As 2022 draws to a close, I'm hoping that 2023 is when Salem's city officials get past what climate activist Greta Thunberg calls the "blah, blah, blah" approach to reducing the world's greenhouse gas pollution.
Meaning, lots of talk, very little action.
The Salem City Council has passed a Climate Action Plan. It includes these goals:
- By 2035, GHG Salem emissions shall be reduced to 50 percent of the citywide greenhouse gas emissions for the baseline year of 2016, and
- By 2050, Salem should be carbon neutral.
But the Climate Action Plan isn't being taken seriously by city staff and the City Council. We're still in the "blah, blah, blah" stage. Lots of talk, very little action.
For example, there's an effort underway to bring commercial air service back to the Salem airport, even though this has been tried several times with no success.
Since air travel is one of the worst things people can do, greenhouse gas pollution-wise, the notion of bringing commercial air service to Salem should have been rejected by city officials as soon as it was raised.
But no, this bad idea is stumbling onward. Fortunately, our local 350.org chapter has started a petition, Oppose Costly and Polluting Commercial Air Service in Salem. I urge you to sign it. It'll just take a minute or two.
In the November 28, 2022 issue of The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert has a terrific story, "A Vast Experiment: The Climate Crisis from A to Z." The theme of the letter "B" is blah, blah, blah. Here's what Kolbert said:
On September 28, 2021, at the Youth4Climate conference, held in Milan, Greta Thunberg took the stage. Sitting near her was the city’s mayor, Giuseppe Sala, wearing a mask. Thunberg, who is five feet tall, could barely be seen over the lectern. She had removed her mask and was smiling.
“Climate change is not only a threat, it is above all an opportunity to create a healthier, greener, and cleaner planet which will benefit all of us,” she began. “We must seize this opportunity—we can achieve a win-win in both ecological conservation and high-quality development. . . . We need to walk the talk; if we do this together, we can do this.
“When I say ‘climate change,’ what do you think of?” she went on. “I think of jobs—green jobs.” This received a round of applause.
“We must find a smooth transition towards a low-carbon economy,” Thunberg said. “There is no Planet B. There is no Planet Blah—blah, blah, blah; blah, blah, blah.” Her listeners, including Sala, started to realize that they’d been had. The applause died down.
“Build Back Better—blah, blah, blah,” Thunberg continued.
“Green economy—blah, blah, blah.
“Net zero by 2050—blah, blah, blah.
“Net zero—blah, blah, blah.
“Climate neutral—blah, blah, blah.
“This is all we hear from our so-called leaders: words—words that sound great, but so far have led to no action,” Thunberg said. “Of course we need constructive dialogue, but they’ve now had thirty years of blah, blah, blah, and where has that led us?”
It was thirty years ago that the world’s “so-called leaders” gathered in Rio de Janeiro for the so-called Earth Summit. Everyone agreed that radical change was needed. To avert disaster, global CO2 emissions, which were then running at around twenty-two billion metric tons a year, would have to be reduced, eventually almost to zero. How this would happen, no one really knew. Still, the goal of preventing “dangerous” warming was enshrined in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which President George H. W. Bush cheerfully signed.
“Some find the challenges ahead overwhelming,” Bush said. “I believe that their pessimism is unfounded.”
A follow-up conference of the parties, or cop, took place in Kyoto in 1997. By then, annual global emissions had risen to twenty-four billion tons. After much back-and-forth, it was agreed that something had to be done. The Kyoto Protocol, an addendum to the Framework Convention, laid out specific emissions-reduction targets for countries to meet.
“I am both determined and optimistic that we can succeed,” Vice-President Al Gore told the diplomats gathered in Japan.
After Kyoto, global emissions kept on rising, only faster. By 2009, they’d climbed to thirty-two billion tons a year. That fall, President Barack Obama flew to Copenhagen for yet another conference of the parties—cop15. “I believe that we can act boldly, and decisively, in the face of this common threat,” he declared.
By 2015, emissions had increased to thirty-five billion tons a year. At that year’s cop—No. 21—held in Paris, it was decided that, at last, really and truly, it was time to get serious. “The decisions you make here will reverberate down through the ages,” the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, told the delegates. Nevertheless, emissions continued to rise. In the past thirty years, humans have added as much CO2 to the atmosphere as they did in the previous thirty thousand.
At some point during all the “blah, blah, blah”-ing—it’s hard to say when, exactly—climate change ceased to be a prospective problem and became a clear and present one. Since Rio, the Arctic ice cap has shrunk by two-fifths. Greenland has shed some four trillion metric tons of ice, and mountain glaciers have lost six trillion tons. Heat waves are now hotter, droughts deeper, and storms more intense. In some parts of the world, the wildfire season never ends.
One conclusion to draw from this pattern is that the world isn’t going to avoid “dangerous” warming. Global leaders will continue to gather at cops—this year’s, in Sharm el-Sheikh, just concluded—and to speak loftily about “net zero” and “a low-carbon economy.” But nothing will change, and, as a result, everything will change. There will be large-scale crop failures. The Greenland ice sheet will start to collapse—it may already be collapsing—and, owing to sea-level rise in some places and desertification in others, large swaths of the globe will become uninhabitable.
This conclusion is not, however, the one that Thunberg chose to draw when she spoke at the Youth4Climate conference. “Right now we are still very much speeding in the wrong direction,” she told the crowd in Milan. “But, of course, we can still turn this around—it is entirely possible.
“The leaders like to say, ‘We can do this,’ ” she went on. “They obviously don’t mean it, but we do—we can do this. I’m absolutely convinced that we can.”
Or, as Thunberg might put it, Blah, blah, blah.