The Climate Summit Is a Sick Joke. You Should Be Angry and Afraid | Opinion
The annual United Nations climate summit started yesterday. We're up to the 28th edition: "COP28." Past UN summits have obviously failed us, but this is a new low. Everyone on Earth needs to know that the meeting has been overrun by fossil fuel executives, making it a sick, planet-destroying joke. There's no real hope of stopping catastrophic global heating until we fix this.
The primary cause of global heating is fossil fuels; and global heating is what's driving all the crazy heat, fire, smoke, storms, flooding, drought, crop yield losses, and ecosystem death that is intensifying everywhere as Earth breaks down. This is basic physics and it's merciless. If left unchecked, every year on average will be hotter than the last, and at some point—no one knows exactly when or how it will unfold—global heating will take down civilization as we know it. Billions of lives are at risk, and the damage to Earth's habitability will last for so long that it will be essentially permanent as far as humans are concerned.
Since fossil fuels are the cause, the only way out of this emergency is to ramp down and ultimately end the fossil fuel industry. Recycling and composting aren't bad things in and of themselves, but they will not stop global heating. The cause is fossil fuels. The only real solution is ending fossil fuels. If you want to help, and you should, forget recycling. Instead, fight the fossil fuel industry every way you can.
It's easy to imagine an alternate universe in which fossil fuel executives were like, "We already have more money than we know what to do with, so let's not destroy the planet." In this alternate universe, the fossil fuel industry uses its vast power and resources to accelerate humanity's transition to clean energy, so we can all have a planet to live on. Makes sense.
In reality of course, fossil fuel executives made the opposite choice: to spend billions to hire the best and brightest to spread disinformation and block action. Which is sad, and horrible, and nightmarish. They've been doing this for half a century. And they recently promised to keep doing it.
In 2021, six fossil fuel executives testified before congress. They were Darren Woods, CEO of ExxonMobil; Michael Wirth, CEO of Chevron; David Lawler, CEO of BP America; Gretchen Watkins, president of Shell Oil; Mike Sommers, president of the American Petroleum Institute; and Suzanne Clark, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. When asked in several instances by Congress if they would agree to stop spending to spread disinformation and block climate action, these fossil fuel executives refused. They clearly signaled to the world that they plan to blithely continue dishonestly destroying Earth's habitability for the sake of corporate greed. They are literal supervillains, stealing our future.
This year, 2023, is the hottest in recorded human history. This should surprise no one: global heating is driven inexorably by trending accumulation of fossil fuel carbon dioxide and methane emissions. In this hottest year in human history, the climate summit is being held in the United Arab Emirates and presided over by a fossil fuel chief executive named Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber. It's hard to imagine anything more cynical or more evil. And yet, things did get more cynical and more evil, with recent revelations that the U.A.E. has been abusing its host role to strike side deals to expand fossil fuels.
This stuff is straight out of the movie Don't Look Up. In some ways it goes beyond anything in Don't Look Up. You should be furious. And afraid. The fossil fuel industry has taken over the only international climate talks we have, our last best hope, and surprise, they've turned them into a greenwashing distraction, a way to make the global heating emergency even worse.
Since fossil fuels are causing the death of our planet, the nations of the world obviously need to adopt a common-sense fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty that ramps down fossil fuels in a globally equitable way. This is not rocket science. But we will never get this so long as fossil fuel executives and lobbyists are in charge. Instead, we'll get greenwash crap about "carbon capture" and "blue hydrogen."
We need a global, international summit process that works because global heating is a global problem. When that international summit system has been corrupted by the fossil fuel industry, which is led by some of the most evil people in human history, this is straight up how we lose our gorgeous, fragile, civilization-supporting planet. Instead of being in charge, these executives and lobbyists should be behind bars. At the very least, the UN should ban them from climate summits.
As a climate scientist, I am appalled, frustrated, disgusted. I am losing my faith in humanity. Everything here should be obvious to all. To have to write it down, again and again, is deeply painful. At the end of the day, if you take a moment to think about it, nothing is more important than a habitable planet. Everything else—all of humanity's hopes and dreams and aspirations, all our happiness and love and growth—depends on it.
Dr. Peter Kalmus is a climate scientist at NASA studying future extreme heat impacts on human health and ecosystems, speaking on his own behalf. He is also a climate activist and the author of Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution.
The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.