Sat, Aug 04, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Ignorant elite keeps humanity on a course to climate change

By Jeffrey Sachs

US President Donald Trump has declared his intention to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement at the earliest possible moment, 2020, four years after the accord was enforced.

Worse is to come. The human-caused rise in carbon dioxide has not yet reached its full warming effect, owing to the considerable lag in its effect on ocean temperatures.

There is still about 0.5°C of warming to occur over the coming decades based on the current concentration of carbon dioxide (408 parts per million) in the atmosphere, and far more warming beyond that if concentrations continue to soar with the business-as-usual burning of fossil fuels.

To achieve the Paris agreement’s goal of limiting warming to “well below 2°C” relative to the preindustrial level, the world needs to shift decisively from coal, oil and gas to renewable energy by about 2050, and from deforestation to reforestation, and restoration of degraded lands.

So why does humanity keep plunging dumbly ahead, toward certain tragedy?

The main reason is that our political institutions and giant corporations willfully ignore the rising dangers and damage.

Politics is about obtaining and holding power and the perks of office, not about solving problems, even life-and-death environmental problems. Managing a major company is about maximizing shareholder value, not about telling the truth or avoiding great harm to the planet.

Profit-seeking investors own the major media, or at least influence it through their advertising purchases. Thus, a small yet very powerful group maintains the fossil-fuel-based energy system at growing peril to the rest of humanity today and in the future.

Trump is the latest useful fool doing the polluters’ bidding, abetted by congressional Republicans who finance their election campaigns with contributions from environmental culprits such as US-based Koch Industries Inc.

Trump has filled the US government with industry lobbyists who are systematically dismantling every environmental regulation that they can reach. Most recently, Trump has nominated a former lawyer for megapolluter Dow Chemical Co to lead the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund toxic cleanup program. You cannot make this stuff up.

We need a new kind of politics that starts with a clear global goal: environmental safety for the planet’s people, by fulfilling the Paris climate agreement, protecting biodiversity and cutting pollution, which kills millions each year.

The new politics should listen to scientific and technological experts, not self-interested business leaders and narcissistic politicians.

Climatologists enable us to gauge the rising dangers. Engineers inform us how to make the rapid transition, by 2050, to zero-carbon energy. Ecologists and agronomists show us how to grow more and better crops on less land, while ending deforestation and restoring previously degraded land.

Such politics are possible. In fact, the public yearns for them.

A large majority of Americans, for example, want to fight global warming, stay in the Paris climate agreement and embrace renewable energy. Yet, as long as a narrow and ignorant elite condemn Americans and the rest of humanity to wander aimlessly in the political desert, the more likely it is that we will all end up in a wasteland from which there will be no escape.

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