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COP26: A good time was had by all

Published by marco on

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 The Edit by Mr. FishCOP26 has come and gone and many people, if not most of them, didn’t even notice. It was the 26th meeting of world leaders to discuss which measures they can all agree to put into place in order to address climate change.

A few of the other summits are famous by their city names: Kyoto in 1992, where the U.S.—by far the biggest polluter at the time—refused to ratify it; Copenhagen in 2009, where the world’s worst per-capita polluter Canada torpedoed everything so that they wouldn’t have to restrict mining tar sands; Paris in 2015, where the U.S. did sign, but only after diluting the agreement by forcing everything to be purely voluntary. Then Mr. Trump left that agreement entirely, but Mr. Biden put the U.S. back in it.

That’s all he and his administration did, though: the U.S. didn’t follow through on very much of what it had volunteered to do. According to the article Roaming Charges: Split Identity Politics by Jeffrey St. Clair (CounterPunch),

“An investigation by the Washington Post reveals that the gap between what industrialized countries have pledged, in terms of CO2 emission reductions, and what they’ve actually done is startlingly wide. The gap ranges from at least 8.5 billion tons of CO2 equivalent to as of underreported emissions. Because since pledges often rest on this data, these shortfalls have huge implications for potential success of the COP26 Glasgow Accords.

Or that, in the last five years, “[…] US crude oil exports increased [750%] after Obama signed the Paris accords in 2015.”

No-one can figure out a solution to stop ravaging the planet that works within the confines of the market system. Our fearless leaders don’t even want to try. They don’t even acknowledge or understand that the system is part of the problem. That they are part of the problem.

All the while, the clock ticks.

A whole lot of nothing

It’s unclear why we would expect anything useful to come out of these conferences.[1] The conference basically has the same attendees as the WEF (World Economic Forum) and no-one expects them to come up with anything that doesn’t funnel money upward like a conveyor belt. This conference is no different—not really.

The COP26 summit was no more strict in responding to the urgency of the problem than its predecessors. The article The major climate pledges made at COP26 so far by Noah Garfinkel (Axios) explains that nothing they decided in Glasgow is really enforcable.

“The pledges made so far are just that: pledges. They are not mandatory, and no one will be punished for failing to live up to them.

On the contrary, though, and, if I may: we will all be punished severely if we fail.

The promises listed in that article are even more half-hearted than the pledges at Paris—and none of the countries even came close to coming through on their pledges. China has accounted for about 50% of the reduction in CO2 output in the last decade. It is the biggest current emitter, so that’s a good start. So far, it’s all—if you’ll pardon the expression—hot air.

The article COP26 climate summit ends in failure by Patrick Martin (WSWS) provides more detail on what was decided—and which country, as usual, stood in the way.

“Business Insider declared the event a “historic failure,” while an editorial in the Financial Times spoke of “More hot air than progress at COP26,” noting that the US’s decision not “to sign up to a deal to phase out coal production… struck a severe blow to what was meant to be a flagship policy of COP.””

The only voices of sanity were to be found outside of the conference, in the streets, protesting the hypocrisy and self-aggrandizement on the part of the co-called leaders of the free world.

“It is hard to argue with Thunberg’s characterization of the summit as “two-week-long celebration of business as usual and blah, blah, blah.”

“She told the huge crowd, “The leaders are not doing nothing. They are actively creating loopholes and shaping frameworks to benefit themselves and to continue profiting from this destructive system. This is an active choice by the leaders to continue to let the exploitation of people and nature, and the destruction of present and future living conditions to take place.””

The article goes on to point the finger of blame on the absolutely bankrupt, corrupt, and non-representative political system in the U.S. There is no party worth backing there; they will all nuzzle at corporate teats for more money until every coastal city in the world drowns and climate refugees threaten their highly secured strongholds and enclaves.

“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats will pretend that the infrastructure bill they just approved and the social spending and climate bill they just agreed to postpone add up to a huge US commitment to resolve the climate crisis.

“The truth is just the opposite. Both the Democrats and Republicans are willing to slash the consumption of American workers in the name of climate change, but not to cut a penny of the profits of American corporations.

