Can hu­man­ity re­ally win the global warm­ing fight?

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - OPINION - GWYNNE DYER

“Out of the crooked tim­ber of hu­man­ity, no straight thing was ever made,” wrote Im­manuel Kant in 1784. It is still true.

On Sun­day, the 24th Con­fer­ence of the Par­ties — the 180 coun­tries that signed the 2015 Paris cli­mate change treaty — opened in Ka­tow­ice, Poland. War­saw pre­sum­ably chose the venue, home to Europe’s big­gest coal com­pany, in a thinly dis­guised show of de­fi­ance.

It’s not just Don­ald Trump who loves coal. It’s the worst of the fos­sil fu­els in terms of green­house gas emis­sions, but Poland gets 75 per cent of its elec­tric­ity by burn­ing coal and has no in­ten­tion of chang­ing. In fact, shortly be­fore COP24 opened, Poland an­nounced plans to invest in a large new coal-mine in Sile­sia.

That same day, 1,500 km west in Paris, mu­nic­i­pal work­ers were clean­ing up af­ter the third and most vi­o­lent week­end of protests — the big­gest in decades — against French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron.

And what were the demon­stra­tors (dubbed “gilets jaunes” af­ter the flu­o­res­cent yel­low vests French driv­ers must keep in their ve­hi­cles) protest­ing ? In Paris and other cities, they built bar­ri­cades, torched cars, banks and homes be­cause Macron’s gov­ern­ment has raised the tax on diesel fuel by 6.5 cents a litre.

This was on top of a 7.9 cents-a-litre jump ear­lier this year. Most French ve­hi­cles run on diesel, but the re­ac­tion does look a bit ex­ces­sive. That Macron jus­ti­fied it as a “green” tax meant to cut fuel use only seemed to make pro­test­ers an­grier. And, at least un­til Satur­day’s ex­treme vi­o­lence, most French peo­ple sup­ported them.

Poles cling­ing to coal de­spite the coal smoke that en­velops Pol­ish cities in win­ter and kills thou­sands a year, and or­di­nary peo­ple in France ri­ot­ing for the right to go on burn­ing cheap diesel in their cars de­spite a com­pa­ra­ble death toll from at­mo­spheric pol­lu­tion there, sug­gest the quest to cut green­house gas emis­sions be­fore global warm­ing goes run­away faces even greater re­sis­tance than ex­perts feared.

Bear in mind that Poland and France are rel­a­tively well-ed­u­cated coun­tries that be­long to the Euro­pean Union, the world leader in com­mit­ment to emis­sion cuts. Nei­ther coun­try has the kind of cli­mate-change de­nial in­dus­try, lav­ishly funded by fos­sil-fuel pro­duc­ers, that mud­dies the wa­ters and spreads doubt about the sci­en­tific ev­i­dence in the U.S. Nei­ther the Poles nor the French are in de­nial. And yet …

Now, it’s true Poles have a large col­lec­tive chip on their shoul­der for his­tor­i­cal rea­sons — their coun­try was erased from the map for more than a cen­tury — so they of­ten re­spond badly to be­ing lec­tured by well-mean­ing for­eign­ers. It’s also true that Pres­i­dent Macron is ar­ro­gant and has a tin ear for pub­lic opin­ion. But nei­ther na­tion­al­ist re­sent­ment nor clumsy po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship are in short sup­ply world­wide.

Bear in mind also that the emis­sion cuts promised in the 2015 accord won’t kick in un­til 2020: we have a moun­tain to climb and we are not even in the foothills yet. Much big­ger sac­ri­fices than a few cents ex­tra on diesel prices or an end to burn­ing coal will be re­quired be­fore this process ends, if it ever does.

The ques­tion is: can we re­ally ex­pect the rel­a­tively large ( but still in­ad­e­quate) green­house gas emis­sion cuts promised in Paris in 2015 to ever win the pub­lic sup­port nec­es­sary to make them hap­pen? If not, our cur­rent global civil­i­sa­tion is doomed.

If you were de­sign­ing a species ca­pa­ble of mak­ing this hard tran­si­tion, you’d cer­tainly pre­fer to start with one that was wiser, more co-op­er­a­tive and less ex­citable than our­selves. Some­thing a lit­tle less crooked, at least. But this is the tim­ber we have to work with. Good luck. Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist based in Lon­don, Eng­land.

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