Today is the day to face the farce11 June 2015
Exciting news this week from the Gang of 7 in a Bavarian castle: the world will be freed of fossil fuels by the end of the century! Politicians who can’t keep a promise from one election to the next expect us to believe that they will keep a promise for 2099. (For good measure, they threw in—yet again, if my memory serves me well—an end to extreme poverty and hunger, this by 2030.)
Do you know how many elections will be held by 2099? 22 in each of the democratic countries. What if some other party comes to power, say in 2049, and decides it prefers 2199? Promises are cheap, you may have noticed, and so are plans. Our future deserves better than that, by what we do today.
Breakthrough? Groupthink? or Camouflage?
Some of these G7 people may believe they have orchestrated a breakthrough. I believe they have joined a groupthink. Some are so concerned about global warming—or at least about what they have to tell their children back home—that they must have gone to Germany ready to believe in almost anything that looks good, so long as it inconveniences no-one. Hence they all lined up to save our world by 2099. Will there be anything left to save?
This really amounts to camouflage. It is not a call to action so much as another excuse for inaction. (The German chancellor’s proposal that her colleagues agree to immediate binding emission targets was turned down. Get serious, they must have told her.) Can anyone seriously believe that the prime minister of Canada has finally taken his head out of the tar sands—or at least will in 85 years? The original proposal was for 2050; he reportedly pushed for 2099. What’s a half-century between politicians? Just the replacement of two digits on a screen, in fact.
Facing the Farce
It is time to face the farce, beginning with some evidence. Consider the string of conferences on global warming. In 2009, the great governments of the world got together in Copenhagen. Their accomplishment, according to the British minister for climate and energy (note his title), was to “put numbers on the table.”1 In Durban two years later, the two hundred assembled countries “agreed to begin a long-term process of negotiating a new treaty.”2 Then in 2012, the conference in Rio de Janeiro was claimed to have produced “an historic agreement, because it is the start of discussion on sustainable development” (CBC radio, 22 June 2012). Later in that year, lest anyone be left who did not get the point, a U.N. Climate Summit was held in Qatar, the country with the worst environmental footprint on Earth.3 Now, in 2015 we finally have a definitive commitment—for 2099.
How much more of this will it take to wake us up? All these lofty pronouncements have stopped not a single flood. So please, dear “leaders”, don’t tell us what you plan for 2099, or after the next election, or tomorrow. Tell us what you are doing today. What actions of consequence are you engaging our countries in right now?
A few governments of the world can provide decent answers. Most cannot. That’s because of the role to which they have allowed themselves to be reduced: making such lofty pronouncements in public forums while negotiating lowly deals in back offices, with those who have the real power. These are the ones who fund their election campaigns. Or else hold the spectre of globalization over their heads. Play our global game, they tell the elected officials, keep our taxes low and our fossils fuelling, and we promise to keep some of our employment in your country. But please, no more legislation that affects our profits, even if it is about pollution, or health, or culture. Otherwise we will have to sue you through the phoney tribunals we wrote into your latest trade pact. We are, you must never forget, the free enterprises of this global world, the key to democratic capitalism. (Note what is the noun.)
This is the reality today, and a resolution to deal with fossil fuels by 2099 suits it perfectly. Pray for our world. Better still, recognize that it needs to be rebalanced. Wealthy interests that benefit from problems such as global warming have taken significant control, at the expense of common interests. Those of us who care about our progeny and our planet will have to do something about this.
The G7 believes that we will get to procrastination in due course. Please recognize that tomorrow never comes. Today is the day to challenge this farce.
© Henry Mintzberg 2015
1 Kanter, J. (2009, December 20). An Air of Frustration for Europe at Climate Talks. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/21/world/europe/21scene.html
2 Austen, I. (2011, December 12). Canada Announces Exit from Kyoto Climate Treaty. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/13/science/earth/canada-leaving-kyoto-pro...
3 According to the Economist Pocket World in Figures - 2012 Edition.