As we will discuss below, the U.S. shares a gigantic part of the historical blame for CO2 and, per-capita, is one of the most wasteful countries today, landing in second place for total production. For it to continue to pretend that it is doing something useful while doing the exact opposite is a complete abdication of responsibility. Is there some way to vote the U.S. off the planet?

Which country do you suppose stood in the way of letting the phrase “phase out coal” remain in the COP26 Agreement? Instead, we get “phase down coal”. See Why Our Climate Isn’t Jumping for Joy After COP26 by Vijay Prashad & Zoe Alexandra (CounterPunch) to read about how Switzerland called them out on it,

“During the last hours of the COP26 summit on November 13, Swiss Environment Minister Simonetta Sommaruga took the microphone and expressed her “profound disappointment” with the change. “The language we had agreed on coal and fossil fuel subsidies has been further watered down as a result of an untransparent process,” she said.”

The solution isn’t exactly the straightforward one of everyone stopping coal-use. But countries that can afford to do so, should. The British have already announced a slew of nuclear-power plants to replace coal. China, too—about $450B over the next five years. Those aren’t perfect, or maybe even great, solutions, but at least the Chinese were coherent at COP26:

“Cutting coal tomorrow will condemn billions of people to a life without electricity (about 1 billion people still have no electricity connection, with most of them living in the Global South). Second, Zhao said, “We encourage developed countries to take the lead in stopping using coal […]”

Satire articles like Climate Summit Sets Ambitious Goal To Phase Out Fossil Fuels By Time Earth Runs Out Of Them (The Onion) just feel like regular reporting. Cartoons like the following are just facts, only darkly funny—because you have to either laugh or cry. And I always choose to laugh.

 Ted Rall: Promises Kept (10.11.2021)

COP26 might as well be Comicon but, instead of booth babes, they have high-priced escorts. Why do you think Uncle Joe was so sleepy? The jet-lag? Pull the other one.

Blame it all on China and Russia (as usual)

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin weren’t there. That’s fine, though, isn’t it? Are they really the best people to negotiate these details? Look at who America sent: Biden (asleep with jetlag), Pelosi (full of shit), Pallone (utterly lost), and God knows who else. What did Biden do there? Lend gravitas? Are you sure about that?

When people say that it’s an insult that Russia and China didn’t show up, I call bullshit. The rest of the so-called advanced countries expend 90% of their energy pissing on China and Russia and then turn around and say “see, look how evil they are, they don’t even come to this important climate conference.” That’s not true, though. China and Russia both sent delegations—just not their presidents, who would have been useless there anyway.

Moar circus plz

It’s all a farce anyway, with no hope of bringing about real change. The fate of our world is in the hands of relatively few people and they are all very comfortable, thank you very much. They feel no pressure to change anything because, as far as they’re concerned, things are just ducky. Sure, the supply chain could be a bit faster, but let’s not quibble. As the article Roaming Charges: Muzak for the Cancer Ward by Jeffrey St. Clair (CounterPunch) put it,

“The leaders of island nations are given a few moments before the cameras to declaim how many acres of their land mass have been lost to rising seas since the last summit and the members of the press try earnestly to recall how to spell the names of their countries before they disappear altogether.

It’s not about saving the world for the morons who were stupid enough to let themselves be in the 99.9%. No, now it’s about a self-perpetuating business called “climate-change mitigation”, where players make it look like they’re actually trying to do something useful while raking in a bunch of money. It’s the same as every other damned hustle, really, but with a lot more money on the table.

Here’s St. Clair again,

“Hurray! Progress has been made, if not toward reducing emissions, at least, and this is, naturally, the most important thing, toward planning the next summit, sure to be the most important one yet, when the planet’s atmosphere will have breached the once unthinkable level of 420 ppm. Book your flights now.

Business before Survival

So what actually happened? What did they decide? The usual. The powers-that-be don’t like to acknowledge that the things that they do are going to kill us all because it makes them very, very much richer than everyone else. If they do acknowledge it, then they absolutely don’t want to do anything about it that involves reducing the disproportionate amount of income and wealth flowing in their direction. If we could only figure out how to save everyone without changing that dynamic. If we have to choose, … well … we have. Chosen, that is. We’re going to keep everything the way it is. We still have a good 10-20 years left. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.

