This is the final version of a post first published on Thursday 26 September. This version contains additional material, and a considerable amount of the earlier version has been pruned.
I hope to do a specific post on the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. Meanwhile we have a closing media release from the summit. While it tells us that “77 countries committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, [and] while 70 countries announced they will either boost their national action plans by 2020 or have started the process of doing so”, none of the large emitters were included. Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations at the The University of Queensland, gives a neat summary with lots of links in Highly touted UN climate summit failed to deliver – and Scott Morrison failed to show up.
One success of the Summit was Greta Thunberg’s amazing speech:
This speech was given as part of a panel session during the main conference on Monday 23 September, although I can’t find it on the official agenda.
The speech, 495 words long and lasting about 4:30 minutes, was obviously carefully crafted and prepared, where the phrasing and pauses had meaning. It will long be replayed and studied (text here), and may well earn Thunberg a Nobel Peace Prize. She has already been named one of the 2019 recipients of the Right Livelihood Award, known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize,” and back in July, the Freedom Prize, awarded by the Normandy Region.
Along with the hundreds of millions of protesters who went on strike (see ACF photos), will it have an effect?
Scott Morrison made some patronising remarks about not scaring children, and then went on to say Australia’s record was misrepresented by the media and spurned criticism of Australia’s record on climate change.
Fact-checking found most of his claims questionable or bunkum. Australia is in fact notoriously seen internationally as a climate change laggard. There was excellent debunking in these two ABC RN segments:
- Professor Lesley Hughes – Scott Morrison’s UN climate speech ‘long on spin and short on real facts’
- Tim Baxter, expert in climate law, Climate and Energy College, Melbourne University – Is the PM right on Australia’s climate change efforts?
[Update: From RMIT ABC Fact Check, We fact checked Scott Morrison’s speech to the United Nations. Here’s what we found.
What success Australia has had owes little to if anything to Coalition policies.]
On the involvement of children, Morrison should listen to what Prof Anne Samson said.
Kids have a right to know what is in store for them in the future, and to be involved in what might contribute to change. These rights are enshrined in the UN Rights of the Child. Many will know any way, and adults pretending everything will be lovely is patronising and foolish. Also UN Rights, Item 12 reads:
- Children have the right to say what they think should happen when adults are making decisions that affect them and to have their opinions taken into account.
So far the protests have not cut through to fog of denial and inaction. Nevertheless, Natasha Gillezeau and Tim Boyd in their AFR article Cyclone Greta shakes up the climate change debate find that climate change is penetrating common transactions of human life.
Some business executives were particularly critical of Thunberg’s claim that “we are at the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of endless economic growth”.
They accused her of “catastrophism”. Then we have Queensland LNP politician George Christensen, who:
- attracted widespread criticism for changing his Facebook page’s cover photo to a picture of the teenager with a red cross over her mouth, declaring his social media page a “Greta Free Zone”.
Guy Rundle at Crikey places Greta Thunberg in a fine tradition of speaking truth to power:
- Paradoxically, what draws people to Thunberg, and various comparable figures, from Martin Luther King Jr to Jesus, is that what she says is simple, rational and forensic in precisely the way that politicians should be.
She’s part of a cult of rationality, if you like.
Scott Morrison, Rundle says, is paid to be rational, but:
addresses the UN with a speech oozing the sub-Krishnamurtiesque psycho-religious fusion of positive thinking.
Hillsong have done their work well on Morrison; his version of Christianity perfectly expresses the degree to which it has become an adjunct to the narcissistic cult of the self, a device to support flagging spirits and instil self-belief by turning away from objective truth.
Morrison’s concern at teenagers feeling horror and despair at the future to come is quite likely genuine. But the solution — to address the thinking about reality with other thinking about non-reality — marks him, and others, as the true cultists, devotees of the childish belief that life is specially arranged in one’s own favour.
Thunberg has apparently received the usual voluminous quota of threats, porn, and racist messages. She chose to answer one troll named Donald Trump, who happens to be POTUS. She asks quite reasonably, why adults mock ‘children for promoting science’.
At the Summit she was addressing a room full of presidents, prime ministers, mayors and business leaders, who have stolen her dreams.
- “You have stolen my dreams, my childhood, with your empty words,” Thunberg, the 16-year-old powerhouse activist from Sweden, said. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about are your fairy tales of money and eternal economic growth.”
In the end, after accusing the current establishment of essentially being too immature to face reality and see it like it is, she draws a line:
You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.
As Richard Flanagan says, it’s not so much “I have a dream” as “I have a nightmare”.
The ABC RN Signal team in examining Is climate change an excuse to break the law? asked what would satisfy the protesters?
The answer is a bit vague, but it amounts to ‘appropriate’ co-ordinated global action.
Greta Thunberg pretty much nailed what the IPCC is offering us, and so spectacularly failing to achieve:
- The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C degrees, and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.
Maybe 50% is acceptable to you. But those numbers don’t include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of justice and equity. They also rely on my and my children’s generation sucking hundreds of billions of tonnes of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us – we who have to live with the consequences.
Remember, with 1.5°C, 70 t0 90% of the world’s reefs die, sea levels will continue to rise, dangerous weather and wildfires will increase. Tipping points are likely already in play. If a plane had a 1 in 100 chance of crashing, you would not fly in it. What we are being offered by the authorities is a sick joke. The emperor has no clothes.
The only way to aspire to a safe climate is to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations as rapidly as possible, while transforming our economy to net zero also as a matter of urgency. 2050 is way too late.
The future does not need to be energy poor. There are paths in new technology opening up where we can provide food and shelter plus achieve economic growth while actually restoring the ecology of the planet.
We just need a paradigm shift in our thinking towards recognising that the present climate is already unacceptably dangerous, and that we need to aspire to achieving a safe climate.
We need to craft a narrative of genuine hope, rather than just a list of grievances, however warranted.
Notes: First, Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, has researched hundreds of campaigns over the last century and found that:
- nonviolent campaigns are twice as likely to achieve their goals as violent campaigns. And although the exact dynamics will depend on many factors, she has shown it takes around 3.5% of the population actively participating in the protests to ensure serious political change.
If the population of Australia is around 25 million, that would require about 875,000. The demonstrations on Friday came in at less than half that number, so there is a way to go.
They were still impressive, though, and said to be the biggest we have seen.
Second, Belinda Xie and Ben Newell’s research Why attending a climate strike can change minds (most importantly your own) shows that at least the protesters benefit, basically through feelings of solidarity and empowerment.
Not to be sneezed at.
Finally, First Dog on the Moon addresses THE GRETA THUNBERG PROBLEM, so many men freaking out about the tiny Swedish climate demon, asking:
- Is she the brainwasher or brainwashee?
This post at Phys Org, which talks about who Greta travels with (her dad, for starters), that she writes her own material, but talks for input to leading scientists like Johan Rockström, Stefan Rahmstorf, Kevin Anderson, Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Glen Peters and others.
Update 2 (5 October 2019):
From Climate Home News This is what the world promised at the UN climate action summit.
A complete list, for the record.