While our leaders doze off at climate summits counting the digits in their bank accounts, deliberately manipulating environmental policies in order to favour their political agendas, and continuing to blame individual citizens for the climate crisis: WE SEE RIGHT THROUGH IT.
COP26 has been an elaborate spectacle of well-written greenwashing-laden speeches and brief attempts at appearing empathetic to Indigenous Nations, but will the vague promises made actually amount to tangible actions, or will this simply be a repeat of each year before it?
For 26 years of United Nation’s COPs carbon emissions have continuously and exponentially risen. Oil and gas is not only still being funded by taxpayers in the trillions, but right now the SAME leaders that are promising to transition AWAY from fossil fuels are actively investing in NEW oil pipelines, natural gas power plants and coal mining projects.
Corruption at the highest levels allow for “business as usual”, despite the impending doomsday outlook mentioned in countless COP26 speeches this year. But when we learn that the fossil fuel industry represents over 500 delegates at this year’s summit, more than double that of the United Kingdom and higher than any single country in attendance, it’s clear why politicians are tiptoeing around any real and specific commitments to eliminate fossil fuels, and how industry leaders such as BP/Shell and Exxon are conveniently left unnamed and unblamed for what many claim are “crimes against the environment”. Over 100 fossil fuel companies are represented at COP26, and the single biggest group identified was the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) with 103 delegates in Glasgow this year.
In fact, the first published draft of text of the Glasgow agreement not only makes no mention of an intended reduction of reliance on fossil fuels, neither coal or oil, but it fails to reference them altogether. This blatant oversight (if it can be called as such) is a clear indication of the now famous remark, “blah blah blah” – a term used by the ‘Fridays For Future’ activist Greta Thunberg to describe the deliberate timewasting and avoidance of action in climate discussions such as these.
On the COP podium UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson publicly lectured other attendees about the grave reliance we have on burning fossil fuels and the urgency in which we must separate from them, meanwhile only a few days later flying to London by private jet for dinner at a gentlemen’s club. In fact, the majority of leaders, lobbyists and stakeholders arrived in Glasgow by private jet. An estimated 1,400 tons of carbon (but likely much more) is said to have been emitted by COP26-bound private jets alone. In stark contrast, the world’s poorest 1% people emit less than approximately one ton of carbon per year.
Billionaire Jeff Bezos (net worth $200b), who also arrived by private jet, appropriately pledged [read: bribed] $2 billion at COP26 to climate efforts, half of which will go to the richest country in the world to support their growing “eco”-economy. This in contrast to Bezos spending $5.5 billion to spend 4 minutes weightless in space in July 2021, and of course the fact that his business is built on the destruction of this planet, it’s the perfectly accurate illustration of what “carbon offsetting” really is: a way for the rich to continue to pollute by donating their spare change to anything with the word “sustainable” in it (a term that still isn’t legally defined).
What we MUST begin to realise is that WE OUTNUMBER THEM.
“They” deliberately and cunningly designed our economies in such a way that the top 1% of the population own 43% of wealth, and the bottom half own only 1%. The richest are coincidentally also the biggest polluters, the wealthiest 10% responsible for HALF the global greenhouse gas emissions.
This is not to say we all don’t have a personal moral responsibility to do our best to reduce the negative impact we have on our planet, but shall we accept all of the blame? Absolutely not.
Shall we expect them to make EXCUSES or can we demand them to make CHANGES?
The climate crisis is a plight that does not stand in solitude and did not result by accident. Too often solutions around the climate emergency are reduced to deceptive and watered-down terms and phrases, such as “net zero” and “carbon neutral”, but what do we really understand about how we got to the position we are currently in? It may seem obvious, but the best way we can fix these problems is to admit what caused them, and it rarely feels like politicians or the fossil fuel industry tell us the whole truth.
Government fossil fuel subsidies across the globe amounted to a whopping 6.8% of the GDP in 2020 – that’s $5.9 trillion to be exact – and they are expected to continue to rise to 7.4% by 2025, despite the climate commitments made by our leaders during G20 and COP26. We can safely deduce that the trillions spent on fossil fuels has resulted in our dire pollution statistics – the CO2 in our atmosphere reaching 414 PPM (parts per million) in 2021 – not to mention the additional carcinogenic toxins (such as nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide) polluting our breathing air, just another unfortunate byproduct of burning these fuels.