The article The Cop26 message? We are trusting big business, not states, to fix the climate crisis by Adam Tooze (The Guardian) writes,

Cop26 delivered no big climate deal. Nor, in truth, was there any reason to expect one. The drastic measures that might – at a stroke – open a path to climate stability are not viable in political or diplomatic terms. Like climate breakdown itself, this is a fact to be reckoned with, a fact not just about “politicians”, but about the polities of which we are all, like it or not, a part. The step from the scientific recognition of a climate emergency to societal agreement on radical action is still too great.

But wait! What’s that? In the sky? It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s … corporations. They,

“[…] can direct trillions towards the energy transition in low-income countries, if the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are there to “derisk” the lending, by absorbing the first loss on projects in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Even more money will flow if there is a carbon price that gives clean energy a competitive advantage.”

As always, the villain is capitalism. The world can’t open its pursestrings directly, and the enormous businesses that have sucked up most of the world’s capital—like BlackRock, for example—will only invest if those same countries guarantee a minimum rate of return and no loss of principal using roundabout mechanisms like the IMF and World Bank.

The money “comes” from BlackRock, but it’s a no-lose investment, with the same countries that can’t pull their thumbs out of their asses playing lender of last resort, but in a way that their citizens won’t notice. It’s a money-laundering scheme to get more money flowing through and to Blackrock and all of the other big winners of the last forty years of financial scams.

As Tooze writes,

“BlackRock’s backstop idea is the logic of the 2008 bank bailouts expanded to the global level – socialise the risks, privatise the profits.”

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

“Advocates of the Green New Deal have long urged big government-led industrial policy. The approach of Kerry and his team seems to follow a more low-key, pragmatic script. As Danny Cullenward and David Victor write in their book, Making Climate Policy Work, rather than attempting a contentious grand bargain, the key is to find coalitions of the willing and drive change sector by sector, raising ambition through repeated rounds of bargaining.

This would possibly be a fine approach, but it’s not going to be enough. A slower approach like this only gives the opposition—not those who don’t believe climate change is happening, but those who don’t care enough about it to risk their profits—time to figure out how to game it. It’s bailing out the boat with a thimble. Meanwhile, the hole in the bottom of the boat grows.

The article The Recognition by James Howard Kunstler (Clusterfuck Nation) points out that the financial system is, to a large degree, debts incurred based on cheap fossil-fuel energy. That is,

“[…] all of our modern money rests on promises to deliver future volumes of energy (and products of value made from it) and those promises are without basis in reality, so the money itself is increasingly worthless. Thus, the cost of getting that future energy exceeds the promises embedded in the money based on the energy. How’s that for a paradox? We’re the proverbial snake eating its own tail and now we’ve bitten off more than we can swallow.”

To each their own, and none for all

The problem really is that the only approach that anyone seems to be able to consider is fundamentally libertarian: everyone or every country looks out for themselves and it will all work out as well as it possibly could. Everyone does an incremental solution that addresses their immediate problems and no-one does root-cause analysis and tackles the problem that’s causing all of the other problems. Instead, we just nibble around the edges—but the monster is growing more quickly than we can cut it back. It’s the proverbial hydra.

In a situation like that—and with solutions like those proposed—we’re essentially in a defensive, reactive position. We don’t really have a goal for the world. Instead, we have a goal for ourselves and the world can sort itself out. Does it matter that these “solutions” generally favor the already-rich, which is the group primarily responsible for this crisis? Not to them, it doesn’t.

The most precious resource right now is time, and COP26 shows that the world’s leaders are not really worried about wasting that, either. As the article After the failure of Cop26, there’s only one last hope for our survival by George Monbiot (The Guardian) writes about the fossil-fuel industry,

“[…] if they can thwart action for long enough, the eventual victory of low-carbon technologies might scarcely be relevant, as Earth’s systems could already have been pushed past their critical thresholds, beyond which much of the planet could become uninhabitable.”

And, no, electric cars won’t save us. It’s pathetic that people cling to that myth, as if we could just buy our way out of the crisis, when buying stuff is what got us into it. Electric cars are cleaner than fossil-fuel vehicles (throughout the lifetime), but they still have massive open questions about where batteries come from, where they go, and whether we can realistically produce enough batteries to satisfy our enormous needs.

Instead, we need to reduce our consumption, reduce our energy needs. We need to live near where we work, so that we don’t need cars anymore. We need to eliminate food deserts.

