplished and consider what may lie ahead. In particular, it’s time to discuss the progress of two important transitions related to climate change: COP26 and teleworking.
The 26th annual United Nations Conference of the Parties, recently held in Glasgow, Scotland, was a potpourri of hopes realized and crushed. For many attendees, the hope that finally, finally some concrete action on climate change would happen turned into more frustration. There was, at least, a general agreement among the attending countries to eliminate methane production by the late 2020s, although Indonesia had second thoughts about its agreement.
There also was agreement by many attendees to eliminate coal production by 2050. Unfortunately, dissenters to that agreement included China, India and the United States, the three largest coal-based producers of CO2. So many participants were frustrated by the rate of progress.
Yet, reality is beginning to penetrate people’s hopes and plans. For example, it is very difficult to suddenly switch people from their coal-produced energy supply to something more sustainable, particularly when the sustainable options are not readily available or are far too expensive. Result: transition is much slower than was hoped. Yet many nations did make more specific commitments during COP26.
Meanwhile, the atmospheric CO2 level steadily increases, although with a slight, Covid-19-induced, dip in 2020. Still, many of the statements by the participating governments were more quantitative — and with less hand-waving — than in previous COPs. All in all, COP26 gets a C grade.
The gist of all these proceedings is that, like a massive oil tanker, the participating nations are slow to turn around, even though the pressure is steadily increasing. The problem, of course, is that Mother Nature doesn’t wait for us to make up our minds; she just responds to what we’ve done so far, as I noted in September. Therefore, although we might just barely squeak through this century without a temperature rise exceeding 1.5C, that likelihood diminishes daily. A rise of 2+C seems more likely. More and more intense storms ahead.
Telework, or remote work hybrid work, etc., was originally proposed as an energy-conservation/pollution-reduction measure. Covid-19 suddenly made it a business survival method. I know of no good statistics about how many teleworkers there were in 2020 — or now — but it’s safe to say there are tens of millions today.
This transition, the sudden departure of those millions from central business districts has had major repercussions aside from the desired ones of business continuity, productivity improvement and healthier lifestyles. These include such things as:
- loss of business for services (restaurants, cleaners, etc.) in downtown areas
- decreased demand for downtown office space
- reduced tax base for cities
- increased demands for housing in suburban/rural areas
- increasing turns to self-employment
This process, like the other climate-related shifts, is still unfurling. I suspect that it will not settle down for a year or two; longer if new versions of Covid-19 keep appearing. The transitions will continue for a while. Details in future blogs.