November 15-16, 2016
By David Simpson and Jane Lapiner
The Post Obama Climate Change Era
COP 22, the fifteen or maybe even 30 ring circus the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is putting on in the middle of a broad, muddy field at the edge of Marrakech, Morocco is directly under the flight path of big jetliners ascending from the Rak airport toward the skies. Their intermittent roar is a reminder to the thousands of participants of how far we’ve got to travel and how fast. It is also a reminder written in carbon exhausts just how much it costs the planet to get us all there. Almost every negotiation, panel discussion or press conference at Bab Ighli is subjected to one or more interruptions by the intense expenditures of jet fuel in the sky just above,
The week of November 7th through the 12th has to go down in the same ledger of the dark side of American and even world history as Black Friday 1929 or maybe the day in November 1963 when JFK was assassinated. People are likely to remember far into the future, and often with visceral pain, almost exactly where they were when they first heard that Donald Trump had been elected President of the United States.
For those of us who are in Marrakech, Morocco for the United Nations annual climate summit, the pain is, if possible, even more intense. We are gathered here, after all, by the shared knowledge of just how bad the situation surrounding climate change already is. The truth about how much has or hasn’t been accomplished by the much bally-hoed Treaty of Paris in 2015 is already threatening our spirits. The distance we, humanity, still need to come to avoid the worst effects of climate change on civilization are already daunting in the extreme.
Some of us had discovered in Paris that we actually had little more than 15 years to rewire the world—15 years to go from a carbon rich energy diet to a basically carbon-free one if we were to have any hope of holding world average temperature rises to 2 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial revolution levels. In the meantime, emissions of CO2, the major global warming culprit, are still on the rise throughout most of the world.
Many reputable atmospheric scientists are of the strong opinion that a rise in world average temperatures of 1.5 degrees is the highest we can survive in tact. Others say that the possibility of 1.5 degrees is “already in the rear-view mirror”. None of this news is good. And then to have to face the fact that the most powerful and historically the greatest polluting nation in the world has just elected as its President, a bona fide climate denier (or at least one who is willing to deny the reality of climate change to get elected) is hurtful on the level of water-boarding.
There are small consolations, of course. Having to live with Trump means we don’t have to live quite so intimately with the Clinton family in our living rooms every night. Efforts to contain Trump’s venomous brand of political discourse will likely produce some fairly creative counter techniques. Already, legal forces are being amassed to defend Americans and the world against the consequences of administrative moves to block climate progress. Certainly, America’s already injured respect in the world will be further damaged.
Climate progress is already close to a contradiction in itself.
Another twist of the ambition issue is that every day we don’t move ahead results in the increase in the likelihood that we are going to be pressed into a corner by the burgeoning of emissions and feel forced to undertake ever-riskier techniques, ever more unlikely initiatives. These generally consist of taking emissions out of the atmosphere after it has gotten there rather than preventing its access in the first place by forbearance and conservation. Some of these techniques are called ‘bioengineering’. Others are referred to as ‘carbon capture and storage’. (CSS) This latter is much loved by oil companies desperately trying to hold on to unearned prerogatives. These techniques of capturing carbon emissions and shooting them deep into underground caverns (in many cases ones that oil was taken from in the first place) for permanent storage are pure Rube Goldberg as far as anyone has yet been able to determine. Thus the need to act soon rather than depending on lunatic Ideas.
Meanwhile the jets roar overhead with their human cargo. Those of us still here at COP22 are getting a small taste of the great melodrama that is climate change in the post Obama era.
As I passed by one of the little outdoor sound stages that has been set up in front of the media center tonight, I overheard a young Chinese man being interviewed in front of a camera. He was pontificating on a ‘new era of world leadership’. “Now that America has lost its relevance,” he said, “there is room for new leadership—maybe China or Russia or south Korea”. Ah well, I thought, we still make good movies.
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