Those straining to make the math work on the back end, by invoking large-scale carbon removal later this century, are generating novel dissonance, too. We see headlines about Stripe and its tech allies making a $925 million commitment to removal — perhaps without realizing that the I.P.C.C. has already built into nearly all its lower-warming scenarios the fact that, by 2050, every single year many billions of tons of carbon will be removed from the atmosphere. We nod our heads reflexively about proposals to plant a trillion trees, without realizing that doing so, as climate scientists like David Ho have pointed out, would set the carbon clock back by less than eight months at current emissions levels. (Plus, trees burn, unfortunately; last year, in fact, the carbon released by wildfires exceeded that released by any of the world’s economies except the United States and China.)
The climate, and the world, are changing. What challenges will the future bring, and how should we respond to them?
In this new world, it’s natural to want a neat fable, a clear sense of direction. If you had to choose just one story to tell, probably the most descriptive one is this: Warming is going to get considerably worse than it is today, with the damage created primarily by the world’s rich pummeling the world’s poor. But climate change is not only a morality tale of that kind, and how we regard the near-term future is not a simple, binary choice between two mood-affiliation poles — good news and bad, optimism and pessimism, damage or resilience. It is likely to unleash all of those at once, along with a lot of suffering and social fragmentation. Between the (now unlikely) worst cases and the (even more unlikely) best cases is an ugly muddle, through which we are now already wading — feeling our way toward anything that might qualify, even by degraded standards, as a relatively safe shore.
More on Hypocrisy
Lefty Substack-er Judd Legum on E.S.G. and investor hypocrisy, from his invaluable Popular.info newsletter.
Climate-change minimizer Bjorn Lomborg strikes a similar note, about the empty promises of the world’s wealthy nations, in The Wall Street Journal.
The GFANZ alliance of climate-conscious investors organized by former Bank of England and Bank of Canada chief Mark Carney has been “accused of exploiting loopholes and ‘greenwashing’ in climate pledge,” writes Fiona Harvey in The Guardian. She finds that the 450 big banks making up the $130 trillion alliance, announced to much fanfare at COP26, “can still invest unlimited amounts in coal mining and coal power, despite promises to tighten the rules on their lending.”
“Fund flows into equity E.S.G. ETFs went negative last month,” writes Nat Bullard.
In May 2020, the European Commission pledged to plant three billion trees by 2030 as part of a biodiversity program. “Two years on, however, the E.U. is far from that goal. A tracker launched in December 2021 to monitor progress shows that, as of 15 June, the E.U. has planted 2,946,015 trees — not even 1 percent of the three billion goal,” according to Euractiv.