The uselessness of climate-change defeatism
Politicians quit all the time, but few do it with the impact and dramatic flair of French Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot.
On Aug. 28, Mr. Hulot appeared on a radio show and matter-of-factly announced his resignation, live and to the astonishment of the hosts.
A long-time green activist, Mr. Hulot was glum rather than angry. “I don’t want to lie to myself any more,” he said.
It wasn’t the only striking moment in his radio interview. At one point he said, “We strive to maintain an economic model that is the cause of these climate problems.”
Earlier this year, Mr. Hulot announced France missed its 2016 emission-reduction targets by 3.6 per cent. He clearly believes he has limited support from President Emmanuel Macron’s cabinet.
But defeatism and despair are not especially helpful. Nor are they justified.
When one widens the lens a little, the environmental news isn’t all bad. Yes, France is one of only three countries in the world to make carbon neutrality its stated goal (with Costa Rica and Sweden), and is among the handful of countries likely to fulfill their obligations under the Paris accord – a 40-per-cent cut from 2015 levels by 2030.
But the European Union’s environmental monitoring agency noted last December that the continent as a whole is still on track to meet its more modest 2020 objectives of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent relative to 1990 levels, while boosting both energy efficiency and renewable sources by 20 per cent. Some EU countries, such as Finland and Denmark, are leagues ahead of the pack.
Meanwhile, China and India are making huge leaps in deploying green energy; the former is phasing out coal-fired electrical generation and pledging to invest $470-billion in renewables by 2020.
In 2017, China produced about 60 per cent of the world’s solar panels. South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and China are building solar farms that float on the surface of lakes, and work continues apace on ocean-going “offshore solar” installations. It’s going to happen.
Speaking of solar, an oft-cited Bloomberg New Energy Finance report projected the cost globally would fall from $0.80 per kilowatt/hour in 2015 to $0.27 by 2040, but a price analysis in February found we are already more than halfway there (prices have fallen about 80 per cent since 2009). Bloomberg’s cost index for wind power is showing similarly steep declines.
There is also positive news on the land and biodiversity fronts. By the end of this year, Pakistan will have planted its billionth tree since 2015 – part of a wider international effort to rehabilitate 150-million hectares of degraded land.
Conservation efforts are also making headway: About 15 per cent of the world is now protected. In Canada, the Nature Conservancy of Canada has conserved more than a million hectares in the last decade.
The globe’s population of pollinating bees, which collapsed to worrying levels a decade ago, appears to have recovered. More broadly, multiple animal species have been removed from international endangered lists, including manatees and humpback whales.
In Guatemala last year, a salamander that was long-ago believed to be extinct was spotted in the Cuchumatanes mountain range; similar examples abound.
The world still faces a daunting challenge, though.
There is frightening evidence all around us of the consequences of untrammeled carbon consumption – type “Greenland ice” into your search engine of choice. And U.S. President Donald Trump and his Republican enablers seem determined to burn as much coal as possible.
Here at home, the growing anti-carbon-tax chorus from conservative politicians is deeply dispiriting.
These and other major obstacles stand in the way of the millions who care about fighting climate change.
Mr. Hulot is clearly among them. It’s entirely possible his coup d’éclat this week was intended as a rallying cry – an attempt to refocus the discussion on a matter that is of critical importance to every person who lives on this planet.
But no one should overlook the fact that good things are being done. The fight will continue with Mr. Hulot and other doomsayers, or without them. Giving up is not an option.