The Climate Medusa

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Medusa by Caravaggio, 1597. Uffigi, Florence. Wikipedia.

The 27th climate summit

Conditions in the rest of the world are not that much better than the fierce effects of ceaseless global warming in the United States. On November 7, 2022, Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General who is champion for climate sanity, pretty much repeated his angry remarks to 110 prime ministers and presidents who showed up for the opening of the 27th UN climate summit in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. He said to them their indifference to the rising climate chaos bordered on the criminal and suicidal. He said:

“We are in the [climate] fight of our lives. And we are losing. Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing. Global temperatures keep rising. And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible. We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.

“The war in Ukraine, other conflicts, have caused so much bloodshed and violence and have had dramatic impacts all over the world. But we cannot accept that our attention is not focused on climate change. We must of course work together to support peace efforts and end the tremendous suffering.

“But climate change is on a different timeline, and a different scale. It is the defining issue of our age. It is the central challenge of our century. It is unacceptable, outrageous, and self-defeating to put it on the back burner. Indeed, many of today’s conflicts are linked with growing climate chaos. The war in Ukraine has exposed the profound risks of our fossil fuel addiction. Today’s crises cannot be an excuse for backsliding or greenwashing. If anything, they are a reason for greater urgency, stronger action and effective accountability…

“Human activity is the cause of the climate problem. So human action must be the solution. Action to re-establish ambition.  And action to rebuild trust – especially between North and South.

“The science is clear: any hope of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees means achieving global net zero emissions by 2050. But that 1.5 degree goal is on life support – and the machines are rattling.   We are getting dangerously close to the point of no return. And to avoid that dire fate, all G20 countries must accelerate their transition now – in this decade. Developed countries must take the lead. But emerging economies are also critical to bending the global emissions curve…

“I am calling for a historic Pact between developed and emerging economies – a Climate Solidarity Pact. A Pact in which all countries make an extra effort to reduce emissions this decade in line with the 1.5-degree goal. A Pact in which wealthier countries and International Financial Institutions provide financial and technical assistance to help emerging economies speed their own renewable energy transition. A Pact to end dependence on fossil fuels and the building of new coal plants – phasing out coal in [the 38 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] OECD countries by 2030 and everywhere else by 2040. A Pact that will provide universal, affordable, sustainable energy for all. A Pact in which developed and emerging economies unite around a common strategy and combine capacities and resources for the benefit of humankind.

“The two largest economies – the United States and China – have a particular responsibility to join efforts to make this Pact a reality. This is our only hope of meeting our climate goals.

“Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish. It is either a Climate Solidarity Pact – or a Collective Suicide Pact.”(emphasis mine)

It’s not hard to predict Guterres. As usual, he was talking to the wind. A New York Times reporter, Somini Sengupta, was startled by the apathy of the audience, made up primarily by world leaders. She described how frustration, distrust, and impatience dominated the climate talks. The air at the Egyptian resort was not refreshing. Too much anxiety and too much bad news diminished hope. She added:

“Big polluting countries [like China and the United States] aren’t cutting their emissions of planet-warming gases as quickly as they need to. The money that rich countries promised to help poor countries transition to clean energy hasn’t materialized… many of the splashy goals that countries and companies set for themselves at last year’s conference [in Scotland] haven’t been met, like curbing deforestation or phasing down coal.”

Still subsidizing fossil fuels

On October 27, 2022, the UN Environment Program warned:

“As growing climate change impacts are experienced across the globe, the message that greenhouse gas emissions must fall is unambiguous. Yet the Emissions Gap Report 2022: The Closing Window – Climate Crisis calls for rapid transformation of societies finds that the international community is falling far short of the [2015] Paris goals, with no credible pathway to 1.5°C in place. Only an urgent system-wide transformation can avoid climate disaster.”

In the November 2021 UN climate meeting, in Glasgow, Scotland, nations promised to “phasedown” coal. Yet in late 2022, coal was soaring. They promised to “phaseout” subsidies to fossil fuels. They didn’t. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported in 2022 that the subsidies OECD countries, including America, lavished on fossil fuels almost doubled in 2021 to a total of $ 697.2 billions. Of that largesse, $ 302.7 billion went for petroleum, $ 166 billion for natural gas, $ 19.2 billion for coal, and $ 69.04 billion for oil price support. The same abysmal reversal happened to the promises 197 countries made for ending emissions of the potent Earth-warming methane gas and the destruction of the forests.

