As one year changes to another, we reflect on what has passed, the highs and lows, and on what might be to come, the hopes and fears. What will history make of 2011, what will it know about 2012, and what will be its judgement? Which events will the historians of the future pick out as important, which will they consign to the footnotes, which events deemed not worthy of comment? This last category will include nearly the entire output of the popular media, just about everything that has occupied the pubic mind in 2011 and again in 2012. The footnotes will pick up most of the rest. The wheeler-dealing over the global economy; the posturing politicians who thought that they were cementing their place in history; the antics of media personalities. All of this will be seen as transient when people of the mid twenty-first century try to understand the origins of the situation that they will find them selves in and try to understand why nothing effective was done to prevent it. What, they will wonder, were the people of our time doing?
The one event that will interest them from 2011 hardly made the press let alone the headlines: the Durban Conference of the Parties number 17. They will then turn straight to number 18 in Qatar, having read with incredulity about COP16 in Copenhagen. How could the world leaders so callously ignore the clear evidence of science and willingly accept a temperature rise of 3°C, in the full knowledge that this would surely trigger a further rise to 4°C with a strong possibility of a resetting of the global thermostat at 6°C above the long term Holocene average. The people of 2050 will be living with the reality that CO2 levels will not have been stabilised at 550ppm and they will know then that that level was far too high, as a majority of scientists in 2011 warned.
What will not be hitting the headlines in 2012 is the end of the first accounting period of the Kyoto protocol, which started in 2005. This period should have seen the developed nations cutting their emissions by 5% of 1990 levels. It should have seen emissions beginning to stabilise and a new accounting period launched in 2013 to see emissions brought to a level consistent with no more than a 2°C rise in average global temperatures.
What has in fact happened is that global emissions have grown by 49% since 1990. Last year, despite the global recession and 20 years of so called ‘climate negotiations’, they grew by 5.9%. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are now higher than they have been for 800,000 years and the climate is responding.
Even if all the pledges that have been made at the plethora of international conferences were kept, the journal ‘Nature Climate Change’ found that emissions would continue to rise at about 3% per year. These ‘pledges’ – including America’s ‘pledge of a 2-3% cut’ – are totally inadequate, and our leaders know it. Ahead of the Durban talks, the International Energy Agency, by no means a green organization, said this: ‘The world has only five years to seriously start replacing fossil fuels by low carbon energy and energy efficiency. Failure to make the required investment by 2017 would ‘lock in’ high future emissions to such an extent that the 2°C goal would become unattainable
Those politicians and lobbyists who set out to frustrate negotiations and block the required action, have closed the door on stabilisation at or below 2°C. They have also closed the door on the second accounting period from 2013, the corporate capitalists did not want it and they rule the planet. Even though they didn’t actually manage to kill off the Kyoto treaty in Durban, which is what they wanted, it is as good as dead and there will be no binding agreements until at least 2020. Nothing will happen by 2017, 2°C is unattainable. Our leaders have failed us, they have rolled over in front of the corporate capitalists and their lobbyists, preferring self interest instead of the welfare of humanity. They may be feeling pleased with them selves, living their lives of sumptuous luxury, but history will not be kind to them.
And our response, the response of the people whose lives will be most affected by the failure to curb carbon emissions? That is something that those who read history in 2050 will also be interested to understand.
Consider our own judgement of people who lived amid the gathering clouds of crisis, in 1930’s Europe for example. Why, we might wonder, did most people of the time do nothing? Why did they turn away as neighbours were dragged from their homes, why didn’t they ask about those who disappeared? How could they voice agreement with the lies and deceit of their governments, or merely sit silent, witnessing the manifest wrongs, but doing nothing. What, we might ask, would we do among the gathering clouds of crisis? What are we doing amid the lies and deceit of the climate denialists who control most of popular media? What are we doing when given the clear information that contemporary political policy is flawed and risks serious conflict in the future. What happens when we are given the choice at elections, the choice of business as usual or the choice of a clear programme that would head off the danger? What happened in 2010 in the UK, in 2011 in Spain, Italy and Greece? The electorate turned to the right and ignored the warnings, voted to hold on desperately to their own comforts and conveniences, choosing to ignore or deny the crisis that the next generation will have to face.
The ordinary people of Europe in the mid 1930’s possibly thought that they were acting in the best interests of their children, how could they have thought otherwise? But through their inaction and denial, they condemned their children to the bloodiest war ever fought over the face of the Earth. People today make similar claims, we must protect jobs, we must protect the economy, cutting emissions is just too costly, holds too many risks with jobs to be able to address at this time. So they condemn their children to face the frightening possibility of escalating temperatures, to the spread of uninhabitable regions, and to the unknown experience of ecological collapse.
This is one version of future history – it is the outcome of ‘business as usual’. But there is another version of history, a version that must be written by the actions of ordinary people. We must not sit passively by and let this global catastrophe unfold, we have to challenge the deceit of the denialists and take action to counter the ineptitude of our leaders. The sheer courage of ordinary people across the Middle East gives us an inspirational lead. Throughout history small groups have similarly acted with courage to confront the wrongs of entrenched and powerful interests. From Tolpuddle and Peterloo to Occupy Wall Street, those self-serving interests have been, and will be forced to concede ground to the demands of ordinary people. But they will give nothing willingly.
Time is running out, the storm clouds are gathering. Our false political leaders and their commercial puppet masters have made it abundantly clear over the last 20 years that they are not going to do anything other than continue to con us into believing that they are acting in our best interests. It is up to us now to fight the battle to prevent dangerous climate change, to close the ever widening gap between the super rich and those in poverty, and to bring about the necessary political and economic change.
Green minded and fair minded people know that there is a better way forward, together, but only together, we can, we must, take that path. Our actions can and must determine history.
[Mike Shipley January 2012]