Complicated Conundrum Nr 33(b)

COP26: A Most Complicated Conundrum

COP26 is over. In all honesty, I’ve been mildly interested in the conference. These climate conferences have mostly been PR events ending with agreements that have clearly done way too little to cool the planet. Nothing more. That’s not to say that I haven’t (naively) hoped for a solid plan from the politicians and corporate leaders to begin curbing the global use of fossil fuels and the emissions that are cooking and choking the planet.

This conundrum is obviously complicated. I’d argue that it’s the hardest math problem our species has ever tried to solve. I’m not even sure we can. Why? Well, because there are so many unknown variables in this particular equation.

While I think we actually could immediately lower emissions by drastically reducing the production of non-essential products and services, including all kinds of meat and farmed fish, and, by adding a steep carbon tax on just about anything that isn’t locally sourced and absolutely everything that originates from oil and the entire petrochemical industry, this would still only keep rising temperatures at bay short-term

The world’s population is growing. By 2099 (78 years from now), the projection is that we’ll be just shy of 11 billion people on Earth. That’s close to 3 billion more people than today or, approximately the combined amount of folks living in India and China right now.

I’m starting to think that Elon Musk might be right about moving to Mars.

The big question, the 800-pound gorilla in the corner of our ever-decreasing room, is, should we just cap the population growth for the sake of our species’ future? I mean, will we actually be able to feed all 11 billion hungry mouths, let alone build homes, create jobs, make furniture and supply all the other stuff that we “the privileged” take for granted today, for so many more earthlings? How could that possibly work? I mean, we’ve populated 50-70% of the world’s total landmass already. Where’s everyone going to live and what are they all going to eat? Lab steak? Rice milk? Seaweed salad?

However you slice it or dish it out, from an environmental perspective, COP26 was nothing but a huge fiasco, a failure. Yes, I think Greta was absolutely right when she said it was all blah, blah, blah. But I wonder, how could COP26 have been anything but blah, blah, blah? Decisions that would have had a real, tangible impact on the climate crisis were just too tough for any politician or corporate dude to dare take. How could they without risking the beginning of a global financial meltdown?

How could a CEO of a company like H&M, one of the world’s most successful retailers, tell stockholders that no, sorry, the company’s actually not going to be expanding into new markets anymore? That the leadership team has instead decided to reduce production, lay off workers in stores, close factories, and from now on will only produce collections of clothes, accessories, and furniture using 100% renewable and locally produced material?

Like many other consumer-faced corporations, H&M is dependent on increasing sales, expanding aggressively, high volume turnover, continuous cost-cutting, and streamlining their distribution channels in order to increase, or, at the very least, maintain profitability. Stockholders, especially enormous institutional investors, don’t care about the planet. Not if caring means lower quarterly earnings and plummeting annual dividends.

What politician would dare tell his or her constituents that they now have to make tremendous sacrifices, including putting an end to shopping sprees at H&M, quitting their daily one-click consumption at Amazon, and obsessively renewing gadgets every year at Apple? That they from now on can only eat real meat once a month and have to start taking the bus to work, or, just stay home and learn to get by on a meager UBI? Who’s going to put in place a law that says couples can now only have a single offspring (a la Deng Xiaoping’s one-child policy) and that no, there will be no more two-week all-inclusive holidays at exotic, faraway destinations?

From an existential perspective, I think the only relevant philosophical question is, should I really care about global warming, as it’s unlikely to impact me directly for the remainder of my lifetime? In other words, is it really my moral obligation to be worried and concerned enough to make profound sacrifices today, just to help my grandchildren and their future existential circumstances on the planet, if I’m already gone and at best, a fading memory? Or, should I just enjoy the life I have created for myself and hope/pray that people much, much smarter than me will somehow figure this stuff out? Even if it one day ultimately means abandoning Earth altogether?

Yes, this certainly is a complicated conundrum. There are no easy answers in sight and we clearly have yet another one of them divisive, contentious topics. But just as so many times before, it’s only a conundrum for those of us lucky enough to have time to even ponder an issue like global warming. People literally struggling to survive, be that in Africa, Asia, South America, or the US of A, certainly do not have this luxury. In all likelihood, they will once again see their lives changed by people they’ve never met or heard of.

Above image: “Complicated Conundrum Nr 33(b)”. Part of the Resurfaced series. Shot in Zadar, Croatia.