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    Archive for November, 2023

    Low expectations for UN climate conference 

    A little too abstract, a little too wise,
    It is time for us to kiss the earth again,
    It is time to let the leaves rain from the skies,
    Let the rich life run to the roots again.

    from “Return” by Robinson Jeffers

    Carlos Manuel Rodríguez is CEO and chair of the Global Environment Facility, the world’s largest trust fund for environmental protection. In a recent article I mentioned how the Facility has helped obtain money to move forward the COP15 biodiversity agenda to help Nature. Rodríguez was named as one of a 100 people making vitally important contributions to stemming climate catastrophe in the forthcoming December 4th issue of Time Magazine. He told the magazine: “There is not a single country today that invests more in protecting nature than it spends on activities that destroy it… Governments should phase out all subsidies, incentives, and policies that financially support carbon emissions coming from different sectors… But unless and until the negative subsidies go away, we will not be able to make a positive difference about climate change or nature loss.” In other words, we need to starve the oil, gas and coal industries of their sources of financial backing. It starts with governmental subsidies that, despite the promises to end them, are still there. Canada is tragically no exception. Rodríguez goes on to say that only then can the world move rapidly to decarbonization. Although you may not agree with the inclusion of some of the names on the list, please read about the other Climate 100 people who are recognized for their achievements.

    Why should our banks and governments wish to loan money to the fossil fuel industries? In part can it be because only 48% of Canadians and 38% of Americans believe that human activities are the main cause of climate change? Even after the climate chaos of 2022 and 2023, the majority of people in the most energy-consuming place on Earth think that their activities are not a major cause of climate destabilization. Indeed, 33% of Canadians and 34% of Americans believe that natural changes are equally to blame. And while most of the world believes climate change is happening, only about a third of North Americans are very worried about it and fewer still are fearful of the repercussions it will have on them personally. Furthermore, while 74% of people in Portugal believe that climate change will do a great deal of harm to the lives of future generations, only 63% of Canadians and 52% of Americans agree. At the same time only 26% of Canadians and 23% of Americans claim to know a lot about climate change. As I have written repeatedly, our educational systems are woefully preparing us to be climate/biodiversity savvy despite the unease expressed by a local university about these findings. 

    The UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai begins on November 30 and runs until December 12.This year it will address the impact of climate on health. In response to this, the pre-eminent medical journal The Lancet has sent COP28 President Designate Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber a letter signed by an astonishing 46 million medical professionals demanding an immediate phasing out of fossil fuels due to the overwhelming health crises these fuels perpetuate.

    Of course it has been expressed many times that because Al-Jaber is the head of a United Arab Emirates oil company, this gives oil lobbyists an inside track for their propaganda. Talk of the fox guarding the henhouse! There have been repeated calls for him to step down, but to no avail. Even before the start of the conference it is easy to understand that it is already compromised. 

    In the run up to COP28, Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and a world-renowned activist, published a damning article aimed at the ecological criminality of such governments as Canada, the US, Australia and Norway.

    I have never read anything by McKibben that was so forthright in his condemnation of these governments’ ecocidal policies. Basically, he is demanding that countries like Canada stop exporting their gas and oil. Canada’s small population “couldn’t burn the enormous quantity of natural gas that’s been found further north in Alberta if they all turned their thermostats to 115 and wore bathing suits all winter. That’s why they’re busy building pipelines to take the oil and the gas to the Pacific.” Absurdly, it is only when the fossil fuels are burnt that their emissions are registered. This means that Canada doesn’t have to declare any emissions relating to the gas and oil it ships overseas. The recent Newfoundland oil extraction scheme uses the same playbook. The full life-cycle of fossil fuels must be addressed. “The most important decision big exporters could make is to say, ‘We won’t be the hydrocarbon equivalent of the narcotics cartels,’” McKibben writes.

