COP Anxiety: 26th Time’s A Charm?

It’s all overwhelming really. Coming amidst the global pandemic that is far from over and a coup investigation in the United States which is just beginning, we are told this meeting in Glasgow is “our last best chance” to save the planet.

The “negotiating” always feels more like “leaders” negotiating for a PR win more than negotiating how to reverse our well-informed, willful march toward a climate catastrophe. Slow-moving, but unmistakably accelerating before our eyes, it’s a catastrophe so dire that it represents the irreversible moral bankruptcy of the responsible elite on behalf of the human race.

I know how hard so many folks are working this week — thank you all. I applaud you and genuinely cheer you on. There is good news cascading out on social media, the product of many focused and determined collaborative efforts. My favorites so far are this, and this. It all matters.

But looked at in its entirety, I don’t understand this collective theatre, the play now in its 26th Act. A pledge to end coal that’s missing the top 70% of consuming countries? Go team! I’m afraid the media is incapable of offering that lens anymore. Certainly not the mainstream media. “Fair and balanced” reporting on progress that is genuine progress for sure, and… largely irrelevant to the task at hand in a timeframe that matters?

Are we incapable of saying the truth, even if the implications for our economy are “not practical”?  When a “leader” tells you something is “not practical” you learn two things: first, you have a good idea what needs to happen, and second, you know you are not talking to a genuine leader.

The right questions are essential. Here’s one for today: How is it possible that the global community has basically adopted “NetZero2050” as the collective goal against which we are supposed to announce our plans and judge success? Where is the mainstream media to simply call BS? Isn’t that their job? It’s really not that complicated to understand:

  • Climate change is a symptom, not a root cause. We can’t “fix” climate change. We must transform the economic system (I have some ideas on that).
  • The issue is the carbon balance in the atmosphere, not emissions. This is a big distinction, with profound implications on our actions and focus.
  • Today we are at 420 ppm CO2 equivalent in the atmosphere (and rising every day after the pandemic caused pause in economic growth), a 20% overshoot of our 350 upper limit goal before factoring in a buffer for the non-linear, unpredictable, scary stuff like the permafrost melting or other tipping points from which there is no return.
  • We think 350 ppm equates to 1.5 degrees warming. Even 350 may well be too high if we want to be confident in the outcome (we do). We are now at only 1.1 degrees warming and climate havoc already reigns (leading to economic and political chaos as we have seen). The fact that we use anything less than 99% confidence factors on our estimates (we do, even the scientists) is insanity, but I digress.
  • The “net” in “NetZero” is basically an unquantified plug figure for future “offsets.” Best I can tell, offsets are largely (but not entirely) two forms of cheating: First, we count what’s already essential for the carbon balance (a standing Amazon rainforest for example) under the logic that avoiding something negative becomes a positive. Math check. And second, “NetZero” logic is an explicit assumption that massive scale, mechanical carbon capture technology that does not exist today will save us in the future (without other catastrophic unintended consequences).
  • Agriculture (broadly defined to include not only cropland, but grasslands, forests, mangroves, seagrasses, kelp forests, and more) is the foundation of all human economies and the key to balancing the carbon cycle. The technology is called photosynthesis. It’s free, and so far, not captured by private interests (beware). There is immense opportunity here, and reason for hope! Where are the natural sequestration acceleration targets, and money pledges to ensure they are achieved? Reducing deforestation is essential but does not count as an increase in sequestration.
  • How we manage our landscapes together with slashing emissions (sinks and sources) is the foundation of any serious response to climate change, and the only source of logical hope. But if we don’t address desertification, biodiversity loss, chemical toxins and overpopulation at the same time, we will destroy civilization. The sudden magical arrival of free, clean energy would only accelerate our demise if we don’t address all these systemic issues together. It’s all connected. This requires that we all, especially our “leaders,” learn to see, think, and manage holistically, which today they do not.
  • Agriculture is NOT, let me stress again, NOT simply a convenient vehicle for carbon offsets so Jeff Bezos can fly his private rocket ship (or was it a plane) to Glasgow and drop off a $2B check and claim a “NetZero” lifestyle. But thank you for the check, Jeff.
  • Who picked 2050 anyway? It’s a round number. What else? It’s quite obviously far enough away that it facilitates inaction today so it’s something we can get the well-intended PR negotiating machine to agree on. Climate chaos is here now.
  • When the pandemic arrived, we mobilized over $9 TRILLION in the United States alone, despite all our incompetency. Similar scale as we did to patch the financial crash of 2008. Much of it via the Federal Reserve (basically they printed it to save the economy). Climate change is FAR more dangerous to civilization (hint: civilization includes economy) than the pandemic or a financial crash (or the size of the Fed’s balance sheet for goodness sake!). And restoring the carbon cycle is actually MORE urgent, understood systemically. A coordinated response by the world’s leading central banks must be the foundation of mobilizing the necessary trillions of investment capital to where it needs to be (Nigeria and Indonesia, not just California and Bavaria) in a timeframe that matters. Where in Glasgow is this conversation happening?
  • And then there’s the matter of the need to rapidly destroy the foundation of carbon intense economies such as Saudi Arabia and West Virginia, and the massive investment required to regenerate them — not only a moral imperative, a systemic health imperative as well. Everything is connected. Oh, and did I forget to say Russia too? And Texas, and Alberta, and many more.
  • Yet our “leaders” are incapable of leading via the United Nations construct premised on national self-interest rather than collective interest. National self-interest is a cancer to interconnected global challenges.

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How do we respond to all this distressing and depressing reality? I think we stop pretending our leaders will come up with a plan to “fix” the problem.

Instead, we must first face reality. Grieve for what is already lost and will be lost tomorrow. Accept we are heading into a big, long storm and there will be more loss. Grieve the end of the Modern Age for all it brought us. And then get to work. There’s plenty of work to choose from.

It’s a large boat: stop delaying and simply find your seat in the boat, pick up an oar and begin rowing. Just row however you are moved to row, utilizing your unique talents and experiences. If you are an activist, activate — systems only change in response to pressure. If you are an investor and have been given much or entrusted with much*, know the bridge to tomorrow’s economy is built by real investment today. Investment in what really matters — stretching your “response ability” beyond what is merely “practical.” That is our collective purpose at this time. The “solution” is really the emergence into a new Era that is now well underway. The Regenerative Era.

(Asterisk:) “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48).

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