“Blah, blah, blah.” So goes Greta Thunberg’s dismissal of the politicians’ promises early on at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. Fair enough — when you’ve immersed yourself in the details and complexities of the global heating crisis, it remains crystal clear that our leaders are still failing to address this worldwide, worsening emergency with the commitment, the funding, and the urgency that the situation demands.
On deforestation, pledges to halt this were made — but they said so last time too, with no real action to follow. Capping methane leaks was maybe the easiest problem to address, as this is fairly cheap to do, as well as important.
The Guardian found that that the world’s wealthiest 1% are responsible, with their extravagant lifestyles, for 16% of climate heating emissions. This is twice the carbon footprint of the poorest half of the world’s population. The U.S.’ historic total of all greenhouse gas emissions grew by 15% over just the last 10 years.
There are, however, signs of important shifts taking place, though nobody can foretell if these will be fast and deep enough to keep Planet Earth’s climate habitable and stable. Public awareness is rising — one in three Americans experienced a climate emergency this year alone, be it fires, floods or drought. These events are all set to worsen for at least 30 more years. The science emphasizes that we have only this decade to drastically reduce our releases of global heating gases, carbon dioxide and methane mostly.
The new infrastructure bill from Congress contains the largest sums ever directed by our government to climate remediation: $21 billion for capping leaky oil and gas wells; $65 billion to update the electric grid for a green future; $39 billion for mass transit; and $66 billion for Amtrak and commuter rail.
This pales beside the $500 billion in the pared-down and still-not-guaranteed Build Back Better bill. The largest amount there will support electric vehicles. The sober reality is that many trillions of dollars are needed for the climate right now, so this quibbling over hundreds of millions is, well, heads-in-the-sand disheartening.
COP26 has drawn tens of thousands of climate activists, particularly youth, who grasp what’s at stake much more than those who are older. Climate activists already make up the largest worldwide movement in history. This will only grow.
The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman wrote: “I was awed by the energy of all the youths on the streets demanding that we rise to the challenge of global warming, and by some of the amazing new technological and market fixes being proposed by innovators and investors.”
Tidal energy can power turbines 24 house a day, every single day, as tides never stop. New global satellites are pinpointing methane leaks and the logging of forests, providing real-time transparency to ongoing global heating activities anywhere.
On the unfortunate side, the Washington Post uncovered that most nations are under-reporting their greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that their proposed climate targets are already inadequate.
Bill McKibben recently reviewed the book “Electrify,” by data scientist Saul Griffith, who highlights the vital steps that our government must take to deal with a rapidly deteriorating climate. Mandating electric vehicles will save 15% of our energy use, electrifying home heating another 5-7%. Completely electrifying the U.S. would cut our primary energy use by half; then another 11% will come from stopping the mining and refining of fossil fuels. Our big three automakers are already planning for 40-50% of all new vehicles to be electric by 2030.
Batteries are a major focus of Griffith’s book. New advances include batteries using iron rather than expensive lithium; they can hold power for days at a time. These can be used to replace backup power plants that now use natural gas.
The U.S. has only just begun to invest in ocean wind power. Oceans are windier than most land areas. By contrast, Denmark already gets half its electricity from wind and solar. In one ocean wind power field, a mere 50 turbines produce power for 500,000 homes. The U.K. leads the world in offshore wind power, generating enough for 5 million homes, or 10% of that nation’s electric power needs.
Returning to COP26, we learned that fossil fuel producers can still water down the conference’s final deals. Thanks, Saudi Arabia. And Australia, too. The largest single contingent at COP26 was comprised of fossil fuel industry delegates.
Here’s another quote from Thunberg at COP26 (where she was not invited to participate): “All political and economic systems have failed — but humanity has not yet failed.”
COP26 has agreed to meet again in Egypt 12 months from now, to confirm the national climate pledges made this November.
Alasdair Coyne is the conservation director of Keep Sespe Wild, Ojai.
This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: World leaders still failing to fully address worsening climate change