The best thinkers and writers about the rampant destruction of natural systems that is the hallmark of our times profess, almost unanimously, that mankind faces catastrophe unless something is done, something effective, right away. Political action is a necessity, they say, nationally and internationally. We must find the will to act. A respected, frequent commenter on this site suggested the other day that to do anything else is a distraction from the vital effort to transform politics. But is that “unless,” that ever-present qualification — the notion that something might be done, tomorrow or maybe the day after, to save us from the worst consequences of our actions — itself a form of denialism?
I think so, and I submit into evidence three headlines from this week’s news. The first, about the UN organization that is working for consensus on mitigating climate change: “Hopes for Strong 2015 Climate Deal Fade, as Risks Grow.” The second, about what is happening in the world while the UN dithers: “Greenhouse Gas Volumes Reached New High in 2012.” And lastly, a demonstration of why the world works as it does: “Environmental Defense Fund Sells Green Cred to WalMart for Low, Low Price of $66 Million.”
Why would anyone have hoped that there would be a “strong” climate deal in 2015? The only climate deal ever reached internationally was at Kyoto in 1997; it was a deal that barely scraped the surface of the problem at best. And in fact (or at worst) it was never ratified by the US and it never applied to China, and while some of the signatories made token reductions in emissions,they were primarily due to recessions.
For nearly 20 years, frequent UN “summits” have been convened to give the Kyoto Protocol some teeth or to replace it (it has now expired). Instead, each meeting emulated the US Congress and concluded by vowing to do something really serious and effective about the problem at some time in the future. It’s about to happen again, in Warsaw next week. Delegates are going to be working on some really serious measures that will begin to take effect in, oh, 2020, that’s of course if they actually sign it, which is not actually scheduled until 2014. [See: “Why United Nations Climate Change Conferences Will Always Fail.”]
Hope fades? Doh.
Meanwhile, back at the world, emissions of greenhouse gases reached a new record high in 2012, breaking the record set way back in 2011, which broke the record set in 2010. Back at one of those summit meetings, in Copenhagen in 2009, the serious people agreed that action must be taken (at some future time, of course) to prevent a rise of global average temperature of more than two degrees Celsius. That action has not yet been taken, and we’re on track to hit the two-degree mark at mid-century.
According to the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, Michel Jarraud, “Even if we were able to stop [increasing emissions] today – we know it’s not possible – the ocean would continue to warm and to expand and the sea level would continue to rise for hundreds of years.”
In 2005, a troubled WalMart decided to greenwash itself and began bombarding the world with announcement of its plans to become “sustainable,” to use renewable energy (See? We’re putting several solar panels on the roof of this store! Several!), to sell green products and healthier foods. As a PR campaign, it worked beautifully, restoring WalMart’s tarnished image in precisely the markets and demographics where restoration was most needed.
No surprise, really, that mainstream media took the news releases, and covered the PR events (Look! Several solar panels!) without ever inquiring into the realities. (Grist did, in 2011, with eye-opening results.) Nearly ten years later, for example, WalMart gets a whopping two per cent of its energy from its several solar panels and windmills.
More surprising is the fact that the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the premier environmental groups in the country, has become a raucous cheerleader for WalMart’s greenwash. Here’s just one news release, put out by EDF in September:
“Walmart announced a new chemicals policy today that promises to bring safer, healthier products to the 80 percent of Americans that shop there… EDF commends this aggressive new policy.”
Now, Grist has revealed that the Walton family, who owns WalMart, have contributed $66 million to the EDF.
So here we are in the real world, where summits and congresses kick all the cans down every available road; where the people who are killing the natural world are ramping up their activities as fast as they can; and where the money they make, rules. And we are supposed to think that there will be a catastrophe unless all this gets fixed, tomorrow?
Don’t deny it. There’s going to be a catastrophe.