Monbiot again,

“A genuinely green transport system would involve system change of a different kind. It would start by reducing the need to travel – as the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, is doing with her 15-minute city policy, which seeks to ensure that people’s needs can be met within a 15-minute walk from homes.
“[…] simply flipping the system from fossil to electric cars preserves everything that’s wrong with the way we now travel, except the power source.”

Which businesses, exactly?

Which corporations—other than financial giants like BlackRock—are jumping on the shambolic, lurching zombie of humanity as it wanders to its doom?

To no-one’s surprise at all, there’s the fossil-fuel industry. However, many of the existing huge players have shown a willingness to pivot to other predatory business models that kill the planet more slowly. The primary goal stated above—keep the margins high and the money flowing disproportionately to them—must be satisfied first, but companies like Shell, Exxon, etc. are willing to do it with renewable energy, whatever. As long as they still get to control everything, they’re on board with not destroying humanity anymore.

Other companies, like the U.S.‘s so-called defense industry, not so much. They see their role as defenders completely unchanged. In fact, they are selling themselves as defenders of the border even more so than usual. That means more money for them, more war, more conflict, and more profligate use of fossil fuels (because it’s the only game in town for the military).

The podcast Border walls and the climate crisis / Nick Buxton (This is Hell!) was very interesting and some important things to say about this very topic.

Nick summarizes his thesis[2],

Nick: It’s really important to understand that behind this is not just the national security apparatus that is always looking for threats − there’s also a powerful industry that has made huge amounts of money in the last two decades, and is now using climate change to argue for more military and border spending. Quite a few of the big military and border firms have a lot of influence in the corridors of power, they are lobbying constantly for increased spending on borders. Many of these same border firms also provide services to the fossil fuel industry.”

At 48:00, Nick poses the same question anyone else sensible is posing: if the system isn’t working, then why don’t we change the system?

Nick: We’re really getting to a crunch point. We have a choice ahead of us: are we going to continue to support an economic system that is perpetuating the crisis or are we going to look to rebuild a system that can actually tackle some of the underlying causes of the injustices that we see today and which will wreak havoc in future. ”

At 49:00, he discusses how we already have open borders—but only for the elite,

Nick: On one level: if you’re a rich businessman, you can travel across any border. It doesn’t matter what nationality you have, if you have money, you can travel. So, borders have kind of become a way to structure, … whose lives are worth it, and to structure labor markets. It either determines that your life is expendable, or it determines that your labor is exploitable.”

At 1:02:40, he and host Chuck Mertz discuss how the migration engendered by climate change allows countries to double down on exactly the revolution needed to address climate change.

Chuck: To what extent are these security approaches an organized attempt by wealthy nations to stop the possibility of revolution, even global uprising, against the market? Is capitalism threatened and its most ardent adherents are building walls to protect capitalists’ way of living? Is border security an attempt by the G7 to not be held accountable for their role in plundering the world?

Nick: Absolutely. We have two choices at this moment in history. Do we really tackle the causes, which means some really fundamental issues around equity, around injustice, around who’s been affected, around the fact that the wealthiest countries are the biggest part of the problem right now. Or, do we just respond to the consequences? And if you respond [only] to the consequences, you’re essentially saying, ‘I want the status quo. No matter how dangerous, no matter how deadly, no matter the human consequences. The status quo, the political system, the economic system, that benefits a certain minority right now, matters more. That’s the choice that’s being made. It’s very much about that. It’s saying it’s more important to…it’s more important to build up arms, militarized against the consequences rather than tackle the causes. And that’s really the choice that’s being taken right now.”

At 1:06:30, Nick presents his vision toward which we should be working,

Nick: An open-borders policy is a long-term solution. I think people should have the right to move and to migrate and to be supported and to live dignified lives. And we shouldn’t have a system, as I said, which is built around exploiting, or making people expendable, whoever they are in the world. That’s my long-term vision. And I think that’s a kind of moral vision to head towards. I think there are steps we can take toward that—I’m not saying that’s the world we can create overnight—but that’s the vision that I aspire to. And I think that it’s a vision that already exists for quite a few people. Like I already said, if you have wealth, you effectively live in a no-border world. I just want that world to be accessible to all. And that’s something we have to fight and struggle and move towards.”

