Column, 605 words

Taking Our Sweet Crude Time

World leaders are resolving to stop cooking the planet after they’re dead.

ESG-by BC-1

After a quarter-century of buzz over global warming, the climate talkers are at it again, doing whatever it is they do. Visitors to the next big climate change summit, in an act of glorious irony, will pack Paris-bound jets flown by Air France — one of the meeting’s big corporate sponsors with deep ties to fossil fuels.

The UN-organized meeting won’t take place until December, but Pope Francis is already doing his best to make sure global powers give it plenty of bandwidth.

Days before a conservative Italian newspaper leaked the Pope’s game-changing encyclical, the leaders of the seven richest industrial nations (G7) were already talking about the need for “deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions” and “a decarbonization of the global economy over the course of this century.”

Translation: The G7 leaders want expiration-date stickers slapped on the oil, gas, and coal industries.

Identifying the culprits that pump carbon into today’s economy or promising to do something about it themselves would have been bolder. Failing to name names shows how cowed these presidents and prime ministers are.

Still, collectively kicking the world’s fossil-fuel addiction means no more mining coal by blasting the tops off mountains. No more offshore oil platforms prone to bursting into flames. No more telling communities they can’t ban frackers from operating near freshwater sources.

Pope in a China Shop

Pope in a China Shop, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

“What is occurring is in many ways unprecedented in the history of international cooperation in respect to vision and scale,” chirped Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate change official.

Figueres makes it sound like a big-fossil deal. As Pope Francis might say, Hallelujah. But wait. They’re talking about the year 2100.

How old will you be 85 years from now? Oh, right. You’ll be dead. Me too. I doubt 134 will be the new 30 at the turn of the next century. No one writing this accord will get to personally declare the world’s energy matrix fossil-free. Probably none of their children either.

Punting to a generation not yet born isn’t leadership. Real to-do lists are doable during your own lifespan.

Did Abraham Lincoln promise when he delivered the Emancipation Proclamation that all enslaved people would be free by 1948?

When the Supreme Court demanded an end to the segregation of American schoolchildren with all deliberate speed, did the justices add “so get it over and done with before 2039 rolls around”?

And when Ronald Reagan shouted in Cold War-weary Berlin “Tear down this wall,” did he elaborate with the words: “no later than the year 2072”?

No, no, and no.

Sure, re-wiring the global grid takes time. But given what’s at stake and the speed with which the costs of wind and solar power are dropping, 85 years is too long. How about some gumption and a bigger hurry?

Apparently G7 leaders and some climate talkers flirted with a brisker pace that would have meant kicking the worldwide fossil-fuel habit by 2050. Both groups wound up saying — I’m paraphrasing here — “nah.” Aiming for 2100 is a compromise between doing nothing and doing what’s necessary right now.

Our country, the world’s No. 2 carbon polluter after China, can transition to full reliance on energy derived from wind, water, and sunlight by 2050, half a century faster than the G7’s timetable. A group of researchers from several leading universities even drew up a state-by-state roadmap.

As the mother of two kids still in elementary school, bequeathing this headache to them seems bad enough. Why are global leaders shunting this tough job to our children’s grandchildren?

Columnist Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org.