America’s most powerful climate change deniers, some 49 recalcitrants in the elected body once revered as the government’s most ruminative chamber, stymied 195 nations of the world from reaching legally binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions in Paris. While the accord reached Saturday sets goals, it most decidedly does not require governments to reach them. There is no enforcement mechanism. This was largely at U.S. insistence. The President recognized that he would never get a legally binding treaty approved by the Senate, while voluntary goals would not be subject to the Senate’s yeas or many nays.
I’ve listened with considerable frustration to the hoopla coming out of Paris, including profoundly misleading reporting. The most recent example I happened to catch was on NPR on Sunday. Yes, I understand reporters suffering from sleep deprivation after two weeks of covering numbingly boring rule-making sessions, but to say that countries are now legally bound to the commitments they’ve made is brazenly inaccurate. Their goals are aspirational, much as you might aspire to practice yoga every day or to donate time to a food bank. Lovely, perhaps, but certainly subject to the whims and quiddities of everyday exigencies.
Arguably as rueful was the cruel snub given to poor nations. In 2009 in Copenhagen, wealthier countries committed—but voluntarily, you see—to provide a $100 billion fund to help impoverished nations adapt to the worst impacts of climate change. Only a fraction of those funds were ever realized.
Once again, those countries, many of the them island nations already savaged by rising seas, came to Paris begging for help. Once again, that sizable, though hardly ample sum, was treated like an afterthought, relegated to the agreement’s preamble where it became yet another aspirational element—“I think I’ll pass on downward dog today”—as opposed to a real dollar and cents commitment.
And keep in mind that even if those countries meet their voluntary commitments, it would raise temperatres by upwards of 6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, levels scientists assure us that will lead to catastrophic change.
There’s a reason James Hansen, the father of climate change, called the Paris talks “a fraud.”
Which is not to say that the Paris agreement is without value. It focuses much of the world’s attention on the crisis affecting humankind. One hopes that gaze lasts longer than a news cycle. If it does it will be thanks largely to the enduring efforts of environmentalists who continue to try to stymy the bludgeoning influence of the fossil fuel industry, which pays its handmaidens in the Senate handsomely with munificent campaign contributions.
For a balanced discussion on the gains and losses to come out of Saturday’s agreement, I would urge you to tune into Democracy Now’s debate between Michael Brune of the Sierra Club and George Monbiot, a columnist for The Guardian.
And here’s the link to Mobiot’s piece from today’s Guardian.