The U.S. Military > Everything Else

Building on the Nick Buxton interview is the following video. It’s a succinct, 3.5-minute illustration of how the U.S. handled itself at COP26.

Abby Martin Confronts Nancy Pelosi Over Pentagon Spending at COP26 by Empire Files (YouTube)

The amazing Abby Martin asked,

“Speaker Pelosi, you just presided over a large increase in the Pentagon budget. This Pentagon budget is already massive. The Pentagon is a larger polluter than 140 countries combined. How can we seriously talk about Net Zero if there is this bipartisan consensus to constantly expand this large contributor to climate change, which is exempt from these conferences. Military is exempt from climate talks.”

She didn’t really ask a question, but that’s OK. I’m kind of shocked they even let her in. Anyway, it was pretty clear what she meant. She makes a good point: why isn’t a reduction of the military’s CO2 footprint being considered? Why are many of the countries at COP26 blithely increasing the size of their militaries?

It is unfortunate that the parties decide to meet and talk about climate change and, instead of “leaving all options on the table”—as the U.S. loves to say as a euphemism to express their willingness to use nuclear weapons—many things are off the table before the discussions have even started.

I understand that some things are off the table: slaughtering 20% of each country’s population to reduce consumption is an extreme idea that doesn’t even need to be discussed, for example. But reducing the climate footprint of an already grotesquely oversized military should definitely be on the table. These countries take so many things off the table that there is no way of achieving the goal with what is left on the table.

I acknowledge that there is an argument to be made that the U.S. will need its military more than ever when the climate crisis intensifies. (It’s the argument that the military and the defense industry itself is making, as described above by Nick Buxton.) The U.S. will finally need to use its troops to actually defend its own border against climate refugees rather than rove around the world. In all likelihood, the U.S. would elect to do both: defend borders and rove around the world to take advantage of climate-induced desperation (i.e. Shock Doctrine). This attitude is them giving up before they’ve even begun. Just admit it, guys. You don’t care to fix the problem. Stop pretending. Lead, follow, or get out of the way

Commentators on the video were snarky that Nancy Pelosi said something about the organizers needing to “clean the room” after this question, intimating that she was trying to avoid fully answering the question. However, she and Frank Pallone[3] spent three minutes answering the question. Pallone reformulated twice. Pelosi at least three or four times. There wasn’t any more information forthcoming than they’d given. What else did these commentators want or expect to hear?

The U.S. delegation, as represented by Pelosi and Pallone, was very clear: the U.S. military is more important than addressing climate change. You may not like the answer, but it was pretty clear. There will be no military reduction because that’s not an option. You could see that, for Pallone and Pelosi, the very idea was nearly inconceivable. The best those two could come up with was, as wonderfully summarized by Chris Carr in a comment on the video, “We need the military, which is the world’s bigger polluter, to confront the national security threat of pollution.”

The rich are the problem

Nancy Pelosi is one of the wealthiest people in the world (she’s worth about $120M at last count). She only knows other rich people. She literally has no idea. The article Fresh Hell (12.11.2021) by Jason Arias (The Baffler) mentions that,

“Nancy Pelosi recognizes the moral responsibility of the United States to, after decades of deferrals and non-binding assurances, finally do something about the climate crisis. That’s why, hours after she secured the passage of President Biden’s trillion-dollar love letter to freeways, Pelosi hopped on a plane back to California so that she could officiate the wedding of oil heiress Ivy Love Getty […]”

Further, from the same article, we see how things work for the really rich,

“[…] owners of private aircraft are now—thanks to the 2017 Trump tax cut—able to claim 100 percent bonus depreciation on their jet within the first year of purchase. Additional expenses, such as fuel, maintenance, and management costs, are also considered tax-deductible if the aircraft is used for “business purposes” at least 50 percent of the time. It’s almost as if the government is paying extremely rich people to do extremely cruel things to the environment!”

 According to the article Rich People Are Destroying the Planet by Luke Savage (Jacobin),

“In the United States, those in the top decile of income account for half of household emissions, while those in the bottom half account for under 10 percent.”

And,

“Taken as a whole, those in the global top 1 percent of income account for 15 percent of emissions, which is more than double the share of those in the bottom half. The extremely wealthy have only gotten richer over the past thirty years and, as the data shows, their carbon footprints have gotten much bigger as well.”

