A UN climate report that predicts quicker global warming than anticipated just three years ago “must sound a death knell” for coal, oil and gas and is “code red” for humanity.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. 8/9/2021
A cursory looks at the political, financial or business news tells us that our main aim is still growth. Last week we learnt that China has agreed not to build new coal plants abroad. Whether this means no new plans for coal plants, or cancellation of existing projects is unclear. Let’s remember China represents more than a quarter of all global carbon emissions, and it has spent tens of billions of dollars to build coal power facilities in 152 countries over the past decade through its Belt and Road Initiative. Roughly 70% of the coal plants built globally now rely on Chinese funding. In 2020, China built over three times as much new coal power capacity as all other countries in the world combined – the equivalent of more than one large coal plant per week. In addition, over 73 gigawatts (GW) of new coal power projects were initiated in China, five times as much as in all other countries, while construction permits for new coal projects also accelerated. Death knell for coal? Code red for humanity? Who’s kidding who?
In his fourth book on the Gaia Hypothesis, The Revenge of Gaia, James Lovelock speaks about how we can fight back. The problem is the book was published in 2006 and since then we haven’t listened to a word he says.
Lovelock’s concept of Gaia is the idea of a living planet, not one that has intrinsic intelligence, rather a self-managing system that responds to environmental changes. All the advice from climate scientists over the past forty years and more has been about enabling the planet’s system to remain in a balanced state that supports life. Not just human life, but the unimaginable richness of all life forms on the planet.
Whilst we are all now acutely aware of the climate crisis, Lovelock tells us that awareness is insufficient. He asks, “how do we acquire, or reacquire, an instinct that recognizes not only the presence of the great Earth system but also its health?” That we always do the right thing for the planet Earth. We always put that overwhelmingly first, and we never compromise our planetary system in any way, large or small. The term instinct is important. Instinct is wired into our brains and is likely to be part of our genetic coding. But also it can be taught. Lovelock references the Jesuits who discovered a child’s mind could be moulded to accept their faith. But I would argue that a) we don’t have the time to instil right thinking into children, and b) we need to educate, persuade and convince everybody on the planet right now into acting in the best interests of planetary sustainability.
In any crisis we all look for leadership. What must we do? What has to change? How will we collectively address the crisis? Clearly China, with its 1.4 billion population is showing the Chinese people and the world that it will prioritize growth above all else. Similarly the UK, who are hosting the upcoming COP26 in Glasgow have not shown themselves to be leaders. Boris Johnson has a history of climate denial. For example in April 2021 he said, “It’s vital for all of us to show that this is not all about some expensive, politically correct, green act of bunny hugging. “What I’m driving at is this is about growth and jobs.” At the same time we watch the US with bated breath as Joe Biden and the Democrats tear themselves apart in trying to reach agreement on the infrastructure (climate) bill. And we know that regardless of what Joe Biden achieves, there is odds on probability that the Republicans will gerrymander Trump back into office in 3 years time.
But there are other options for leadership. We mustn’t expect leadership from the current crop of politicians. We must look elsewhere for genuine leaders who can instil instinctive sustainability in everything that we do. Many people will say, “but I can’t do anything. I’m totally reliant upon energy providers, car manufacturers, food producers etc”. But if we all look much harder, we will find there are always actions that we can take that will make a difference.
We should look for cohorts that could create a critical mass of instinctive thought driving their every action. Back in 2015, Pope Francis published a very credible encyclical letter titled Laudato Si, On Care for our Common Home. This is actually an excellent document that covers all dimensions of the planetary sustainability crisis. But I have to admit I only came across this excellent document by accident, and clearly there has been little or no effort from the Catholic Church to establish instinctive sustainability. But there are some 1.4 Billion Catholics around the world. Just suppose Francis declared that “Protect our common planetary home” must become a de facto 11th commandment and communicated that throughout the Catholic world.
Similarly we might see young people as a potential cohort. Greta Thunberg is widely credited as inspiring school children to carry out Friday protests across the world. And young people are widely credited as having strong support for actions to prevent or mitigate climate change as they become increasingly concerned about their future. We might hope that at some stage young people would stop generic protests and turn to specific and targeted actions. Remember children and younger people have families and are uniquely integrated into society worldwide. I note that Thunberg has collaborated with UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and we might wonder how this potential cohort might evolve to become a powerful force in every country around the world?
Clearly and worryingly climate change has been an issue for decades without being addressed in any meaningful manner. The emergence of Extinction Rebellion in 2018 must have been out of sheer frustration at this lack of action. While I have huge sympathy with ER I detect significant irritation at their protest methods that deliberately inconvenience ordinary citizens. Again, like with the young people, I wonder why ER doesn’t move to targeted campaigns that aggressively attack and undermine the typical government and UN under performance. And as I show in the chart below, we don’t have to address the entire world. Just 18 countries account for 79% of emissions in 2019.
Let’s consider some example campaign opportunities that all of our cohorts could embrace :
- Top Emitters. As discussed, in 2019 79% of worldwide emissions were produced by just 18 countries. In fact 57% was produced by just 5 countries – China, the USA, India, Russia and Germany.
- Target China. Orchestrate a boycott of Chinese garlic. China is the world leader in garlic. It holds more than 80% of the global garlic production. China’s exports represent 70.3% of world exports for this product and rank first. The current supply of garlic comes from plantations in Jinxiang, Shandong, Peizhou, Jiangsu, Qixian Henan, Zhongmou, and Henan. What better way for ordinary people worldwide to send a message to the Chinese that they need to stop pretending to be a developing nation and take some responsibility for their unacceptable climate change footprint.
- Target COP26. We know how the storybook will unfold. World leaders will make promises to reduce emissions sometime way into the future. The promises are not worth the paper they are written on. Many are based on kicking the can down the road or offsets with developing nations. So not real reductions in emissions or improvement in sustainability. When the world leaders from the large countries particularly, led by the UK’s Clown Prime Minister emerge to say they have saved the world, we should ensure that the world knows this is simply lies.
- Family members. All cohorts, young people, religious groups or protest movements could be hugely influential as family members are encouraged to take action. All family members may be encouraged to make instinctive changes in personal and business or professional lives. But family members may also be key influencers of all sorts including educators, business managers and leaders, politicians, journalists, investors, employees, customers or suppliers to fossil fuel related industries. The larger the cohort, the more effective the action may be.
To conclude, we mustn’t look to conventional politicians and business leaders. They are hopelessly conflicted and constrained by convention, advisors, civil servants, lobbyists etc. We need to empower numerous cohorts who become powerful by adopting instinctive thinking – where climate friendly decisions are the only option, and climate compromises are completely unacceptable on all levels. Bottom up leadership that over the years will naturally cause the current crop of leaders to become redundant and powerless. Hopeless dream? Well in the USA quite possibly. But I know, there are good people in the US. The real question is when will they stand up for truth?
Ideas Pull the Trigger, but Instinct Loads the Gun – with apologies to Don Marquis American Humorist
The Revenge of Gaia, James Lovelock, Allen Lane 2006, Penguin Books 2007
Laudato Si, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2015
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