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Thinking or Not Thinking About Tomorrow

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By Julio Godoy* | IDN-InDepthNews Analysis


BERLIN (IDN) - A series of interviews with the German Economic Affairs and Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel and with leading representatives of energy industries of the country, broadcast by the German public television network in run-up to COP21 in Paris, seemed to prove what critics of climate change conferences often claim: The governments of industrialised countries model their opinions and policies on the criteria laid down by private businesses.

In the interviews, Gabriel and the corporate leaders were separately asked why the German government is subsidising and the private industry exporting coal power plants to countries such as Greece, China and Brazil, despite German commitments and widely expressed public wish to reduce greenhouse gases and especially carbon dioxide.

The resolute answer was: It is better that such countries use the most modern and therefore more efficient German technology, instead of keeping old power plants in function.

They blandly dismissed as dogmatism the view that such exports constrain the recipient countries for decades to burn coal to generate electricity, and that by so doing they undermine the global objectives to counter climate change. They refused to see the absurdity of the logic behind such exports to countries such as Greece, which instead of burning coal could install modern solar thermal power plants.

That such export deals were struck only weeks ahead of the apparently decisive global summit on climate change in Paris, reveals the importance that governments and industries really place on the meeting – just another folkloristic conference, in which heart-breaking declarations will be followed by non-binding commitments, soon to be forgotten and not worth the paper they are written on.

The German subsidised exports of coal power plants are but one of the many real recent events and revelations that prove the lack of content of environmental policies, and the incoherence of individual behaviour.

The Volkswagen emissions scandal was possible in Europe only thanks to the complicity of government tolerance vis-à-vis the automobile industry, considered as strategic for German economic growth.

The scandal – on the one hand, massive emissions of such venomous gases as nitrous oxides were concealed by a software installed intentionally to avoid detections; on the other, government regulations allow larger emissions as recommended by scientists and environmental activists – will most likely not lead to an obligatory reduction of emissions, but to a softer upper legal limit.

Consumers are willing to accept such tolerance, because they continue to hold on to private transportation as a matter of comfort and as a social symbol. The larger the car, the more important does an owner considers himself or herself.

It is no surprise indeed that the official data on greenhouse gases emissions are false. For instance, the People’s Republic of China has consistently underreported its emissions, by some 17 percent. Germany has just admitted that it will not meet its plans to reduce greenhouse gases emissions by 40 percent until the year 2020.

Climate change and its human-made character

Such government and individual behaviour is all the more absurd in the face of the ever more undeniable scientific assessment of climate change. Despite the commitments by most industrialised countries established in the 1997 Kyoto protocol, greenhouse gases emissions have been growing since 1990. In spite of numerous warnings about the adverse effects of such gases on climate and nature, their concentration in the atmosphere continues to grow and has reached a dramatic level of more than 400 parts per million.

In general, the concentration of greenhouse gases, including methane, has reached unprecedented levels over the last 800,000 years. Furthermore, this concentration is growing exponentially, suggesting that reducing such concentration would be an ever harder objective to reach.

Another alarming evidence indicates that 2015 will go down in history as the warmest year ever recorded in modern times. According to figures by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the British Met Office, and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organisation, this year’s spring and summer months have been the warmest ever measured since global temperatures have been recorded. This evidence also unmistakably establishes that average global temperatures in 2015 for the first time rose more than one degree Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.

These findings confirm yet another development: the ten warmest years in modern history have been recorded since 1997 – and, as Michel Jarraud, director of the WMO, put it, “these are bad news for the planet”.

It is well known that all these facts are a consequence of human behaviour, in particular of burning fossil combustibles. Practically all alternative sources of global warming, such as the cyclical oscillations in solar radiation, have been counted out.

All these facts show that the official global long-term objective of limiting the rise of average global temperature to two degrees Celsius during this century compared to pre-industrial levels is already waste paper.

In all probability, if humanity continues behaving as usual, average global temperatures will rise by four or more degrees during the coming decades, implicating devastating imbalances in global weather – from droughts to stronger and more frequent hurricanes to famines and refugee crisis, from melting glaciers in the Alps to defrosting the permafrost in the vast Russian Siberian steppes and Canadian plains.

Climate change reports have forecast these weather disasters as a consequence of global warming. But they are already here – the Marshall Islands are sinking in the Pacific Ocean, as victims of rising sea levels. All these facts are both evidence of global warming and harbingers of more disasters to come. Could it be then that humanity has long passed the tipping point of global warming, the crucial moment after which climate change is irreversible?

Time is not on our side

And yet, for all this evidence and the pious words by governments, industry, and citizens on environmental protection and concerns on global warming, continued policies and individual actions are increasing pressure upon global equilibria.

Worse still, key governments, such as the U.S. refuse to accept “legally binding reduction targets” on greenhouse gases emissions, as foreign minister John Kerry said in run-up to COP21. President Francois Hollande immediately interjected that without legally binding targets France would refuse a new global deal on climate change – quod erat expectandum!

Does it imply that Kerry and Hollande would work hand in hand behind closed doors to make the Paris conference another summit of lip service against global warming? It is as if world leaders would not notice that our carbon past is here, and that time is not on our side. Obviously, their time horizon seems to be the next election, very much as the consumers’ focus is on immediate satisfaction.

Most likely it is not only collective fetishism that leads to such actions. It could also be the awareness that to avoid irreversible global warming transcendental changes are necessary in collective and individual behaviour, that if we start to think about tomorrow, if we are really committed to preserving Earth as a livelihood for future generations, if intergenerational justice is our concern, we have to change our present lifestyle. Unfortunately, it seems as though the dictatorship of consumerism has gotten firm hold of us, and we are sheepish slaves of this dictatorship, and are unlikely to fight for our freedom and that of our children and children’s children.

*Julio Godoy is an investigative journalist and a member of the IDN Editorial Board. He has won international recognition for his work, including the Hellman-Hammett human rights award, the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Investigative Reporting Online by the U.S. Society of Professional Journalists, and the Online Journalism Award for Enterprise Journalism by the Online News Association and the U.S.C. Annenberg School for Communication, as co-author of the investigative reports “Making a Killing: The Business of War” and “The Water Barons: The Privatisation of Water Services”. [IDN-InDepthNews – 29 November 2015]

For Julio Godoy’s articles on IDN, please click here.

Photo: The rising water levels are threatening more and more islands and coastal cities. Scientists have calculated that sea levels rose by 18cm between 1870 and 2000, and at a faster rate in recent years (+6cm in 20 years). Credit: Geo / COP21

2015 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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