A reality check on climate pledges

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Here’s an excerpt from this week’s newsletter written by Sasja Beslik:

Decarbonization by 2030 or 2050? Really? What’s the point of setting goals which cannot be achieved? People call it aspirational. It is rather delusional. We are building more and bigger of everything, and now we call it green. But do we need more and bigger?

I’m not against setting a goal. I’m all for realistic goals. Lofty goals are misleading and don’t serve a cause because we will not achieve them. And people will end up saying “what’s the point, anyway?”

Instead, we need to be realistic in relation who we are and where we are. Right now, we live in this world of exaggerated promises and delusional techno-pop science promising to save us all. For more than 30 years, global warming has been making headlines. We’ve been aware of this for 30 years, on a planetary scale, all those IPCC meetings. And yet, our emissions have been going up steadily every year.

So here’s the question: Why haven’t we done anything? Why do we keep saying it’s a catastrophic problem but do nothing about it?

In an ideal world, we could cut our emissions if we put our minds to it. But the point is that it has to be done by all the actors in the Net-Zero concert above. Why is it so damn hard?

Suppose we started investing like crazy and began bringing down our carbon emissions as rapidly as possible. The first beneficiaries would be the people living in the 2070s because of what’s already in the system. The temperature would keep rising even as we are reducing these emissions. So we are asking people now to make quote-unquote sacrifices while the first benefits will accrue to their children and the real benefits will accrue to their grandchildren.

We have to redo the basic human wiring in the brain to change this risk analysis and say, we value 2055 or 2060 as much as we value tomorrow. None of us are wired to think that way. We are messy, hard-to-define we. We are subject to fashions and whims, this is the beauty of humanity.

Most of us are trying to do the right things with climate, but it is difficult when you have to move on the energy front, food front, materials front. People have to realize that this problem is unprecedented because of the numbers and scale, billions of everything and at the same time the pressure of acting faster than we ever acted before. This doesn’t make it hopeless, but it makes it so utterly difficult.

Yes, we do have a problem. Is it going to be the end of the world by next Monday? No, I don’t think so. There are billions of people who want to burn more fossil fuels. There is very little we can do about that. They will burn it unless we give them something different. But who will give them something different?

We have to recognize the realities of the world, and the realities of the world tend to be unpleasant, discouraging and depressing. One example is Germany. After investing nearly half a trillion dollars over the course of 20 years they went from getting 84 percent of their primary energy from fossil fuels to now 76 percent.

So how will Germany – a country with 83 million people and half of its industry depending on gas – move from 76 percent fossil to zero by 2030 or 2035?

I’m sorry, the reality is what it is.