    The State of Climate Action 2023 report by the World Resources Institute intensifies the demand that COP28 act on the climate crisis:

    “Recent rates of change for 41 of the 42 indicators across power, buildings, industry transport, forests and land, food and agriculture, technological carbon removal, and climate finance are not on track to reach their 1.5 °C-aligned targets for 2030… Failure to seize this moment and dramatically accelerate ambitious climate action across all sectors will exact a high price, with far-reaching consequences for all life on Earth.”

    The only indicator that is on track to meet its goals concerns electric light-duty vehicles, but remember that those vehicles obtain their electricity mostly from dirty electric grids—coal, oil and gas—and Québécois are keen to point out that it’s hydro that supplies their EV power needs. But a caveat needs to be inserted: dams destroy Indigenous communities and create untold ecological ruin to river systems and land.

    Speaking about biodiversity in the context of climate action, and vice versa, is a necessity; fortunately, the trend to do so has accelerated since last year’s UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) Montreal. Recent positive work by the member countries has been the central role traditional knowledge plays in protection and sustainable use of biodiversity as reaffirmed at a UN Biodiversity Convention meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.

    There was also excellent news from the European Union last week, with rewilding efforts at the centre of the Nature Restoration Law, part of the European Union’s Green Deal to protect the environment and reduce planetary heating, which will “establish measures to restore at least 20% of the bloc’s land and 20% of its marine environments by 2030. Currently, about 80% of natural habitats in Europe are in need of restoration. At least 30% of degraded habitats must be restored by the end of the decade under the law, rising to 60% by 2040 and 90% by 2050.”

    It is hoped that this law will be passed later this month, but Sofie Ruysschaert, nature restoration policy officer for BirdLife Europe, pointed out that the “true litmus test lies in whether this law will really address the staggering repercussions of the climate and nature crisis. And that will only be seen if and when member states properly implement the law.”

    The Guardian is currently running a series of articles entitled “The age of extinction,” reporting on how people are fighting to stop the catastrophic loss of species. Here is one example:

    Undermined by greed, we find ourselves in uncharted territory 

    “Responsibility for the better economy, the better life, belongs to us individually and to our communities… If we want to stop the impoverishment of land and people, we ourselves must be prepared to become poorer.”

    from a speech entitled Less Energy, More Life by Wendell Berry for a convention of Unitarians, 2013

    At the end of October this year, a peer-reviewed scientific article appeared in Nature Climate Changeentitled “Assessing the size and uncertainty of remaining carbon budgets.” Remaining carbon budgets refers to the Paris UN Climate Change Conference’s aspirational target and declaration that humanity must not go past a 2 degree Celsius (2C) threshold and preferably stay much closer to a 1.5C limit above the world’s pre-industrial temperature if we are not to bring on a shambolic unravelling of society and possibly a tipping point to bring on other simultaneous crises, sometimes referred to as a polycrisis. The carbon budget is how much more carbon and other greenhouse gases we can emit globally without sending the planet’s climate into utter chaos. Declarations can be cheap. 

    The 2021 Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use stated a goal to halt and reverse global deforestation by 2030. The annual Forest Declaration Assessment looks into how well countries live up to their word, and in 2023 it published a rigorously researched, withering report showing that the deforestation of millions of hectares keeps us from achieving that goal; furthermore, 4.1 million hectares of especially vital tropical forests was decimated in 2022. “The world is failing forests with devastating consequences on a global scale,” WWF Global Forests Lead Fran Price said in a statement. “It is impossible to reverse nature loss, address the climate crisis, and develop sustainable economies without forests.” 

    As was strongly stressed last year in Montreal at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15), little attention is given by governments and large corporations to embed the critical values that will slow and reverse biodiversity loss, and often money is invested in activities both consciously and inadvertently that in a benighted manner ransack our forests.

    There are, however, governments that help finance the UN climate and biodiversity agendas through the Global Environment Facility (GEF). GEF held a global meeting in Vancouver in August this year on funding biodiversity projects and launched a new global biodiversity fund: “The new Global Biodiversity Framework Fund (GBFF) has been designed to mobilize and accelerate investment in the conservation and sustainability of wild species and ecosystems, whose health is under threat from wildfires, flooding, extreme weather, and human activity including urban sprawl.”

