I WONDER how many people around the world are watching COP26 with their lips curled in a permanent sneer. I have witnessed too many of these gatherings to harbour even the tiniest hope of anything positive emerging from this latest worthy talkfest.
Not even an impassioned Boris Johnson, giving his very best impression of an Extinction Rebellion activist, could remove my sneer. And certainly not dear old “Sleepy-Joe” Biden, sitting there in COP26’s great hangar of a venue, arms folded across his chest, and … well … sleeping.
Not that I’m criticising the US President. His reaction to the droning catastrophism was entirely reasonable. The only responses that topped it were those of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping – who didn’t even bother to show up.
The Russian President has far too much to contend with on the climate change front to waste his time in Glasgow. Roughly two thirds of the Russian Federation is permafrost. Which means that, as of now, roughly two-thirds of the Russian Federation is melting.
This not just a matter of twisted railway tracks and the foundations of houses parting company with their superstructure – although that would be worrisome enough. Right across Siberia, gaping holes are appearing – some of them huge – where Methane, imprisoned beneath the frozen tundra for thousands of years, is bursting forth into the atmosphere.
Methane is, of course, among the most devastating of greenhouse gasses.
As if this wasn’t enough to distract the Russian leader, unprecedented surface temperatures across Siberia are drying out its vast primeval forestlands, transforming them into so much tinder for the seemingly never-ending succession of wildfires that have been exhausting thousands of firefighters for the last two years.
Undoubtedly, Putin has been demanding answers from his top scientific advisers. Being Russians, their answers were likely a dark mixture of pessimism and fatalism. Preventing climate change is no longer an option, they would have told their boss. It’s already here. And, no, there is nothing we can do to save Siberia – unless the President knows of some way to re-freeze half a continent.
What could Putin have said to the COP26 delegates anyway?
“You’re wasting your time. It’s too late.
“Climate change could have been prevented if we had acted collectively 50 years ago. But, 50 years ago we were too preoccupied with the question of whether industrial (i.e. fossil-fuel-based) civilisation should be run by socialists or capitalists.
“We failed to notice that the exponential increase in greenhouse gasses was rendering the entire argument moot. The challenge facing the human species now is the same it has always been: adapt, or die. Udachi!”
And Russia’s contribution to global warming is less than the European Union’s.
Consider, then, the challenge confronting the President of the world’s biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions – the People’s Republic of China. What could Xi Jinping possibly say to COP26?
“I have nothing to offer you. Nothing. Because the People’s Republic has attempted to make deep, structural changes to the Chinese economy: changes intended to dramatically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. It has been a disaster.
“Without the burning of fossil fuels our species could never have come so far, built so high, lived so well. Far too many of us are now dependent on those same fossil fuels. The Chinese people have learned what it means to suddenly stop using them.
“The only possible solution is sudden and massive depopulation.
“But that raises the awful question: who is to die? Because, be under no illusion, billions must perish.
“All I can tell you is that the Chinese people will not be volunteering. And neither, I suspect, will any of the other peoples represented here.
“As always, it will come down to a struggle for survival. Zhù nǐ hǎo yùn!”
Not that world leaders will ever speak so plainly, or so honestly, to their own, or the World’s, peoples.
COP26 is important and necessary: not on account of the messages it will impart to us; and certainly not on account of the workable solutions it will offer us. It is important and necessary precisely because humanity needs to be persuaded that it is still rational to go on believing, or, at the very least, hoping, that the looming and unstoppable climate catastrophe can be avoided.
“Good luck!” – to all of us. (Offered without a sneer.)
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 5 November 2021.