Turns Out We Won’t Always Have Paris

In the movie Casablanca, Rick and Ilsa had a great time in Paris, then the world descended into war. In real l;fe, we really aren’t going to have any reason to remember Paris.

Politicians around the world have perfected the art of appearing to do something about a problem, when actually doing something about it would harm the financial interests of their industrial sponsors. This was never better illustrated than by the Paris Climate Accord.

If anyone is paying attention to words any more, please note that the thing is called an “accord,” or “agreement,” not a treaty —  because treaties are binding, and cannot be violated without consequences. An “accord,” on the other hand, is a statement of a wish, as in “wouldn’t it be nice if we had world peace?” A treaty says, “If you attack my friend I will beat you to a bloody pulp,” whereas an accord says, “I really wish you wouldn’t speak harshly to my friend.”

If anyone is paying attention to science (or simply arithmetic) any more, please note that the primary goal of this accord is to limit global warming caused by industrial pollution to two degrees Celsius. So far, since the Industrial Revolution began we have raised the world’s temperature by almost one degree (.8 degree Celsius), so we’re already halfway there, with the rate of warming steadily increasing. Moreover, the warming effects of greenhouse gases have a 40-year cycle, so whatever we do to reduce them now will not have any effect on temperatures until about 2060. There is no possibility that warming will be limited to two degrees by any actions taken now, if in fact anyone ever does take any significant action. 

To master the skill of appearing to do something while not doing anything, one must first become adept at kicking the can down the road. At this, the parent organization of the Paris Accord — the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (or UN-FuCC for short) — excels. The Paris Accord was finalized at the group’s 21st annual meeting on the subject, in 2015. And at that the agreement did not call for any actual activity until 2018, after a lengthy survey of the member countries to determine whether they actually meant to join.

And what was that 2018 activity? Shutting down coal fired power plants? Taxing carbon emissions? Imposing trade sanctions on scoffers? Nothing like that. It was called — I am not making this up — a “stocktake” to be initiated with a “facilitative dialog,” during which each member country was to gaze intently at its navel and decide where it was and what it wanted to do. Because any actual attempts to reduce carbon emissions — that might actually begin sometime around 2020, or so — were entirely voluntary.

 Various requirements were satisfied by November of 2015, and the United States became a participant in the Paris Accord. Nothing was required of it, and less than nothing was done. The Obama administration took credit for a heartening decline in US carbon emissions — from just under 20 metric tons per person per year in 2009, when he took office, to just over 16 metric tons per person in 2013. But that decrease was largely due to the recession that began in 2009, not to any heroic preventive actions by the government.

So what is it about this anemic and ineffective agreement that drives Trump crazy? Why did he feel compelled to announce this week he is taking us out of the Paris Accord? No one knows. And no one is ever going to find out. Those who insist on trying to divine what beliefs drive him, what agenda directs him, are doomed to failure for the simple reason that he has no beliefs and no agenda. He possesses scraps of information clipped from Fox News, half-remembered snippets of conversations with people who appear to believe in something or other, and vague notions of midnight thoughts he was going to Tweet about but forgot.

When called on to make an announcement, he regurgitates a handful or two of mental flotsam for the talking heads to ponder. At some point, someone must have wedged in a persistent thought fragment — “climate agreement bad” — and that’s it. That’s why the United States is turning its back on the entire rest of the world except for two countries, and is walking away from 22 years of hard work.

The climate agreement wasn’t much, but it was all we had. It was toothless, clawless, not even permitted to bark, but it represented the human world reluctantly and slowly awakening to a mortal and imminent threat. Who knows, maybe it would have started to do serious work tomorrow. Now we’ll never know.

At the end of the movie Casablanca, when Rick (Humphrey Bogart) says to Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman),  “We’ll always have Paris,” he means they’ll have the memories of a wonderful time to sustain them through the end of the world — aka World War Two. But for us, Paris was not that great, as affairs go. And the aftermath is going to be way, way worse.



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16 Responses to Turns Out We Won’t Always Have Paris

  1. Rael Gleitsman says:

    “The fundamental things apply
    As time goes by.”
    Physics and Chemistry for example.

    • Denis Frith says:

      Physics and chemistry ensure that industrialized civilization (Tityas) irreversibly uses up limited natural material resources and produce irrevocabel waste material in an unsustainable process.
      That is what is happening despite the decisions made by people at all levels,
      The destiny of Tityas is no different to that of all other organisms, including people.

  2. Mike H says:

    Some days I am not sure which is a more apt motion picture representation, ‘Dr Strangelove’ or ‘Being There’, probably both.

    Succinctly put Tom, there was a chance, a wee chance that actually the world’s industrialised nations may have faced up to the disaster they are creating, they meaning we but they meaning those who actually make the decisions unlike us who have to go along with them. Paris is a dead duck, but then again I always thought it would be, again lots of nice words, solemn looks then back to mischief.

    One small point, the global temperature rise is higher in some places already, the world aggregate temp is about 0.8C higher and now rising rapidly but for example where we live the base line rise is now 1.5C so the effects are being distributed unequally but everybody will catch up. The effects of this rise are more than challenging, they are depressing because the one thing gone is stable patterns, of temperature, precipitation and the distribution of both, this starting to play out in ways that are disturbing for the flora and fauna who have been in a relatively stable world for hundreds of millions of years. In summary it is becoming chaotic and there is no management plan or adaption to chaos, not that I have found other than to try and ride it out, because there is nowhere to go.

