Rio, Kyoto, Paris, Geneva, Bonn, The Hague, Marrakesh, New Delhi, Milan, Buenos Aires, Montreal, Nairobi, Bali, Poznan, Copenhagen, Cancun, Durban, Doha, Warsaw and Lima – these are exotic joints that plane-loads of lawmakers descend on every few years, under the auspices of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).
For 10-11 days they hold talks on greenhouse gases, melting arctic ice, sea-level rise and carbon footprints and to make commitments to step up and do the right thing.
This month, for the twenty-first time, the men in suits are gathering over cheese sticks, champagne and caviar in Paris for the COP21 – the 21st round of the UNFCCC – to make more commitments. In total around 30000 folks are in Paris, attending the convention. Add to that another 10000 journalists and businessmen and the hospitality industry must be booming.
The world’s largest cumulative emitter of greenhouse gases till date – America – and the world’s current largest emitter – China – both are here. They have arrived in altogether four really wide-bodied jets (one 747, one A340, two 777s).
Assuming that one typical wide-bodied jet emits around 30kgs of CO2 gas per km and Beijing-Paris is a round trip of 16000kms and New York-Paris, 12000kms, the three Chinese and the three American teams are going to collectively release 1680 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere by the time the dust settles after the conference. Multiply this by twenty times (for the twenty conferences held prior to this one) and we are looking at a total of 33600 tons till date.
And that was just China and the US in the above mentioned calculations. This year there are 190 countries participating, a substantial number of whose reps have arrived in their own official aircraft.
The head honchos – the Presidents and Prime Ministers – they dropped in to bless the occasion and left, accounting for probably another 1000 tons of the colorless, odorless killer.
No binding treaty is going to be signed – it is not practicable since there are senates and parliaments, upper and lower houses that will have to ratify any deal that is struck. Individual countries however have come prepared in advance with their own offerings of cuts in emissions that have been gathered together in advance by the UN, cumulatively forecasting a reduction in global temperature rise, from 4° to 2°C, over the next 100 years. Still, that will not stop some islands like the Maldives, Solomon Islands and Seychelles from being swallowed up. Don’t be a schmuck and buy land there.
Paris is humming with another kind of activity – one particular industry that thrives during international sports events, festivals and conventions – the sex trade. One transsexual sex worker is getting herself a new 6000cc Mercedes S600, thanks to COP21. She has nice tits, a great butt and a huge richard and she doesn’t give a flying f—k about carbon emissions. In fact she has named it the COK21.
Frankly, if I had known I could jet around the world, sitting in at conferences that needed just the ability to bullshit by pulling figures and stats from a hat, while I sipped wine and munched horses of the ovaries, I would have studied environmental sciences in university instead of mechanical engineering.
How do I make sense of all that’s happening? If there is anything more farcical today than another climate change conference, I haven’t found such a thing yet.
Wait, I just remembered one – the sales conferences that I used to attend as a young sales rep at a large industrial corporation in India many years back. It used to be a week-long affair at the HQ, starting off with each individual rep making a lengthy presentation, complete with charts and tables, on the previous year’s trials, tribulations and achievements and the next year’s commitments. A healthy 15-20% growth projection was mandatory, if you wanted to retain your employment. The important thing was that everyone, right up the chain of command, built in all sorts of provisos into his forecasts that could later be used to justify failure to meet targets – jut as the attendees at Paris are going to do.
And just like in Paris, the high point of our week-long do used to always be the drunken soirées at strip joints and the short trysts in motels that furnished food receipts for our charge accounts in payment for our picadillos.
Is the world really engaged with climate change? Does the common man care? Are the lawmakers serious? The simple answer is – no. If it had been so, we wouldn’t have needed twenty conferences stretching over twenty-five years, just to get beyond the protocol stage.
The climate change discourse is like the gun rights debate in America. We are led to believe that the American lawmakers are to blame for the proliferation of guns – for not bringing in legislation to curb the spread of firearms.
Nothing could be further from the truth and the reason is very simple – 80% of all Americans, whether on the right, the left or the center of the debate, love guns. They like the feel of holding guns in their hands, period. Guns are a phallic symbol for them, even for their women. Guns make them feel liberated, macho and in control. Guns are orgasmic.
Unless that other 20% comes out and multiplies to over 50%, the conclusion is simple – Americans will have guns proliferating. Until Americans stop wanting guns, hell can freeze over but no power on earth will be able to rescind their dear darling 2nd Amendment or even bring in the most rudimentary background checks.
There is only one way that the gun debate can tilt in the other direction – a tipping point – a San Bernadino style mass killing, with the following provisos –
- The killers have got to be white and Christian, not Islamic extremists. (The massacre cannot be Islamic terrorism-related).
