November 22, 2021
When the Global Climate Summit finally concluded Glasgow recently the representatives all 197 attending nations knew they had failed simply because they had no real leadership and no unity of purpose.
In fairness we should liken the complex problem of global warming to a large passenger liner travelling in calm seas without a captain.
All the senior officers know global warming is looming like a rocky reef about 20 miles dead ahead. They know it will take their ship about ten miles to slow down enough to change direction but their ship does not have a captain to issue orders. They have known about the reef for some time and agreed that they needed to chart a course to avoid it but no one could decide who should chart the course. There is no one overall in command and only a lone helmsman on the bridge.
All decisions on the navigation, control and speed of the ship are made by a committee of ships officers. They meet irregularly in cabin 26 on the portside, know as Cabin On Port 26.
With the reef in clear view on radar they decided a meeting was necessary and agreed the ship needed to slow down enough to be able to turn safely to avoid disaster. The Chief Navigator punched the buttons on his calculator, scribbled on the table cloth, it was morning tea time, looked worried and finally announced, “we will have to slow down to at least eight knots before lunch to make a safe turn to avoid the reef. The longer we leave it the sharper that turn will be and the more uncomfortable for the passengers.”
The chief engineer said. “If we slow down that much, we will burn much less coal and my stokers provide the coal and get paid for every ton they shovel into the boiler furnaces.”
The chief Puser said, “We will have a union dispute on our hands and we don’t want that.”
“I know,” said the Chief Cabin Boy, “We could issue them with smaller shovels. That will slow them down a bit.”
“I suppose that will have to do,” the Chief Engineer said. “In the meantime I think we need to rearrange those deck chairs again.” And so the meeting went on until well after lunch time and everybody felt they had done their best.
In the passenger lounge a little girl said, “Blah, blah, blah,” and went to find where the life jackets were kept.
Sound a bit far fetched? It would be if it wasn’t (almost) true.
The world’s leading nations have known for more the eighty years that rates of fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, methane production from rubbish tips and agriculture were unsustainable in the long term.
National delegates to the climate change summit also know better than most the complex science of global warming created by these human activities and subsequent climate change which is already leading to dramatic and devastating weather events around the world.
The 1992 Paris Agreement was designed to limit global temperature rise to less than 2C this century, and to try and keep warming to 1.5C if possible. After nearly 30 years of talk and no real action catastrophic impacts of climate change are now unavoidable. These include sea-level rise, inundating many small island nations and increased frequency of natural disasters such as we have recently seen in the south of the United States.
The latest predictions from the Climate Action Tracker show the world will heat up by an average of 3C by the end of the century regardless now of what the world’s major nations attempt to do. That 3C increase is a global average. Making up that average are some astonishing increases as high as 12C in some places, particularly on already hot and dry equatorial countries, making them uninhabitable for humans and many wildlife species. The predicted disasters will occur with increasing frequency well before the end of the century.
After two weeks of debate, discussion and meaningless platitudes the Glasgow summit succumbed to last minute pressure from India, which already has a major coal smog problem in Delhi, and agreed to meaninglessly “phase down” the combustion of coal rather than the more difficult but essential “phase out” initial proposal.
India has a huge percentage of her population living in near poverty and hundreds of thousands of them are employed in the coal industry, many bagging the fuel by hand. Closing down that industry, without creating an immediate human poverty disaster of unimaginable proportions, is impossible. Consequently, the world faces a global disaster of even greater proportions in the not-too distant future.
On the bridge the helmsman still waits for instructions. Down in the engine room the stokers, with their smaller shovels, feed coal faster into the furnaces and the funnels continue to belch black smoke. The ship is still at full steam ahead and the compass heading is exactly westwards into the setting sun right behind the rocky reef. Collision is now unavoidable.