Guterres, the prophet of our dark age

Alas, Guterres is becoming the prophet of our dark age. Unless we reverse the feudal hold of the fossil fuel political class, we are doomed. Their greenwashing must be exposed for the fraud it is. Guterres, once again, denounced their fake promises for net-zero emissions. He said:

“Using bogus ‘net-zero’ pledges to cover up massive fossil fuel expansion is reprehensible. It is rank deception. This toxic cover-up could push our world over the climate cliff. The sham must end. Second, on credibility, full and rapid decarbonization this decade is the ultimate test.”

As usual, in the annual world climate summit, young people protest the lies of world leaders, pretending they favored action against climate change while, simultaneously, funding fossil fuels. The banners of the environmentalists at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, said, ”Stop funding fossil fuels! Stop funding death!” Connecting fossil fuels and death explains the passion and struggle to bring those elixirs to an end. Dipti Bhatnagar, a young woman from Mozambique representing the Friends of the Earth International, shouted at a protest in Sharm el-Sheikh:

“Rich countries are out to grab the huge gas reserves, and people are being dispossessed of their land. One million people out of the 23 million [of Mozambique’s] population are living in refugee camps because of gas. We say no to more gas finance. We won’t let Africa burn.”

Drowned Pacific islands

Kausea Natano, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, a tiny island nation in the Pacific, proposed a treaty to stop the expansion of fossil fuels, treating them like weapons of mass destruction. He sent this letter to world leaders:

“Dear world leaders at the COP[27, Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt],

“Climate change is drowning the Pacific Islands.

“The world’s addiction to oil, gas and coal threatens to swallow our lands under the warming seas – inch by inch. But we will not stand by as our home is wiped from the map! So we’re uniting with a hundred Nobel laureates and thousands of scientists worldwide to urge world leaders to join the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to manage a just transition away from fossil fuels.

“The time has come to make peace with the planet. To deliver vulnerable nations the long overdue funding needed to cope with the loss and damage incurred from climate disasters and to make polluters pay. They say that one day, the oceans will swallow the place we call home. But I promise you this: until that day comes, we will keep fighting. Because if we can save our islands, we can save the world.”

Sun and Earth

The courage and vision of this ecological leader is necessary to stop the fossil fuel looters of the planet. In his own quiet way, former Vice President Al Gore shouted, too. His Climate TRACE Coalition is capable of revealing the hitherto secret emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases warming the planet. On November 9, 2022, Guterres honored Gore at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. He said:

“Climate TRACE and its data show that because of underreporting of methane leaks, flaring, and other activities associated with oil and gas production, emissions are many times higher than previously reported. This should be a wake-up call for Governments and the financial sector, especially those that continue to invest in and underwrite fossil fuel pollution. The problem is even greater than we were led to believe and that means we must work even harder to accelerate the phase out of all fossil fuels.”

The potential revelations of Gore’s climate initiative will probably confirm Guterres’ fear that the danger of the unleashed climate Medusa is much larger than we have speculated from incomplete, nay misleading data. The tragic political failure of international politicians, fossil fuel companies, and government officials, worldwide, is not tragic at all to the perpetrators of the climate crime who keep funding fossil fuels and death. Extracting more fossil fuels is business as usual to them. So, if we don’t want extinction, we are talking about a wholesale political metamorphosis of the state system — and unity.

This looming reality (of danger, anger, and massive ecocide) is another reason why the ancient Greeks are our mentors. Under offensive circumstances, their mythical Medusa turned humans to stone. Maintaining fossil fuel business as usual guarantees humans will die from high temperatures. The Greeks also worshipped the Sun god Helios for millennia. Did they know something about the Cosmos that, in our hubris, we ignore? That the Sun is forever? That the Sun is life-giving and light-giving? The Greeks called the Sun Helios because Helios means the gathering of people observing the rise and setting of this magnificent star.

We need to turn our culture to the Sun and the Earth. Everything we do should be geocentric. If it harms the Earth (rivers, lakes, oceans, biodiversity, forests, traditional non-chemical farming), abandon it. We can easily get all of our energy from the Sun. Solar panels transform the rays of the Sun to electricity. And unlike giant wind turbines, solar panels kill no birds. Time to act is now. I have had solar panels for 13 years.

But from the national apathy and political delusion of voting deniers of global warming, that is, Republicans, in state and federal office, the problem of transition from fossil fuel energy policies to solar power in the United States may become like the silence over nuclear weapons, or end in civil war. Once again, this is a political theory problem of normalizing money tyrants under the name of billionaires. We should know that billionaires thrive in tyrannies.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of seven books, including the latest book, The Antikythera Mechanism.