Earth needs therapy, not "green" tech nor "green" finance.
Like my previous pieces, this isn't entirely about COP26. It touches on it while speaking to larger and tangential points. I saved the juiciest parts, in my opinion, for the end.
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Question reports of COP26 as successful.
Successful — by what measure?
Grist headlined in an article by reporter Shannon Osaka that for all of the Paris Agreement's faults (i.e., of not being legally binding nor enforceable), it is “kinda, sorta working”:
“‘We came to Glasgow on a path to disaster (2.7°C),’ Johan Rockström, an environmental scientist… wrote on Twitter. ‘We leave Glasgow on a path to danger (just below 2°C).’”
Great. There is, of course, a caveat.
What this article reported as “working” referred only to the pledges becoming more “ambitious”. It acknowledges, deeper into the text, “To meet the goal of keeping warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, countries actually have to follow through on those promises — something most have not been known to do.”
Layers of misalignment: from targets, pledges, inaccurate reporting, to reality
Let me walk you through this in a straightforward manner, as I am trying to articulate this thought process succinctly.
There’s the scientifically agreed-upon target of a need to keep average warming below 1.5°C.
The climate pledges thus far have not added up to being enough to meet the target.
The submitted data on emissions have shown that most countries are not meeting their subpar pledges.
Investigations reveal that there are wild inaccuracies in the submitted data tracking carbon emissions.
Various greenhouse gases beyond carbon dioxide that contribute to the climate crisis go unaccounted for in the reporting.
The water cycle, which regulates temperature and heat as part of Earth, is not at all addressed within major climate conferences’ discussions.
Biocultural diversity, too complex for reductive mathematical equations yet necessary for actually rebuilding Earth's resilience, balance, and therefore climate stability, is not at all acknowledged.
In essence, there are discrepancies after discrepancies. The pledges are off from the targets, the reported data shows countries failing to meet their pledges, then investigations show that the reported data is often off base. And, more critically, the factors being measured, used to guide every decision, are extremely reductive and incapable of framing the complexity of Earth's diverse, living, and breathing bioregional systems.
What use are the supposed “climate solutions”, and the conferences set up to decide on them, if they are based entirely on limiting (and even inaccurate) measurements of what has been driving Earth's breakdown?
Climate change is a symptom of Earth in ailment.
It was interesting for me to read the IPCC Working Group II's tagline saying that they focus on assessing “the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change.”
This may sound perfectly normal to most. And this isn't unique to the IPCC—this sort of interpretation is rampant across climate discussions.
But notably, it frames climate change as something that is separate from us, separate from these socio-economic and ecological systems—something that is happening to them, something these systems must be protected from.
Climate change is Earth’s fever, chills, aches.
Climate change is not something that is happening to Earth — to fend off.
Climate change is Earth (of which we and all of our “systems” are parts) in an expression of their imbalances, traumas, and injuries.
Climate change does not need to be fought against.
Climate change is a cry for us to listen more deeply.
I say this not to be insensitive to peoples living in places where the effects of climate change are the most palpable. Under this light, the most affected communities are not most “vulnerable to climate change”. Rather, they—the majority of their lifeways being land-based and/or directly dependent on the health of their ecosystems—are most in tune with Earth's symptoms.
Their struggles and inflammation from their stresses also are Earth's struggles and inflammation in another form.
As such, I would even reframe the increasingly used acronym of MAPA (Most Affected Peoples and Areas) to something like MITPA (Most In Tune Peoples and Areas).
This reorientation emphasizes that the most disassociated peoples (usually noted as “privileged”) need to listen to and take after the leadership of MITPA—rather than victimizing them as those just needing to be saved from catastrophes.
It also illuminates why technofixes, including the focus on “transitioning” to (really expanding extraction through) “clean” energy, are just pain killers masking our deepening wounds. The longer we numb ourselves without understanding the source of the ruptures, with both emissions and climate change really being symptoms rather than the causes of our felt crises, the more serious the injuries of our greater bodies will become.
Water, water, everywhere—yet nowhere to be found…
in the climate mitigation discussions, that is, beyond talks of water “insecurity” or rising sea levels.
“If we step back and ask ourselves the question, ‘How does the planet manage heat?’ Then we're looking at the water cycle.
The way we've talked about climate, as a society, is we've tended to look only at the carbon cycle.
But once we look at the water cycle and understand how that works, not only do we understand, a lot more deeply, where many of our climate problems come from, but also where the solutions are." –Judith D. Schwartz via Green Dreamer.
The water cycle is what regulates temperature and manages heat. And healthy, biodiverse ecosystems with extensive root networks, resulting in the land being relaxed, porous like a sponge, rich in flora and fauna, are what create the conditions for healthy water cycles.
The climate crisis isn't just making droughts more severe in certain areas. Clear-cut deforestation, land conversion, industrial agriculture, and the colonial water architecture of dams and pipes are all disrupting and compromising the water cycles of various landscapes—aggravating the crisis itself.
To illustrate the importance of having a more holistic view, here's a part of my conversation with Adam Sacks of Biodiversity for a Livable Climate:
Adam Sacks: “I have a picture that I took of my front yard. I measured the temperature from under the bushes out to the asphalt.
It was 90 degrees out. What do you think was the difference in degrees Fahrenheit between the coolest and the warmest spot in the picture—the warmest spot being the asphalt, the coolest spot being under the bushes?
Kamea: I'm really bad at conceptualizing temperature changes. Twenty?
Adam Sacks: That is what people often guess, but the difference in temperature between underneath the bushes and over the hot asphalt was 60 degrees Fahrenheit. That all has to do with shade and water.
We can bring those temperature differences under control even with elevated greenhouse gases—depending upon how we manage the land.
Kamea: So even if we were to go back to pre-industrial levels of carbon in the atmosphere, if the entire Earth were, for example, just asphalt, that would heat up really quickly because we wouldn't have the healthy ecosystems in place to stabilize and regulate that temperature.
COP26 isn't even about healing Earth.
Not only are climate conferences set up to fail when they base every decision on reductive measures like carbon emissions, the U.N. Conferences of the Parties actually have been allowing more insidious agendas to take hold.