- The body count must be 500+, leaving behind a cache of assault rifles and other automatic weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
- All firearms have to have been purchased legally.
Only something as horrendous as the above hypothetical incident could set off a serious gun control debate and not otherwise. Dear Americans, sorry to be blunt but you have got to die in larger numbers, facing fusillades of bullets in a single incident, before you can be rid of guns. Not you, your next-of-kin.
Likewise, the world doesn’t really give a damn about the earth.
It will continue not giving a damn about climate change until something drastic happens, like if large swathes of heavily populated coastal metros such as Manhattan go under suddenly within a year – events that are catastrophic, progressing rapidly and inexorably, usually associated with that proverbial ‘tipping point’.
Right now climate change is nothing but a political slugfest between the right and the left, with the right denying it is happening and the left whimpering incoherently that it is, unable to gather the will to do something about it. This discourse has to progress, from a political issue to a science and technology issue. The solution shall have to come in the form of technological innovations that will grab our attention in an Elon Musk manner, rather than through an Exxon style process.
Something amazingly magical has got to happen, if the tipping point is to be averted. It has to be exciting, in the manner that the Apollo program grabbed the attention of the entire world for a decade. It could be electric cars that have storage batteries that last seven hundred miles of driving and recharge in fifteen minutes tops. Or solar panels and wind turbines that are far more powerful and energy efficient, producing thousands of megawatts more than they are churning out today. The renaissance could be in the form of nuclear energy which uses fusion in place of fission, drastically reducing the chances of radioactive contamination in the case of a meltdown.
The magic shall come in the form of concept – how we look at and deal with climate change. Since an individual nation’s carbon footprint cannot be accurately measured, a climate agreement is unenforceable and can never be binding. Therefore it has to be an idea so compelling that nations shall adopt it voluntarily, just the way that the world adapted to the internet. It has to be one that will make money for nations and turn businesses more competitive, instead of being a perceived cost to them.
Climate change has to catch on and spread, like HIV.
But first we, the people of the world, shall have to suffer enough to want to reach for a solution. Thousands, if not millions, may have to die virtually overnight, before the world sits up. Sadly they will probably be our children and grandchildren, not us.
About the offhand remark I made regarding the current ‘Exxon-style’ technological transformation, here is the background to it….
In the start of the 1970s, Exxon began gaining a reputation for pioneering climate change research. This may seem like an oxymoron but Exxon had a vested business interest in gaining knowledge on how fossil fuel burning affected climate change.
That business interest was located in the Arctic and it’s untold billions of barrels tucked away below the permafrost. If the climate changed and the permafrost disappeared, it would severely affect extraction operations, rendering the current technologies being utilized obsolete. It would also affect the pipelines that transported the oil and gas away from the Arctic to the terminals in the south.
Exxon had to be prepared for that change in environment and be able to adapt with newer extraction and transportation technologies.
Initially the company did not have the expertise, so it reached out to Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory and partnered with some of the leading climatologists of the time, especially oceanographic research scientists.
The research produced enough evidence that confirmed that the main reason for climate change was the increase in CO2 emissions, but Exxon did something very stupid – it hid the findings. To the world at large however, it continued to be seen as a warm and fuzzy company which was concerned about the environment, willing to expend millions on climate change research.
Then, in 1988 something happened – a sudden change in weather patterns that brought a succession of heat waves and grinding drought throughout North America. Top government scientists testified in the US Congress, confirming beyond doubt the role of carbon dioxide emissions in global warming. For the first time, lawmakers were spurred to divert funding into research on global warming.
That November, the UN started taking the first baby steps – it established the IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change. And the journey began, with the first UNFCCC held at Rio in 1992.
The increasing national discourse in the US over global warming made Exxon sit up and do a sudden about-face from it’s earlier enthusiastic financial support of Columbia University’s climate change research. It began denying that climate change was actually happening because of fossil fuels.
With it’s enormous war-chest and it’s legions of lobbyists, it started peppering the media and the halls of state legislatures with peer-reviewed scientific papers denying that global warming was a result of the burning of fossil fuels, while at the same time in the far northern reaches of the Canadian Arctic, it’s researchers continued to quietly factor climate change projections into the company’s plans of adapting it’s operations to a warming Arctic.
Today, Exxon (now Exxon Mobil) no longer denies climate change – that would be futile, the evidence being so overwhelming. The company however has taken much longer than it’s rivals, Shell and BP, to acknowledge the connection between CO2 emissions and climate change, remaining hawkish and reluctant until very recently.