Studies have shown that as many as one in five deaths worldwide is caused by fossil fuel pollution. And in the U.S. approximately 75% of air pollution is the direct result of burning fossil fuels such as diesel and coal. The resulting release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, commonly known as carbon or GHG emissions, contributes to the warming of Earth’s atmosphere by trapping heat which in turn leads to an increase in temperatures.
We also have the American car manufacturer GM to thank for existence of leaded petroleum (specifically tetraethyl lead), which was responsible for an estimated 1.2 million premature human deaths per year before it was banned entirely in 2002, but not before it contaminated soil, freshwater reserves and our breathing air. Lead is a neurotoxin that accumulates in the blood and bones and never goes away, and it has been claimed by experts that leaded petroleum is the source of 90% of lead in our atmosphere. Although leaded petrol has now been phased out, lead is still being used today in many consumer products and even more widely in industrial mining and smelting.
Methane, another deadly greenhouse gas, accounts for around 20% of all GHGs and is about 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide, responsible for almost 30% of global warming since pre-industrial times. Although methane is also released into the atmosphere due to coal mines, landfills, and the oil and gas industry, the largest source of methane emissions (approximately 32%) comes directly from farming and agriculture – the dairy and beef industry in particular. Instead of practically addressing this preventable issue, COP26 attendees dug into dinners of beef and dairy on a daily basis, wilfully ignorant to the research showing that a widespread shift to plant-rich diets is essential for meeting the 1.5C target set by the world’s leading climate scientists.
Methane release is also becoming a greater concern of late, as a large amount of it is stored naturally under ice sheets and permafrost thawing as a result of climate warming is another major threat to the ever rising thermometer. Since it is a short-lived GHG (it stays for an average of 10-20 years in the atmosphere) a drastic reduction in emissions could make a swift and significant contribution to our climate goals.
Global deforestation rates are no better, as tropical rainforests are reaching a record high in canopy cover loss, trees in the tropics being notably consequential as they are home to the most biodiverse ecosystems and absorb a greater amount of carbon in comparison to European forests. The root cause of these devastating numbers boil down to mass logging – a key component in industrial animal farming, palm oil production, and mining, in addition to our insatiable appetite for low-cost, low-quality goods.
Along with our diminishing and destroyed natural resources is of course Earth’s wildlife, as we are currently supporting staggeringly high levels of species extinction and wildlife loss – estimated figures claim that we have lost around 70% of wildlife since 1970 – habitat loss being hailed as the largest threat to biodiversity. The cause of habitat loss, however, isn’t always limited to one specific source. Experts claim that the overall blame lies in industrialisation, GMO crop and animal farming, mass-scale fishing operations, environmental pollution, rising sea levels and extreme weather brought on by global warming.
To condense the current climate and ecological emergency into a few data points and cursory terms would be detrimental to the understanding of the problem itself, but explaining the intricacy of how the ecosystem functions and in how many ways it is being compromised can be longwinded and complicated. If there is only one thing we need to comprehend, it is that each event is linked to another, is linked to another and linked to many others. To say that CO2 simply warms our atmosphere would be equivocal at best, and fails to point out the complex chain of reactions that human activities, specifically in the industrial-era, has on our environment. This is why modern solutions to climate change and environmental damage are often not effective long-term solutions, as they may only target one specific aspect of the problem, rather than address and reverse the root causes.
Aside from fossil fuel extraction and burning, deforestation and industrial production and mining, there are countless other ways in which we are harming the planet and ourselves. Among these the most pertinent include the manufacturing and discarding of petroleum-based plastics, most aspects of the global textile industry supply chain and consumer waste (specifically “fast-fashion”), groundwater and ocean pollution and acidification due to agricultural pesticide run-off and animal farming (including fish farms), our waste-management systems and the lack of funding for more efficient and enforceable recycling systems, the pharmaceutical antibiotic epidemic (livestock farming also plays a large role), and the destruction of natural habitats due to fishing, construction, shipping, pollution and other profitable human activities.