Leading to the conclusion that,

“The rich, in effect, need to be made much less rich if we’re going to reduce global emissions — and, if we want to fight climate change, taxing their wealth is both a moral and an environmental imperative.”

Again, we need to change the system. New taxes won’t help. We need to rebalance things and start again, this time making sure that aberrations like “3 people own as much as 50% of the country” no longer happen. Taxing income is inefficient—it would be much better to prevent such exorbitant inequality, wealth, and incomes in the first place. If rich people never got that rich, we wouldn’t have to fight to take it back. It would be much easier that way.

We need China and the U.S. on board

Unfortunately, the world needs the U.S. to quit its bullshit. Why is the U.S. so important at COP26? According to the article How to Save the World From a Climate Armageddon by Michael T. Klare (ScheerPost),

  1. The temperature is rising if we stay the course, to very destructive and disruptive levels. Life on planet Earth will not be the same. Certain things that are possible today will no longer be possible. Humanity’s horizons will have been reduced.[4]

    “According to the U.N.’s analysis, even if all 200 signatories were to abide by their pledges — and almost none have — global temperatures are likely to rise by 2.7 degrees Celsius (nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by century’s end.”
  2. We are actually not even just staying the course. We’re going in the wrong direction.

    “To limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, by 2030, scientists believe, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would have to be reduced by 25% from 2018 levels; to limit it to 1.5 degrees, by 55%. Yet those emissions — driven by strong economic growth in China, India, and other rapidly industrializing nations — have actually been on an upward trajectory, rising on average by 1.8% per year between 2009 and 2019.
  3. The U.S. and China both need to quit their bullshit. The U.S. needs to stop saber-rattling and match China’s environmental goals.

    “It all boils down to this: to save human civilization, the U.S. and China must dramatically reduce their CO2 emissions, while working together to persuade other major carbon-emitting nations, beginning with fast-rising India, to follow suit. That would, of course, mean setting aside their current antagonisms, however important they may seem to U.S. and Chinese leaders today, and instead making climate survival their number one priority and policy objective. Otherwise, put simply, all is lost.

Let’s find out more about the data underlying Klare’s conclusion.

Who Contributes What?

If we’re finger-pointing about who’s “more responsible” for climate change, we can look at not who’s currently most responsible for climate change, but who has emitted the most CO2 cumulatively. The article Who has contributed most to global CO2 emissions? by Hannah Ritchie (Our World in Data) has a great graphic showing the cumulative CO2 contribution from various countries and regions since the beginning of the industrial age. The U.S. is in the lead overall and very much in the lead per-capita.

 Global Cumulative Emissions

The cumulative number is perhaps a good way of assigning responsibility and culpability for climate change (e.g. for reparations), but it’s not a good way of determining how to stop it. For that, we need to find out who’s contributing the most to climate change right now. The chart below is from CO2 Emissions (World-o-Meter). It shows that, while China was the overall greatest emitter in 2020—emitting just over twice as much as the U.S.—the U.S. still has over twice as much CO2 emissions per capita.

 Annual CO2 Share By Country

According to The History of Carbon Dioxide Emissions in 2014 (World Resources Institute), China has been the biggest emitter of CO2 since 2004. Before that, it was still the U.S., despite having less than ¼ of China’s population.

Some would say that China should reduce their pollution because they produce the most of it, but isn’t China producing most of the world’s stuff and still has lower per-capita CO2 emissions than the U.S.? Or some other countries in Europe for that matter? China’s increased usage can be at least partially explained by the fact that it has become the manufacturing capital of the world. Europeans and Americans constantly joke about how “everything is made in China” while simultaneously complaining the China is emitting more greenhouse gases. There is room to argue that greenhouse gases that a country produces to manufacture goods for export shouldn’t be solely attributed to that country. Without the external demand, China would manufacture less.

Even given that, China is in 12th place in emissions per-capita, whereas the U.S. is in 4th place. Canada emits the most CO2 per capita of any country in the world, followed by Australia and then Saudi Arabia. Wouldn’t it be better to get those countries to stop wasting so much energy/carbon-footprint per citizen? Wouldn’t that be more fair?

Questions of fairness and justice aside, though, the world can’t solve climate change without China reducing its CO2 output.