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said recently that we have only a 50% chance of avoiding exceeding a 1.5C global temperature rise by the middle of the next decade, but what I found terrifying was a graph showing that during several months in 2023 we lurched past 1.5C before lowering, even though the overall global average is currently 1.2C. Now scientists speak cautiously about returning to a 1.5C average global temperature; in other words, many scientists are baking hope into their future calculations to reset global temperatures downwards even as the world passes major carbon no-go levels. Is it really possible to return to 1.5C from, say, 1.9C? In theory, yes, but it would take enormous dedication on the part of the richest economies to do so, and at present such concrete pledges are not evident. Why give governments that way out when most will happily kick the can down the road and leave it to others to clean up our present ecological mess?

    Speaking of hope, one might expect that in the 21st century a Nobel Prize in Economics would be awarded to a candidate who was fostering growing links between world economies and climate/biodiversity, but 2018 prizewinner William Nordhaus’s analysis of Gross Domestic Product and its connection to rising temperatures demonstrated that quite the opposite was the case. In an unflinching and damning exposé of Nordhaus’s damaging legacy on climate mitigation policies, we discover in the below Intercept article that this man and his associates, who appear to know nothing about science and seem to care not a jot for Nature, have had a detrimental impact on major scientific groups such as the IPCC by coming up with quantitative mathematical models that seemingly make it perfectly acceptable to allow for higher temperatures without having much of an impact on the economy. Talk about having your cake and eating it too! Since most of GDP, according to this “mathemagical sorcery”, takes place indoors, it doesn’t matter what happens outdoors. Are there agricultural concerns in a drought- or flood-plagued world? No worries, Nordhaus says, since food production amounts to only a few percentage points of GDP (compared to – my example – the armaments industry). Please read: When Idiot Savants Do Climate Economics.

    E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful elegantly and succinctly hit the nail on the head: “It is inherent in the methodology of economics to ignore man’s dependence on the natural world … owing to its addiction to purely quantitative analysis and its timorous refusal to look into the real nature of things.”

    In great contrast to Nordhaus’s oblivious anti-Nature stance was that of another Nobel laureate in Economics, Elinor Ostrom, who conducted “field studies on how people in small, local communities manage shared natural resources, such as pastures, fishing waters, and forests. She showed that when natural resources are jointly used by their users, in time, rules are established for how these are to be cared for and used in a way that is both economically and ecologically sustainable.”

    It’s not surprising that people are overwhelmed by the barrage of disastrous events now announced each week, or even daily. The major damage to Acapulco hotels by Hurricane Otis, as well as the realization that Antarctica’s enormous size and cold is not going to inhibit the melting of its glaciers, would typically top the list of this week’s top five catastrophic events – but we won’t speak of genocidal wars.

    Who wants to remember what took place this summer, or ponder the effects of the 2016 apocalyptic fire in Fort McMurray’s oil patch that consumed vast areas of forest, destroyed thousands of homes and traumatised the community? In his recently published book, Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World, John Vaillant does just that. He describes how “alive” that mega blaze was. The methane bomb has also lost its newsworthiness in 2023, but it will come back soon enough.

    The result, of course, as we creep closer to a Mad Max landscape, is for the top ten percent of the richest, “educated” people to double down on their fantasy-like exceptionalism to Nature’s laws, indulge their perceived entitlement to pollute, and jet off, with the conviction that before long there will be a complete ban on consuming anything but locally prepared tempeh burgers: some deniers will declare that the grave warnings are all nonsense and fly off to Mexico for a week or two.

    On a more positive note, the diehard over-60-year-olds who showed up last week at a inaugural climate/biodiversity meeting will be thanked profusely by younger generations for taking a stand against consumption-encrusted and ecocide-oriented criminals. Their idea is to mobilize their brethren into a powerful community of people who will use their wealth and political power to lobby effectively for a brave new order that will stop the onslaught on Earth. Their strongly held conviction is that societal change and collectively organized citizens will not only give us a reprieve, but also nudge humanity in a more empathetic direction. Aînés dans l’action climat is the name of the group.