Climate change – the latest scream for help

Do you remember one of the world’s great exercises in futility? In 2007 as many as 20,000 politicians, officials, international functionaries, journalists and activists attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, better known as the Bali Conference. That was a very large number of Neros assembled in one place complete with their fiddles.

The outcome of this conference was “hailed by governments as a success.” Which governments? And in what way could “a deal to start negotiations to adopt a new climate pact” be counted a success? Anyone can declare an intention to do something – but will it be done? Such deals are fundamentally meaningless. James Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on environmental quality at the time, speaking for the greatest Nero of them all, was quoted as saying triumphantly, “We now have one of the broadest negotiating agendas ever on climate change.” Well, hurrah, then, we agreed an agenda. And Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, was quoted as saying that Bali represented “an important basis for a good result.” Well, hurrah again, Bali achieved the basis of a good result. Not therefore a good result. In other words (words!) Bali was a draftsman’s paradise, as such conferences usually are, where the purpose always in the end becomes to stitch up a luxuriant fig leaf to cover complete nakedness.


ian on sundayShakespeare said it all about such windy, grandiloquent, useless conferences when he wrote the dialogue between two noblemen, Glendower and Hotspur, in the play Henry IV, Part One:

Glendower: “I can call spirits from the vasty deep!”

Hotspur: “Why, so can I, or so can any man. But will they come

when you do call for them?”


Indeed. What we saw at Bali seven years ago was not a new thing. Throughout history rulers have believed (or pretended to believe) that the announcement of good intentions is the equivalent to the solution of problems. What is perhaps new in our age is that this tendency has hardened and crystallized into a way of life for multitudes of experts, advisers, consultants and other important people who live and work and find their motivation in a sphere remote from the real world.

Please realize that there exists in the world today two entirely separate spheres of activity. One is the sphere of rhetoric, well-researched position papers, impressive prepared speeches, mutual backslapping, declarations of good intent, and agreed communiqués. The other sphere is the sphere of reality, cold hard facts, military and economic strength, tough commercial negotiations, payment by results, cash down and the bottom line. Each of these spheres function quite separately, has its own apparatus of power and influence, administers its own procedures and proceedings, sets its own objectives and achieves its own successes. They are quite self-contained. There seems to be little, if any, spillover from one sphere into the other.

Progress is only made when a way is found to connect the sphere of good intentions with the sphere of practical results. Failing that, the spirits of doable compromise and real progress will always remain imprisoned in the vasty deep of interminable talk-shops.

The Bali Conference could only have been judged a success if it had achieved the reduction of greenhouse – gas emissions, the increase of which was even then causing disasters brought about by global warming and climate change and the acceleration of which will in a couple of ticks of historical time lead to worldwide catastrophe, a great if not final extinction.

After Bali basically nothing of note has been done. The sphere of good intentions has made no connection with the sphere of practical results. So now catastrophe is seven years nearer. At the end of March the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a reputable UN Group that summarises climate science from time to time, reported on the latest situation. They are far too staid a body to say simply “Basically, we’re screwed” but let us just say that the situation is very dire. Some of the group’s conclusions are as follows:


● ice caps are melting;

● water supplies are coming under stress;

● sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing;

● coral reefs are dying;

● oceans are becoming more acidic;

● fish and other organisms of the deep are migrating toward the poles or

going extinct.


Quite apart from more savage storms, rising sea levels, flooded coasts, increased desertification and changing weather patterns that kill economies – quite apart from those minor considerations – latest Report warns in measured tones: “ Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security and prolong existing and create new poverty traps.”

What is more, and what should cause the angriest of outcries is that the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming, will be highest on the list of victims as climate disruptions intensify.

With the continuing global failure to limit greenhouse-gas emissions, there is an ever-increasing risk that climate changes in the coming decades will overwhelm the efforts now belatedly being made in many countries to adapt to climate change in the absence of doing anything about the root cause. To put it in local terms, patching and even strengthening the seawall may well one day be overwhelmed and mechanisation in the sugar industry may not be fast enough to catch up with the reducing number of opportunity days available for harvesting.

Since tropical deforestation causes 20% of greenhouse-gas emissions, those countries like Guyana which are relatively strong in keeping our forests intact deserve whatever “preservation dividend” we can earn. But worldwide much too little much too late is being done. Talking while the world burns and floods and dies will lead to accumulating disaster. All the while we talk and report and tinker Nature takes a few more steps along its own determined way to solving the problem – by the eventual elimination of that rather stupid species, mankind.

More in Features, Sunday


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