Speaking of profit, it’s not a word to be used lightly either. Profit (AKA “economic growth”) has been the driving force behind the climate crisis all along. With the fossil fuel industry alone valued at $129 trillion in 2020. The good news is, this figure will drop significantly, and continue to fall as we are forced to transition away from burning carbon for energy. But for now, it may be the one thing standing between us and the extinction of our species. The system that is built on deception and greed is failing gloriously, as even the wealthy will fall when our planet collapses. Economic growth cannot pull us out of the black hole that is the climate crisis. We must accept that as a species we have crossed fatal boundaries, and some degree of economic decline will need to happen in order for us to survive.
“THIS IS WHAT LEADERSHIP LOOKS LIKE” – Greta Thunberg
COP26 in November 2021 reached record numbers of protestors, as over 100,000 people walked the streets of Glasgow in support of real climate action and tens of thousands more marched in solidarity across London, Cardiff and cities around the world. These people are asking nothing more from their leaders than to direct us into a future that will not be destroyed by greed and ignorance. A life that will be safe from harm, and a planet that will be healthy and bountiful.
Right now we are not only seeing climate activists and scientists being unrecognised and unheard, but across the world there has been a significant rise in the criminalisation of environmental activism, as claimed by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). And in this crucial period of climate emergency it appears not to be coincidental, as media coverage and pressure from the public seems to be finally exposing the conflict of interest in the roles that governments play in the success of the fossil fuel industry.
Despite the stigma and pushback, young activists everywhere are making their voices heard, and with the great strength in communities forming online, we can only trust that our collective voices will speak volumes and our united force will result in long-overdue actions.
EXACTLY WHAT ACTIONS NEED TO BE TAKEN?
We are asking for the end to the fossil fuel era, a major reduction in methane emissions, an end to petroleum-based plastics and the restoration and protection of our natural wildlife.
As crucial requirements to reverse global warming, the actions we should be demanding are:
- Our governments to stop funding the destruction of our planet (including but not limited to fossil fuel subsidies) and to put in place ethical policies, contracts and the restructuring of debt in developing nations that will allow Indigenous Peoples to protect the land they have been robbed of due to colonisation, industrialisation and political corruption.
- Coal and mineral mining to be consigned to the history books, in place of renewable sources of energy and effective policies and subsidies for the expansion of recycling electronics and other waste products.
- A circular economic structure, where energy is renewable and non-toxic, where our waste is not burned, buried or bound for the ocean. We need transparency from our governments, we need to be informed of the consequences of our choices, and we need the power to choose.
- A financial system that is not reliant on the squeezing and suffering of the average citizen; one that isn’t shaped by the ruthlessness of a Capitalist rat race and a relentless pressure to convince us that it is our responsibility to accumulate debt in order to support our economies.
- The establishment and true enforcement of more “no take” Marine Protected Areas, and an extended moratorium on industrial fishing and deep sea mining.
- An ethical reform of livestock farming (specifically factory farming) and eliminating all government subsidies for animal agriculture.
- A major restructuring of global debt (particularly for the Global South) whereby countries with biodiversity hotspots and natural carbon sinks such as rainforests and mangrove forests can afford to focus on protecting and expanding their crucial natural spaces, and invest in regenerative agriculture, public healthcare, education reform, women and girl’s rights and technological advancements for climate restoration.
- And finally, fair and equal representation in positions of power in governments and industries, with the goal of true socioeconomic equality, to ensure a more culturally and socially diverse approach to climate solutions and a corruption-proof system that allows verifiable transparency.
Let us not overlook the fact that the 1% are just that – only 1% of us. Is it not time that the 99% have our say? What we must begin to realise is that we outnumber them.
Our future will be defined by our actions, not our promises.
We want Climate Justice. And we want it NOW.
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth
Tim Flannery, The Atmosphere of Hope
The Metro, BBC, Reuters, ResearchGate, Getty Images, UNEP, World Economic Forum, The New York Times