“I tried to listen to the wind
I heard there was an answer blowing there
But all I heard was fluttering leaves
And the wish in the whoosh of relentless
— From Tales of the Akela Kela by Bachchoo
As persistent as the coronavirus statistics, the bad jokes and alliterations of BoJo, the contradictory announcements of health secretary Sajid Javid are now news hype about the international climate conference COP26 in Glasgow this week.
There are, among reports of speeches by Princes Charles and William, the persistence of a hollow and even hypocritical optimism from BoJo and the government’s environment spokespersons, sceptical voices saying it will all come to nought. And there are, inevitably, the prophets of doom.
In past decades people treated the men and women who paraded the streets with billboards round their necks proclaiming “THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH” as lunatics. Today we must take the doomsters seriously because among them are the most distinguished, persuasive scientists in the world and the diligent gatherers of statistics — among them the voices of campaigner Greta Thunberg and natural scientist David Attenborough.
BoJo, the virtual host of all the gathered heads of state, flew in from London to Glasgow and was promptly criticised for burning flight fuel to get there. Prince Charles, on the virtuous hand, drove there in an Aston Martin powered by a fuel made of cheese and wine. What a hero! The other proclaimed heroes could, of course, be those who didn’t burn any fuel to get to Glasgow, like Xi of China or Vlad of Russia.
Amid all the necessary attention the conference is getting, there are two distinct strands. The climate sceptics who say man-made or civilisation-made emissions, like burning of coal and petrol or farming of huge herds of cattle who emit methane and urea aren’t the cause of climate change, have been proved wrong and more or less silenced. Some still hang on to their conviction that global warming will go away just as the Ice Age did, but they are justifiably treated as flat-earthers. No, the two significant trends I extract from the cacophony are, first, pleas for practical and costly but feasible solutions to reduce all greenhouse emissions; and second, a lot of virtue signalling.
In the former, one has to include the pledges by nations to set dates for zero carbon and the pledge, made long ago, to raise the money to assist less developed or poorer countries to move to zero-carbon.
Where does the UK stand in this global problem and what do the positive sounding pledges that BoJo makes amount to? The inescapable fact is that the UK is responsible for one per cent of harmful global emissions. So, when the UK, by spending billions to insulate houses, change from fuel-boilers to heat-burners, electrify all cars, trucks and COP26 trains etc, gets to net-zero carbon emissions, there will have been a one per cent reduction in global emissions?
That’s of course nonsense, because Britain isn’t going it alone. Its own contribution to the reduction isn’t simply its percentage share but its example, its encouragement, both moral and material, and perhaps its contribution to inventing alternatives to burning coal and making alternatives progressively cheaper and accessible to the world.
As with Covid, humanity is in this together. Host UK is determined to boast a lead.
There are those who argue it’s not simply the process of production that counts, it’s the consumption of that nation’s population. Say, for instance, a European nation shuts down the factories that make steel, reducing carbon emissions from its soil. If it still needs steel to build and imports it from China, it has signalled its virtue but probably increased global emissions used in producing and transporting the steel.
So, with cattle farming. If the UK gets rid of all its cows but still eats beef which it imports from Uruguay or Australia, it may feel virtuous but must factor in Uruguayan and Australian cows also fart methane. Net nothing-reduction and even perhaps a small increase if the beef comes to the UK by fuel-burning transport with freezer facilities.
Xi and Vlad have indicated whatever the increases in badass gases from China and Russia in the next decade, they will aim to join the global community to aim for “Net Zero” by 2060, 10 years after Britain and the US. Our own Narendraji went one further: he pledged that India, responsible for 15-16 per cent of global badass gas, would go “Net Zero” by 2070.
Reacting to that disappointing pledge, commentators at the conference said Modiji was speaking tactically. India, they said, had been plundered by colonialism and it was time the colonialists who looted its wealth and forced it to try and catch up with steel and concrete production etc, paid something back. Modiji, they said, was using this 2070 target to manipulate the rich countries, mainly ex-colonial power Britain, to get jittery about this 20-year gap in pledged ambitions and make significant offers of aid to bring it down. If that’s true, and Narendrabhai is really playing tactically, then Jai Shambho, and let’s hope Jai Hind!
And talking of reparations, with a change of personnel at the top of the British Museum, as former Chancellor George Osborne assumes the directorship, there is a revived agenda of repatriation of objects taken from across the world. The Kohinoor diamond is not at the museum but with the Crown. Lord Dalhousie, who looted it from Punjab, must have known it carries the curse which devastated the Ranjit Singh family. He gave it to Queen Victoria as the curse only operates on male possessors of the diamond. When Queen Elizabeth II passes the crown to Charles, the curse moves with it.
Time, then, to return the diamond and avoid a royal tragedy to a leading environmentalist....