Greta Thunberg, the most high-profile climate activist on the planet, set the tone for the UN climate conference (COP-26) in Glasgow before the conference even began, characterizing the world’s leaders as full of hot air, saying, “Net Zero blah blah blah.” It was her way of saying that COP-26 will be all words and no action. Empty words on a burning planet. Later at the COP, Greta called it a “global north green wash festival.”
Meanwhile, the group Eco Equity, with others, calculated the US Fair Share to be -195%. In other words, to account for the U.S. historical emissions and comparative wealth, the US should reduce its emissions by 195% (note from the mathematicians, that is quite a bit more than “net zero”). But back home in the US, the Democrats (the supposedly pro-climate action party), which hold power in the US House, US Senate, and Presidency, were deadlocked over whether to spend money on climate action or not. That’s right, as COP-26 began, the PRO-climate party could not agree to do ANYTHING (eventually they passed a compromise bill, which was opposed by the most progressive House members). And just spending money is not necessarily going to help the climate crisis. The “bi-partisan” infrastructure bill includes a lot of money for roads and bridges, which are traversed by carbon emitting vehicles. Sure, there are some improvements to the grid, and some more EV charging stations. But there is no cap on emissions. There are no climate regulations. Some incentives and rebates may go to people (like me) who care, while people who don’t care will continue their emitting ways. And if the recent election in Virginia (which took place on Tuesday, the second day of the COP) is any indication, the anti-climate party may make gains in 2022 and 2024, when they will have no problems subsidizing and rigging the field for the fossil fuel industry.
Yes, it is enough to give someone cognitive dissonance.
FEASTA’s delegation provided a few updates from onsite. Caroline Whyte says there may be the opportunity for FEASTA to form a partnership with World Basic Income. WBI has a proposal for capping carbon and generating dividends that’s extremely similar to CapGlobalCarbon. And it is always great to hear someone (besides us) saying the ‘climate activists need to go beyond just asking for more climate action, they need to ask specifically for a carbon cap and dividend.’ One positive outcome from COP-26 would be if WBI and Feasta form a Cap Carbon alliance to advocate a global upstream cap on carbon.
COP-26 featured another interesting international development that FEASTA has been encouraging (a partnership between Global North and Global South countries). Denmark and Costa Rica are forming a Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA), with the goal of phasing out all fossil fuel production at source by 2050. This includes existing production sites. They’re looking for other countries to join in with them. That comes fairly close to the starting-point for CapGlobalCarbon. We will be monitoring developments closely.
The Irish Times published this article by FEASTA Chair John Sharry as he left for Glasgow. It addresses the important psychological challenges posed by climate change, and encourages collective action as a potential remedy to the cognitive dissonance (which seems to be a theme here).
Among FEASTA’s youth delegates, Saoirse Exton relayed the following comment:
I found the COP26 very inaccessible in general. There was little to no information in the hallways or in the various different rooms and buildings on how to actually get around, which badges meant which meetings and how to obtain tickets to attend the High-Level Leaders Summit. It felt a little pointless to be there due to the hours spent sitting around waiting for something to happen.
The messages I heard most often were those praising carbon capture, especially from wealthier and more fossil-fuel funded countries such as Saudi Arabia and Australia. It felt a bit beside the point to be constantly talking aout carbon capture and little to no alternatives. I also heard a lot about net zero, which, yet again, relies almost entirely on carbon capture technologies that largely don’t exist or are too expensive. I felt really angry when that was the sole focus, because there are so many alternatives to continuing to funnel money into environmentally and socially destructive companies such as Shell and BP.
I don’t think my level of hope has changed an awful lot, if I’m honest. It was awesome to see so many young people from across the planet coming together, but the climate crisis really isn’t without its issues too. It is a stressful, exhausting, anger-inducing experience, especially when world leaders pass within two metres of you. Many of the decisions that have been made so far by negotiators and leaders are too little too late. They are not willing to commit to completely phasing out fossil fuels and prioritising people over profit.
I hope to see new forms of action emerging from this COP26. I hope we can really value how climate activism as we know it has been co-opted into the mainstream deliberately by governments, companies and the media and how we can work together to create a space and a movement that is truly representative of all voices and doesn’t rely on the inherent privilege of many wealthier countries in the Global North. I also want to see leaders return to their respective countries and immediately start working to reform their various policies and systems, even if I don’t think there’s much of a chance of that happening.
Regarding official UN press releases, a few countries have signaled they will be phasing out coal.
There were climate pledges on reducing methane emissions and deforestation.
India set its net zero date for 2070 (presumably long after current leaders have been buried).
But the ambition is not striking.
Why can’t the 5 richest individuals in the world buy out the 5 biggest coal companies, and shut them down by the end of this month, provide 5 years of basic income to each employee who would be laid off, while the governments commits to providing job training and career transition assistance to those employees (but not to the top executives)? Then there would be no one left to accept the counterproductive fossil subsidies. The mines would be converted to parks or solar PV arrays. End of story for coal in the USA. (This idea has not been vetted by FEASTA, I am just venting/brainstorming/ranting here.)
But, to end on a more optimistic note:
As an Op-Ed in the Guardian said:
The fight for the climate has become the cause of a generation, joined by worldwide movements of youth, indigenous peoples, faith and justice groups, businesses and local governments. Climate now embraces science, human rights, health, environmental justice, race, gender and equity. The arguments have been won, the science is certain, the solutions found, and people want progress. There’s still far to go, but the future is not set in stone as it appeared to be in 2006 – the old walls of doubt are crumbling, the momentum is building and there will be no going back from Glasgow.
One more week to go! Stay tuned for another update at the end of Week 2!
Note: Feasta is a forum for exchanging ideas. By posting on its site Feasta agrees that the ideas expressed by authors are worthy of consideration. However, there is no one ‘Feasta line’. The views of the article do not necessarily represent the views of all Feasta members.
Mike Sandler is the current Chair of FEASTA’s Board of Directors and is a climate change and sustainability professional with experience working for nonprofits and government. In 2001 Mike co-founded the Center for Climate Protection based in Sonoma County, California. Inspired by Peter Barnes and Richard Douthwaite, he has advocated for revenues from a price on carbon to be returned back to the public as a per capita dividend or share. He actively promotes CapGlobalCarbon and he has written on green monetary reform and basic income, some of which is archived on his author page on HuffPost.