The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in the United Kingdom begins on Halloween Day, which begs the question, “Will the outcomes from Conference of the Parties COP26 haunt the future or be a blessing to it?” Each generation is judged on the extent to which we have enhanced or diminished the lives of generations to come, and when it comes to the climate crisis, the judgment day of climate chaos is looming over us.
The rhetoric and aspirations expressed in our global agreements to address the climate crisis are beginning to come closer to realizing the fierce urgency of now; but our past and current actions are frighteningly inadequate. While our international trade agreements are legally binding, our international climate agreements continue to be voluntary. What we have agreed to do is not nearly enough, and both nationally and globally we have not come close to doing what we agreed to do.
At our current pace of climate change mitigation efforts, we are forecasted to experience a 2.7°C increase over preindustrial global average temperatures by the end of the 21st Century. This is much better than the increases we would see with no climate action at all, but it is also well over the 2°C threshold that many climate scientists see as a point of no return in which feedback processes will amplify the warming towards an unlivable climate forever altering human civilization as we currently know it. With a livable climate in the balance, what will it take for our global actions to be commensurate with our global rhetoric?
As we prepare for COP26, the current stalemate on climate action in the United States is illustrative of the challenges we face to cultivate the political will to address the climate crisis. Over and over again, we prioritize short-term economic concerns and profits over ecological responsibility and climate justice. The problem is that there are still trillions of dollars to be made by the fossil fuel industry if we continue to rely on oil, natural gas, and coal for our energy, and it is not in their financial interest to change. Currently, Senator Joe Manchin, who personally makes millions of those trillions of dollars, is the most notable face of this problem as he continues to do the bidding of the fossil fuel industry and benefit his own significant investments in the coal industry by using his leverage in a 50/50 Senate to cut the most meaningful action on climate from the reconciliation bill being negotiated in Congress.
The five young persons from the Sunrise Movement who are on a hunger strike right now at the White House as they demand Congress to pass and the President to sign climate legislation understand the urgency of the crisis we are facing. They know that we are in the last days to preserve a livable climate for humanity. They are doing all they can to make sure that their generation will not haunt our climate future. May we all have the courage, compassion, and commitment to join them, and may Senator Manchin find within himself the humanity for self transformation, but I would not count on that. He and so many others seem to be intent on becoming the ghosts of climate chaos that will haunt us for generations to come.