As thousands of fires engulfed Amazon rainforest, a major dispute broke out between Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian president, and Macron, the French leader. Macron angrily accused his Brazilian counterpart of “ecoside” for allowing the world’s largest forest to be despoiled.
Bolsonaro was accused of a heinous crime against the planet. Needless to say, the Brazilian strongman was enraged and he countered by asserting that Macron “was treating Brazil as a colony or no man’s land.”
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“Our sovereignty is non-negotiable,” he exclaimed. It is true that sovereignty is the issue. Is Brazil the rainforest’s guardian or owner?
Bolsonaro’s destruction of this crucial carbon sink and vital resource for plant and animal lives is unacceptable. Can the world not just smile and bear it? Most people would agree that the Brazilian leader’s behavior is completely unacceptable, but what about Australia, a highly-developed country, still expanding its coal production, most of which is exported.
Scott Morrison is the prime minister of Canberra. He claims that their coal is cleaner than any other coal. In reality, coal remains the largest source of climate-warming carbon dioxide and is the dirtiest fossil fuel.
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Until recently, America was the largest polluter in the world, with China now surpassing it. Even at the COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow they declined to sign off on an ambitious anti-coal plan because they didn’t want to annoy Senator Joe Manchin, a key senate vote, who represents West Virginia where the black stuff is an important driver of economic activity. India is experiencing rapid economic growth, fueled by fossil fuels.
They claim that it is unfair to put restrictions on them while they try to meet the demands of a large population. They are refusing to embrace carbon neutrality and insist that others, led largely by the United States with far greater responsibility for historical emissions do more. Some African countries and Indonesia play the same game.
They claim that talking of rigid climate goals is inconsistent with their legitimate plans to achieve economic progress, given their underdevelopment, and the exploitation of their resources by colonial forces.
These were issues that were debated in the past. Now, the future of the planet’s existence is at stake. There is a danger that we will, just like Nero, fiddle while Rome burns. Territorial sovereignty should not be understood to allow the plundering of collective resources.
According to the prestigious World Meteorological Organization the accumulated heat from greenhouse gas “has propelled the planet into uncharted territory with far-reaching repercussions for current and future generations.”
Another expert described the crisis using more graphic imagery as “a deafening, screeching smoke alarm going off in the kitchen.” The UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, warned that the last seven years have been the warmest on record. “From ocean depths to mountain tops, from melting glaciers to relentless extreme weather events, ecosystems and communities around the globe are being devastated.”
Every year, the world loses a portion of its tropical forest. In the near future, more than one million species of animal and plant species are at risk. It is difficult to imagine the extent of the ongoing destruction.
Scientists agree that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by half by 2030. However, instead of decreasing they are increasing. Scientists have given up on the goal of limiting the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Even if all countries achieve the previous reductions, temperatures will still rise by 2.7 degrees by 2025.
Further reasons to feel depressed are provided by the Republican Party. In 2008, John McCain was the party’s presidential candidate and he proposed serious plans to ease the climate crisis. Donald Trump’s period in the White House was a disaster for conservation. He pulled America out of the Paris Climate Accord, and he deposed the Environmental Protection Agency.
The GOP, a major party in politics, continues to act in a disgraceful state of denial that is very hard to understand. Their depressing message: Our leader says it is all a hoax – and he will likely be the party’s nominee for the presidency again in 2024.
Humanity will not give up, as we saw at the Glasgow summit with the enthusiasm and real progress of the 20,000 delegates representing nearly two hundred countries.
They agreed to reduce deforestation to 85% before 2035, as well as to a similar, but less ambitious, program for minimizing coal use. They also plan to achieve a significant 30% reduction in methane gases within this time frame.
Experts presented compelling graphs and professional studies to support the economic benefits of using wind, wave, or solar power over oil, gas, or coal. Former Irish president Mary Robinson’s tearful plea in Glasgow for outlawing fossil fuels to save the planet resonated across all borders. Young people were demonstrating the positive impact of a carbonized atmosphere on human health as they walked through the city.
There were mild celebrations towards the close of the conference when China and the United States, despite the frosty relationship between the two governments, agreed to “enhance ambition” in the climate area and to find ways together to move forward.
Capitalism requires long-term planning, as well as the ability to accumulate annual profits. The crisis is so grave that the big banks, pension funds, asset managers, and asset managers recently pledged $130 trillion dollars in order to finance the development renewable energy. This gives a strong positive message that there will be ample funding to save the planet. Their money is not only on new technologies but also on wind and solar power.
It is encouraging to see that this issue has been taken up by a new generation. Biden’s victory in 2020 was made possible by the votes of millennials as well as the generation that followed them. Climate was a key issue for many of these voters.
Think about the inevitable worsening of catastrophic weather-related events, and how these effects will affect congressional and presidential election results. Are younger generations likely to vote for a political party in denial about the carbon problem?
The Green parties have a large influence in Europe on policy-making. In the United States, this issue will be a boon for the Democrats. We are at the beginning stages of new technologies that capture carbon from the atmosphere.
This area is seeing major new developments, which have the potential to have positive climate impacts over the next decade. Last but not least, we must acknowledge and make public the central moral aspect of this crisis. It would be a crime to leave a disintegrating and polluted planet for future generations.
Pope Francis’ signature teaching in his encyclical Laudato Si lays out in the clearest, clarion terms why we must protect what he calls “our common home.” The profound wisdom of the pope’s message, seconded by an array of other distinguished faith leaders, is being increasingly heard from pulpits which will have a growing impact. This too gives reason to be hopeful.
Gerry O’Shea blogs at wemustbetalking.com