Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Great Unraveling. Could the Climate Crisis Be the Ultimate Victim of Covid-19?

We've always known it would take a Herculean effort and an enormous amount of luck to forge the global consensus needed to tackle climate breakdown.  In a dangerously overcrowded world with dwindling resources, the "haves" aren't falling over each other to make room for the "have nots." We're not even willing to give up our obsessive but ultimately futile pursuit of perpetual exponential growth (GDP), an attitude that pretty much puts sharing out of the question.

James Temple writes in the MIT Technology Review that there's an emerging witches brew of pandemic, nationalism and a much greater threat, climate breakdown.

Temple sees the last UN climate summit as the writing on the wall when the axis of nationalism joined forces to thwart any meaningful action on climate change. It was a harbinger of a new "every man for himself" world in which the weakest and most vulnerable will just have to fend for themselves.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. But by most accounts, Australia, Brazil, and the US—each now run by nationalist leaders who rose to power in part on promises to defy global demands for greater climate action—took special pains to thwart progress.

Brazil immediately backed out of hosting the convention after the election of Jair Bolsonaro, and its delegates spent their time in Madrid arguing for the need to open up the Amazon for farming and mining. The US, on track to exit the accords altogether under President Donald Trump, stonewalled efforts to establish a process for providing funding and support to poor nations hit by climate disasters. 
In the end, nearly every major decision at COP25 was punted to the next conference, originally scheduled for this November in Glasgow.
The Paris accords [2015] had lifted hopes that after decades of dithering, the world might finally pull together to confront climate change. Nearly every nation signed on, each agreeing to take specific steps to rein in emissions. But what if, in retrospect, Paris was not the start of an era of cooperation, but its high point?

As the covid-19 outbreak rages across the world, it’s easy to forget about the climate crisis. The priorities right now are, and should be, slowing the pandemic, saving lives, and then restarting economies left in shambles. But by that point few countries are likely to be able or especially eager to sacrifice near-term growth to help slow global warming.
So the threat of rapidly accelerating climate change will remain. And we’ll be living in a much poorer world, with fewer job opportunities, less money to invest in cleaner systems, and deeper fears about our health, our financial futures, and other lurking dangers.
Temple contends that coal-power is making a big comeback in China that, like many other nations, is undermining the trust essential to establish a global collaboration to thwart climate change.
China’s investments in renewables fell 8% last year to the lowest level since 2013, according to BloombergNEF, even as the world total slightly increased. Moreover, it’s kicked off a new building boom in coal plants: nearly 150 gigawatts’ worth are under construction or likely to be revived, roughly the capacity of the EU’s entire fleet, according to a report late last year by Global Energy Monitor
China may pump money into some clean energy sectors through economic stimulus efforts in the coming months, but there are few reasons to suspect it will back off its reliance on cheap coal or accelerate its timetable for cutting climate pollution in the foreseeable future.
“I think the rise of nationalism, in the US and elsewhere, has created a degree of economic uncertainty that has strengthened the hardliners and forced them to rethink the degree to which they can rely on green energy to power their future,” Jonah Nahm [John Hopkins] says.
Could climate breakdown fuel a new nationalist order?
As the historian Nils Gilman argued in February in a persuasive essay, “The Coming Avocado Politics,” there are good reasons to worry that rising anxieties over environmental emergencies will justify a more hard-line set of solutions on the right, an “ecologically justified neo-fascism” that includes militarizing borders, hoarding resources, and bolstering national protections against climate change.
It could lead us into far darker places as well, potentially justifying “neo-imperialist” responses “where we actively seek to repress the development and ambitions of the rest of the world,” Gilman says. Specifically, the US or other nations could turn to extreme methods, from eliminating development financing to deploying military force, to prevent the carbon bombs that would go off if billions of poor people start consuming goods, services, and energy at the same levels as Americans.

As the virus spreads and the economic downturn deepens, people will, rightfully, focus primarily on the immediate dangers: their health and that of friends and family; the likelihood of losing work; and the plunge in their retirement savings and home values. Enhancing global cooperation and combating distant climate dangers just aren’t going to take priority for some time.


Owen Gray said...

All this is deeply troubling, Mound. We just might rush to jump off the cliff.

The Disaffected Lib said...

It's a vexing situation, Owen, but I never believed the global community thing would last very long. It has a number of frailties, too many challenges we will experience much differently from region to region, sometimes nation to neighbouring nation. The same threat could cause an economic blip in one country while it takes another to collapse. How is a meaningful consensus built on such varied experience?

It may ultimately come down to the developed world against everyone else. This brings to mind a cover from The Economist many years ago that depicted something of a Festung Europa, a fortress walled off from the east and south. It had, as I recall, the caption "Barbarians at the Gate."

We pay lip service to common humanity but our sense of equality is virtually absent. We'll send food to famine - for now - but how would we react if our own food supply became insecure? One of those questions that's best left unasked.

Trailblazer said...

When times are tough and uncertain , human instinct drives us to the lowest common denominator!

As much as we wish for a better world survival remains paramount.
Survival is a short term objective!

I cannot think of any political system other than Communism, that has thought past the immediate future within it's long term goals!

This is not an endorsement of Communism.

Perhaps Communism failed because of humanities inability to think past the next election cycle?


The Disaffected Lib said...

Why did Communism fail? So many theories that it's hard to tell which are right. Was the collapse of the Soviet Union an outright failure of Communism or a slow-moving economic debacle? Contrast that with China which ostensibly remains a Communist state but has sure taken to capitalism with a gusto.

There are examples where dangerous times bring out the best in societies enabling factions to put aside their differences that they can pull together when needed.