Another Climate Summit Failure

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

As the latest in a long line of “global climate summits” comes to an end we — and future generations — are offered yet another litany of promises to “phase out” carbon pollution of the atmosphere, reduce global deforestation, and stop mankind’s destruction of its own and only planet.

As usual, the “pledges” are to meet goals that are decades into the future, despite the certain knowledge that neither we nor the planet’s existing atmosphere, oceans and ecosystems have time on our side.

It’s quite the spectacle to have so many so-called world leaders and their hordes of advisors gather year after year to make the promises that they have never been able to keep. The carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continues to grow, not diminish, and is joined by numerous other greenhouse gases such as methane to push global temperatures to new record highs every year. With the baking temperatures have come the ancillary effects of extreme drought literally turning once livable landscapes into deserts, desiccating rivers, lakes and reservoirs, melting glaciers that produce essential water supplies for hundreds of millions and turning once-lush forests into raging infernos.

The ironic fact is that no matter what grandstanding the leaders do while tap-dancing on the world stage, the headlines they garner are quickly subsumed in the never-ending tsunami of real world events that reveal their promises as empty and irrelevant. The same promises to stop deforestation were made at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and repeated in 2014. Yet, deforestation has increased by 40% in the last seven years — including in the U.S., where 95% of old growth forests have already been logged and what’s left is in the crosshairs.

Moreover, as scientists say when it comes to data, “garbage in, garbage out.” That seems to be the case since, as reported by the Washington Post, the actual carbon emissions gap between what 192 nations claim to emit versus actual emissions “ranges from at least 8.5 billion to as high as 13.3 billion tons a year of underreported emissions.” To put it in perspective, the low number equals the annual emissions from the entire U.S., the world’s second-largest polluter, and the high number equals that of China, now the world’s largest polluter. Garbage in, garbage out. And so much for promises based on bull-pucky data.

The non-environmental effects of the daily toll we are inflicting on the planet may also be increasing. Take for instance Montana’s record suicide levels, reaching about twice the national average per 100,000 population. In response, more funding, facilities and assistance are being mobilized to deal with the crisis.

But what if a major factor in deciding to commit suicide, especially among young people, is the very real possibility that there is no bright future awaiting them? What if lacking a positive vision of the world to come raises questions about if life is worth living? Americans have always believed, hoped for, and worked to give the coming generations a better life than preceding generations. But now that goal seems increasingly out of reach.

Anyone who has raised a family knows if you break the promises you make your children, they soon cease to trust or believe you. It’s not much different right now as we watch world leaders make promises they have broken time after time. Considering there were more operatives from fossil fuel industries at the climate conference than those representing their nations — and their success at once again gutting climate goals — COP-26 would unfortunately, but undeniably, be more accurately described as COP-out 26.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.