We have to pull together and think about the whole world—because if the whole world isn’t on board with this, it won’t work. (Which is why it probably won’t work.) We don’t do very well with solidarity, with sacrificing for the common good, with eschewing something that we think—or that we’d been told—will make our lives because it will make other people’s lives worse. Don’t buy that phone because it was made by slave labor. Don’t fly so much because people in other countries will suffer more for the CO2 your flight produces.

And hell, even if we do that, it won’t matter so much because

“[…] even under the rosiest scenarios of electric cars, more sweaters and eating vegan, less than 8% of the needed reduction can be achieved through individual behavior changes.”

I understand where that’s coming from, but individual behavior changes also include standing together and forcing industry to change the other 92%. That’s not individual so much, but I think it doesn’t make any sense to claim that just 100 corporations emit 70% of the greenhouse gases and then pretend that that has nothing to do with us. They’re not producing it for fun, are they? They’re selling us stuff. We should stop buying it. We should vote for people who make them stop selling it.

We’ve tried with market forces and boycotts and, honestly, they’re just much better at that game than we are. Too many of us capitulate to consumerism and low prices and run right back into their arms. We have to learn how to stand strong and move the needle in a bigger way—together.

Who’s in the 1%? Which one?

If you’re in Switzerland, working a white-collar job, you’re almost certainly in the global 1% for income. Do you make more than CHF35,000 per year? Welcome to the global 1% for income. For wealth, you’d need to have at least CHF5M to be in the top 1% of Switzerland, but less than CHF1M to be in the top 1% worldwide. I took my numbers from articles citing the 2018 Global Wealth Report by Credit Suisse, which no longer seems to be available. The 2021 Global Wealth Report by Credit Suisse is, however, available. And guess what? Switzerland pushed its way to the top in several categories.

I take this to mean that, if you live relatively well in the first world, then you have an obligation to pump the brakes on your lifestyle rather than figuring out how you can get even richer and consume more or settle into an early-retirement, crypto-fueled lifestyle.

People who compare themselves only to other Swiss in this country are setting themselves up for disappointment because it has the highest density of millionaires and super-rich and so on. The average wealth is over CHF600K now. The median wealth is CHF124K. It’s a lot easier to get into the global 1% than into the Swiss 1%. Just being able to live and work here is already a massive privilege.

If the most privileged can’t see their way to reducing the way in which their privilege ruins the planet for everyone else, then we’re doomed. I’m not super-hopeful that we’re going to find a fair and just way through this. We’ll probably end up doing too little, too late.[5] It’s going to get more uncomfortable for everyone—even the privileged. It doesn’t really matter whether they want to believe it.


[1]

The article A 700-Word Analysis of the COP-26 Agreement by Jason Pramas (CounterPunch) is perhaps the most jaded, publishing the same word 700 times, “Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha […]”.

On a more serious note, the podcast 11/18/21 by Doug Henwood (Behind the News) includes an excellent interview with Tina Gerhardt. She details how this was the most privileged, non-inclusive COP26 (many nations could not afford lodging or could not get visas or were unable to attend because of COID). It was the first the first COP that explicitly mentioned fossil fuels. This is less a cause for celebration but for a hearty guffaw at how even more useless all of the previous conferences were. They managed to mention coal, but couldn’t quite get there on methane, and didn’t even consider mentioning oil.

Gerhardt’s entire report and analysis was excellent and one the most informative 20 minutes I spent learning about these conferences.

[2] I’m not sure where in the podcast he said this, but I remember him saying it.
[3] Who looks even more out of his depth here than Nancy Pelosi. It’s honestly shocking the quality of people that the U.S. sent to this conference. It’s no wonder the whole thing can’t really be taken seriously.
[4] Hey, if we’re going to play devil’s advocate, maybe that’s a good thing. Back to basics. Unrestricted growth and wealth and possibilities hasn’t really taught us anything good. We’ve squandered a surfeit of energy and wealth and knowledge on bullshit.
[5] I’m thinking of how Austria is the first country in Europe to impose a vaccine mandate for everyone—but only after their incidence level shot up to 1,000 and they had 12,000 cases per day (with a population of 9M). They should have done it six months ago, but there was “no political will”. So they have to wait until everything blows up and the boat’s sinking before they force people to start bailing water. We are honestly terrible at running societies. Just the worst.