Less than a month after the hysteria and sheer bad thinking levelled at the decision of U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, some sanity and common sense have returned to some of the climate change community.
As we wrote at the time, if the scientific view is correct that climate change poses a major and existential threat to humanity and the planet as we know it, the Paris Agreement cannot possibly be the solution since it exacerbates the problem by sanctioning yet more increases in CO2 emissions.
The bad logic underpinning Paris is that the developed world cannot queer the pitch for the developing world.
The rich industrial countries, so the argument goes, have reached maturity by emitting CO2 due to their use of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution, and therefore must now cut back, while developing countries, in particular China and India, get rich – by increasing CO2 output!
Influential commentators such as Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, push this line in a misguided view of “climate justice” and historical equity – as if the Europeans and Americans of the Industrial Revolution knew anything about climate change! Moreover, once the West, and in particular Europe, realised what has happening, it began to take action. Even though emissions continued rising, its energy efficiency is now much higher than ever before.
This blame game, and assigning levels of CO2 emissions under the Paris agreement based on history and current levels of development, not only utterly fail to solve the problem of “saving the planet,” but exacerbate it by allowing more CO2 emissions.
The first inconvenient truth is that the Paris Agreement accepts the reality of climate change, but is all about mitigation and adaptation, rather than solving the problem.
The second inconvenient truth is that beyond hybrid cars and switching to bicycles and the like, much of humanity is not interested in accepting the increases in poverty, cuts in living standards or just the sheer inconvenience which serious reductions in emissions would entail, given current levels of technology.
Aviation emissions, for example, account for just 1.3% of global greenhouse gases now, but are forecast to reach 25% of all emissions by 2050 as more and more people take to the skies. Some 10 million people now fly every day, not to mention countless cargo flights.
It is a safe bet that the billionaires, multi-millionaires and government leaders who lambasted Trump over his withdrawal from Paris prefer private planes to the cramped conditions of economy class.
An agreement to curtail aviation emissions in October 2016 was described by some environmentalists as woefully inadequate.
Another environmental irony is that literally hundreds of millions of people in the developed rich world criticise climate change – while believing for decades that it is both healthy and trendy to drink water from polluting plastic bottles.
This number is now shooting up as China also acquires the taste, but some campaigners predict the huge amount of bottles will create an environmental crisis as serious as climate change.
Now, a letter-cum-opinion piece from 60 signatories in politics, business, investment, science and environmentalism has appeared in the prestigious American science journal Nature, which, as we argued just a few weeks ago, says that reductions in CO2 emissions are needed if the science is correct.
Moreover, says Nature, they are needed quickly, within the next few years, before it is too late to prevent temperatures rising above the “acceptable” limits of between 1.5 and 2°C.
Where was the thinking along these lines when Trump made his announcement to withdraw from Paris?
As so often since Trump began his challenge for the Republican nomination and then the U.S. Presidency, the widespread animus against “the Donald” trumped rationality.
Most comment in early June 2017 was not about climate change at all, but about Trump and U.S. withdrawal from global engagement.
We believe that withdrawal was indeed a mistake. The U.S. is in a far better position to provide global leadership both politically and scientifically than any other country in the world. It has unnecessarily ceded that position to China and Europe and lost the chance to lead and coordinate efforts from “inside the tent” – and leadership and coordination are sorely needed.
The U.S. has also lost major investment opportunities as the world, and America itself, attempt to shift from fossil fuels to renewables.
But these are very different issues from the simple fact that pumping yet more CO2 and other greenhouse into the atmosphere will exacerbate climate change – irrespective of which countries are doing it.
Besides, the U.S. withdrawal from Paris is mitigated in America itself by the determination of American business and state and local government to continue their efforts to combat global warming.
The luminaries who have signed the Nature opinion piece also point out that climate change will affect poor countries most of all – an argument we made in 2007:
China and India can insist as much as they want that the United States and Europe begin to reduce carbon emissions before they take action, but poor countries such as themselves will suffer far more from global warming than the rich and technologically advanced countries of the northern hemisphere.
We welcome the Nature opinion piece if for no other reason than that it is based on logic and commonsense, rather than the hysteria and bad thinking which vitiate much of the discussion on climate change.