    • “Some days I am not sure which is a more apt motion picture representation, ‘Dr Strangelove’ or ‘Being There’, probably both.”

      Add in the TV series “Brain Dead” and we’re all set.

  3. Mike H says:

    An afterthought. Whenever I see the fine words and solemn nods, one can only think of what might of been, what might have been was what we had it is now slipping from our grasp. The point whenever I read about any so called wonderful solution and how this is being done and this has been done and see look at these reductions I immediately go the the LIE DECTECTOR – the Atmospheric CO2 readings of Mauna Loa and Cape Grim in Tasmania, sure enough, the CO2 has gone up this month like last month and the month before. So the rest is cowdung!

  4. David Devoe says:

    Alas, poor Earth! I knew it well.

    In the hour when the Holy one, blessed be He, created the first man, He took him and let him pass before all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him: “See my works, how fine and excellent they are! Now all that I have created, for you have I created. Think upon this and do not corrupt and desolate My World, For if you corrupt it, there is no one to set it right after you.” (Kohelet Rabbah 7:28)

    • SomeoneInAsia says:

      ‘Poor’ Earth?

      The Earth has little to care about from what we’re collectively throwing at it at present. It has gone through far worse in the couple billion years it’s been around. No, WE are the ones who are screwed. You should say, “Alas, poor Humanity!”

  5. SomeoneInAsia says:

    The Industrial Revolution wasn’t a milestone in the history of the human race.

    Except in the sense that it was a tragic and colossal mistake.

    • Denis Frith says:

      Industrialization civilization was built on energy flow doing positive work without taking into account that friction always does negative work. So these operations are an unsustainabbe as society will learn the hard way as the goods and services provided by industrialization die off.

  6. Chris says:

    Hi Tom,

    I’m curious as to why people believe that it should be the government that does something about climate change. You wrote that per capita carbon output is 16 metric tonnes in 2013. Surely there is some low hanging fruit in that 16 tonnes which individuals can manage (or adapt) that will immediately reduce their carbon emissions?


    • Michael Crews says:

      Nothing an individual voluntarily undertakes will have a global effect. It will take a coordinated, very long term, sustained effort by hundreds of millions of people without expecting any result but a habitable world to live in.

      If you can think of a way to organize a project so vast and permanent, that doesn’t look a hell of a lot like government, tell us about it.

      • Chris says:


        As far as I can understand the predicament that we currently face in relation to greenhouse gases, the only way forward is to simply stop polluting. Of course this response will eventually happen regardless.

        However, Trump is really delivering the will of the people in this instance. I mean if there is no will power in the general population to reduce personal greenhouses gas output in the average household, then the policy which has just been enacted reflects that lack of desire.

        Sorry mate, the only place to begin such a vast change in culture is to begin in the home.


  7. Tom says:

    Guy McPherson: Griffith University, Brisbane Australia.

    I’ll talk primarily about 5 topics today: (1) habitat for human animals, (2) Civilization as a heat engine, (3) the Catch-22 of terminating civilization, (4) the Sixth Mass Extinction on Earth, and (5) how we respond to a terminal diagnosis. [more]

    Thank you, Mr. Lewis, for broaching this topic.
    Above, I linked to a short video explanation of it all. Guy says (elsewhere), whether Trump withdrew or not has no effect on climate change, since no matter what we (all, even globally) do now, abrupt climate change will determine what happens from here on out (to paraphrase). He connects the dots in this ~ 20 min. video.

    Many other people, from Svante Arrhenius (the Greenhouse Effect in 1896) to Derrick Jensen, Paul Beckwith, and Peter Wadhams currently have warned about the effect our “civilization’s” pollution on our environment – all have gone unheeded and now the end is in sight.

    I think, at this point, that our species couldn’t have avoided extinction. Oh sure, we could maybe have stretched our run out a bit further, but the very structure of the way we live has the effect of killing us all off.

    Enjoy and appreciate your remaining moments.

    • JJgrey says:

      I doubt that human extinction is necessarily baked into the cake at this point (industrial civilization collapse probably is though – running out of fuel AND catastrophic weather events will probably doom it, not to mention all the other resource peaks it is at or past.)
      How many humans, at what level of lifestyle remain, though is very much in question. In a couple hundred years our race could consist of no more than a few tens of thousands organized in barely surviving widely scattered tribes. Or we could have as many as almost a billion mostly living as permacultural farmers using 18th century technologies to keep 22nd century food growing.
      Climate and preservation of knowledge will be the two biggest drivers behind these levels of ‘success’.
      Being nihilist about our species situation, just means people wont bother to set up independent preservations of knowledge nor attempt to blunt the effects of the climate change.
      Nihilism is, IMHO cowardice near as bad as ignoring the challenges completely (like trump) – they are both sides of the coin that says do nothing.

  8. RE says:

    A 2C rise in AGT will make Alaska much more pleasant in the Winter and will extend our growing season for the farms in Palmer by about 2-3 weeks on either end.