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Of words and deeds

21 Jul 2021 | News Roundup

A New York Times “Breaking News” alert says that “Europe released an ambitious blueprint to reduce emissions 55 percent by 2030, putting it at the forefront of the world’s efforts to decarbonize.” If promises are all one needs to reach the forefront of anything, the EU has us all beat. The proposal is full of more than the usual trite bloviation about maximizing all utilities simultaneously. “The European Green Deal set the blueprint for this transformational change. All 27 EU Member States committed to turning the EU into the first climate neutral continent by 2050. To get there, they pledged to reduce emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. This will create new opportunities for innovation and investment and jobs, as well as: reduce emissions; create jobs and growth; address energy poverty; reduce external energy dependency; improve our health and wellbeing”. And after lunch, world peace? Pretty much: “At the same time, it will ensure there are opportunities for everyone, supporting vulnerable citizens by tackling inequality and energy poverty, and strengthening the competitiveness of European companies.” If it were that easy, one wonders why no one has done it before now.

The article to which the Times email linked has a different headline, “Europe Unveils Plan to Shift From Fossil Fuels, Setting Up Potential Trade Spats”, and claims that “In what may be a seminal moment in the global effort to fight climate change, Europe on Wednesday challenged the rest of the world by laying out an ambitious blueprint to pivot away from fossil fuels over the next nine years, a plan that also has the potential to set off global trade disputes.” The tendency to substitute words for deeds is hardly what those concerned about warming are looking for as 2030 gets ever closer, even if it beats the trade war that is apparently looming as a result of this new pose.

Starting a trade war is not the most original thing a politician can do. Nor is it the most useful. But it’s odd that the plan’s authors did not anticipate that punitive measures against other nations for not doing what we want them to (rightly or otherwise) often cause friction. Or perhaps not, because a tendency to substitute words for deeds, and wishes for methods, is often linked to a view that all good things come bundled together as do all bad things.

To be at the forefront of “the world’s efforts to decarbonize”, whatever that phrase means, you need to be decarbonizing, not saying nice things about wanting to. Or so you’d suppose. But CBC and Microsoft News got a bit excited that “Ottawa submits new greenhouse gas targets to UN, plans changes to carbon-pricing ‘benchmark’” when Canada like the EU has missed all its previous targets badly, and yet our government thinks the solution is to redouble its targeting rather than its emissions cuts.

One should always beware of proposals that offer a stunning range of benefits with no drawbacks, in personal as in political life. You can’t even lose weight without changing your lifestyle in ways that involve sacrifice of certain pleasures, if only of sloth. And part of this wariness is to be skeptical of proposals that focus heavily on the good things to be achieved and give slight or no consideration to practical problems including that if it were so easy, someone would surely already have done it.

So an important red flag is the line “The European Green Deal has already set a positive example and led major international partners to set their own target dates for climate neutrality”. Because the problem isn’t setting targets, it’s meeting them, which nobody but poor Gambia seems to be doing. And when you read that “35 million buildings could be renovated by 2030” the obvious response is yes, they could be. But they probably won’t. And what is the purpose of pledging a dramatic theoretical pivot to “renewable sources” when Germany’s fabled Energiewende is unraveling before our very eyes?

The Times quoted the president of the European Commission, Ursula von Leyen, that “Our current fossil fuel economy has reached its limit”. But these are words that have no more meaning than “Quiet green ideas sleep furiously”. Whereas the line in “Delivering the European Green Deal“ about “0 emissions from new cars by 2035” means they don’t realize that every form of electricity generation leads to some emissions of CO2, if only because cement is a major source of GHGs and everything from wind turbines to nuclear plants needs cement.

The paper does have some technical appendices. But even these documents are mere plans to have a plan, discussing “revision of the REDII” and option 2A and 4.3. We have observed more than once that, as the deadlines loom, those who really think they mean it on climate change need to take actual steps. But it seems they can’t, or actually cannot tell words from deeds. Which we seem to recall has been filed under the heading “virtue-signaling” at various points.

Incidentally, as soon as the plan was released it ran into stiff opposition including the Hungarian government saying “Nem” on the spot. But never mind that their plan would be rejected before even failing if they actually had one. The point is that they’re in the forefront of the prattle.

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