Here at the Climate Discussion Nexus we generally manage to contain our enthusiasm for noted climate scientist and grade 11 student Greta Thunberg. But we have to acknowledge that she hit the bulls-eye with her tweet about the leaders of the G7 jetting around and indulging in haute cuisine to promote Net Zero: “G7 spends fantasy amounts on fossil fuels as CO2 emissions are forecast for 2nd biggest annual rise ever. This calls for steak-and-lobster-BBQ-celebration while jet planes perform aerobatics in the sky above the G7 resort!” And did it not occur to any of the pompous potentates that gaping and grinning as Britain’s Red Arrows consumed prodigious quantities of high-octane jet fuel might possibly be an awkward look? Perhaps Ms. Thunberg could turn her profound learning to explaining why COVID lockdowns didn’t put a dent in the increase in atmospheric CO2. Or why politicians promise stuff and then don’t deliver.
The quality of debate following her tweet was somewhat mixed, with one sage opining that “Today Switzerland population voted against co2 reduction. no kidding. glaciers are melting even right here in this alpine country but corporate interest groups have brainwashed voters.” Drat those corporate interest groups. And brainless voters. I mean what can you do with such people?
Another said “Keep calling ‘em out. You are right. This will be a long, difficult battle…” Uh, didn’t you get the now or never memo? If not, I’m sure Ms. Thunberg has a copy.
Ms. Thunberg then replied to her own tweet with “The G7 leaders really seem to be having a good time presenting their empty climate commitments and repeating old unfulfilled promises.” Which has a bit of the sneering-attack-on-motives tone that does not influence people though it can win a lot of like-minded friends. But, again, she has a point.
All these leaders have repeatedly promised to stop climate change, complete with sneering attacks on the motives of anyone who doubts their methods, their understanding or their gravitas. So why should they go to a lavish international conference to promise it again instead of sitting in their offices drinking coffee too long on the warmer and tackling the gruesome details? As John O’Sullivan recently pointed out in The Pipeline, even the G7 pledge to get rid of coal subsidies was made with fingers crossed behind their backs: “They will phase out new and direct government subsidies to coal except in limited circumstances at the discretion of each country, i.e., when a government wants to subsidize coal. Similarly, they’ll take concrete steps to end subsidies for unabated coal.” Whereas if even ineffective measures are taken, Bob’s your uncle.
As NBC put it with commendable if possibly inadvertent accuracy, “G-7 nations pledge major climate action, with key details missing”. The deck on the story said “The G-7 summit in Cornwall marked a chance for the world’s wealthiest democracies to increase their leverage over China by uniting behind shared goals.” Which invites Matt Ridley’s riposte that there is a fatuous arrogance in assuming that China cares what Britain is doing on climate, let alone what Canada is.
Here we would like to claim vindication for Climate Discussion Nexus executive director John Robson who in 1997, when Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien pledged allegiance to the Kyoto Protocol, so long ago it’s not available online, wrote that nothing would come of it because he and his fellow travellers did not understand the science or the policy and would never produce a meaningful plan. A quarter-century later, it’s still true. And not just in Canada.
In New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern has been an ardent environmentalist PM since 2017. But what has she actually done to reduce emissions? As the Guardian noted somewhat peevishly, “New Zealand is one of the world’s worst performers on emission increases. Its emissions rose by 57% between 1990 and 2018 – the second greatest increase of all industrialised countries. Earlier this year, data showed that New Zealand’s emissions had increased by 2% in 2018-19.” Of course Ms. Ardern wasn’t at the G7 meeting. But Justin Trudeau was, blithely promising cuts while delivering increases; it seems emissions no more reduce themselves than budgets balance themselves. Also at the meeting was Joe Biden, whose nation did achieve considerable reductions under Bush Jr., Obama and Trump thanks to fracking but whose own plans are unraveling.
His party is splintering over an infrastructure bill that might compromise with yucky Republicans instead of stuffing the Green New Deal down their MAGA throats and daring voters to object. According to Michael Shellenberger, the problem is cost. But not in a way that can be dismissed or overcome. Rather, “the Democrats’ climate change and renewable energy agenda is rapidly falling apart, and the reasons have far more to do with physics than with politics.” Namely the unworkable physics of renewables.
It’s a serious issue. In advance of the G7 one of those unnamed senior American officials speaking for the President with plausible deniability opined that “The driving animating purpose of this G7 summit is to show that democracy can deliver against the biggest challenges we’re facing in the world.” Which again might be better achieved by having people actually elected in various countries carrying out relevant policies within those countries instead of getting together in an unelected body to say “Wouldn’t it be great if?” and then refill their plates.
In this respect Ms. Thunberg’s rant might be directed in slightly the wrong direction. There’s a line so widely attributed to Mahatma Gandhi online that you can buy a needlepoint of it (go ahead and Google it) that we’ll believe was him when someone shows us a credible source because it doesn’t sound at all like him. But someone certainly should have said it: “If there is an idiot in power; it is because those who elected him are well represented.” And when you consider what would happen if you asked one of those G7 leaders to lead a low-carbon lifestyle for a year, or indeed for half an hour, you can see that voters who like the sound of climate action but not the feel are indeed well represented. At some point the politicians might notice. Even if they are, as a group, strikingly obtuse.