A Shaky Promise on Global Warming

The Paris climate conference produced an international agreement for curtailing global warming, but resistance from some leaders, particularly Republicans in the U.S., makes the prospect for its implementation doubtful and thus dangerous, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

Paris was certainly 2015’s center for ticking bombs. The year was bracketed by major terrorist attacks in Paris first in January (murders at Charlie Hebdo’s offices) and in November (shootings and bombings that killed 130 people at several locations) and ended with a December environmental conference which, given its non-binding results, opens the door to even more terror, albeit of a different kind, into the next century and beyond.

The 21st Conference of Parties, or COP21, ended in Paris on Dec. 12. If you are not familiar with the name or acronym, it refers to the latest gathering of nations (195 of them) looking toward a collective decision to limit global warming by slowing the release of greenhouse gases. Following the conference closure there was a short spate of positive reactions that has now been followed by a rather ominous silence.

President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other heads of state and delegations, observe a minute of silence for the Paris attack victims during the opening ceremony of the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21), at the Parc des Expositions du Bourget in Le Bourget, Paris, France, Nov. 30, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other heads of state and delegations, observe a minute of silence for the Paris attack victims during the opening ceremony of the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21), in Paris, France, Nov. 30, 2015. (White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Until very recently there was a large number of people — mostly business people, lobbyists and politicians — who denied that human practices, such as the use of fossil fuels, had any significant impact on planetary warming, and some dismissed the idea of warming altogether. These numbers seem to have shrunk, and most of those still adhering to such notions are not often heard in public. This muted opposition helped pave the way for the at once limited and over-hyped result achieved at the Paris conference.

The overall goal of COP 21 was an international agreement that would hold global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2100, and then reduce the amount of warming even more in the years following. This goal was certainly agreed to in theory, but the conference also left us with no convincing reason to believe that the goal will be met in practice.

According to Science (18 December 2015), the publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, commitments were indeed made to pursue relevant “technological development,” mobilize “climate finance,” enhance transparency in the reporting of overall greenhouse emissions and have developed nations acknowledge their “legal responsibility” (but “without liability or compensation”) for the damage global warming is doing to poorer nations.

All of this is well and good in a half-hearted sort of way, but it should be noted that the entire deal will only go into effect in April 2016 if “55 countries representing 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions have formally signed it.” And even if this happens, subsequent follow-through in terms of the reduction of greenhouse emissions is still hypothetical.

Thus, as the Guardian newspaper reported  on Dec. 12 in a confusing, contradictory way: “The overall agreement is legally binding but some elements – including the pledges to curb emissions by individual countries and the climate finance elements – are not.”

That should be quite sufficient to instill serious doubt about the ultimate outcome of COP21. Nonetheless, reactions were still upbeat. Everyone wanted to find the glass half full. Many climate experts, when asked if there was something about 2015 that made them hopeful, pointed to the Paris conference.

Michael T. Klare, writing in Tom’s Dispatch on Dec. 13, proclaimed that as for those advocating the continued use of fossil fuels, “the war they are fighting is a losing one.” The transition to renewable forms of energy is inevitable. However, looking at the next hundred years, no one would say with certainty that the conference’s decisions would actually make a crucial difference.

Thus, Andrea Germanos writing in Common Dreams on Dec. 12 quotes commentator George Monbiot in reference to COP21, “by comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.”

Why a Disaster?

The Science article cited above puts the situation in historical context. “The individual national climate plans in the run-up to the meeting could still result in as much as 3.5 degrees centigrade of warming by 2100.” At 3.5 degrees we can expect sea levels to rise anywhere from 3 to 7 feet.

Science goes on to explain that “much of the agreement’s promise hinges on the fine print to be hammered out in the coming years. And the provisions for individual nations to curb emissions further – crucial if the world is to limit warming to 2 degrees centigrade or less – has limited legal bite.”

In truth, even the 2 degree goal is insufficient. Those at most risk, such as the Pacific island nations, wanted to hold the line at 1.5 degrees. However, their fate, which in some cases is already terminal, was not deemed important enough to warrant the sacrifices the rest of the world would have to make to meet this demand. This in itself is a very bad sign.


There will, of course, be increasing efforts by environmental organizations, seeking to mobilize mass sentiment, to bring pressure on governments and industries. As one such mass movement leader declared at the end of the COP21 conference, “Now it is time to hold them [national leaders] to their promises. 1.5? Game on” (Common Dreams, Dec. 12).

No doubt such mobilization, like the hope for investment in renewable energy technology, will be very important in the long run. That it can achieve its ambitious goal in the short run is doubtful because there are other, even larger, organizable masses out there who will resist rapid, necessary change.

For instance, there are the inward-looking elements of the populations and leaders of the United States, China and India – the world’s biggest contributors to global warming. In the United States at least a third of the voting population is supportive of the conservative, anti-regulatory Republican Party that currently controls the congressional side of government.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has dismissed the COP21 agreement as “no more binding than any other agreement” on global warming made in past.

China has recently admitted that it has been underreporting its coal burning in recent years. This calls into doubt that nation’s collective will to meet its COP21 pledges. To do so will unavoidably impact economic growth and increase unemployment with all the accompanying political consequences.

A major part of India’s pledge to lower and/or compensate for growing greenhouse emissions is the preservation and expansion of the country’s forests. However, approximately “275 million Indians subsist on resources extracted from forests,” including forest wood itself, and past efforts at conservation in this area have led to political unrest and significant cheating through official corruption.

It is not that these three countries won’t make efforts to, say, move to renewable energy whenever and wherever feasible. They will. However, it is both politically and culturally unlikely they will be able to do enough to hold down warming to 2 degrees, much less 1.5 degrees.

At this point one should ask what the Marshall Islands in the Pacific have in common with lower tip of Manhattan on the Atlantic coast of the United States. The answer is that both are threatened with inundation by 2100. In the case of lower Manhattan, it might be possible to build a sea wall to temporarily hold back the rising sea level. No such effort is possible for the Marshall Islands. It looks as if that island nation, with its roughly 53,000 people, is doomed.

The prospect that 195 nations can successfully coordinate their efforts to put in place policies that, over the next hundred years, will negatively impact their economies and the standard of living of significant numbers of citizens is far-fetched. Not impossible, mind you, but from a historical point of view, highly improbable.

What is probable is that local interests will promote denial long enough to make the necessary sacrifices politically unachievable. They certainly have done so this far. That means our grandchildren will almost certainly live in a very different atmospheric and geographic world than we do. And, of course, going forward, no one should invest in seashore real estate.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.


14 comments for “A Shaky Promise on Global Warming

  1. J'hon Doe II
    December 30, 2015 at 14:41

    You’ve offered great solutions, Mr. Owen.
    I applaud you rambunctiously!!!

    We only have to convince the deniers of the perils we’re facing. Perhaps they’d see Earth’s remediably of more concern than their wealth or some escape to Mars?

  2. Anton
    December 30, 2015 at 08:10

    I find it a bit sad that here on Consortium News the “man-made” Global warming hoax is so strongly supported. Without reading the above mentioned Science article it is clear to me that the statement of a 3.5 centigrade warming until 2100 is an unsubstantiated claim.
    Why is nobody thinking about the difference in solar activity and that this might have something to do with the climate changing, which by the way has been happening since the beginning of time, way before the industrialization.
    Wanting to change the temperature is in a way man playing god and that usually never ends well.
    Telling us to reduce CO2 is like saying people are not allowed to breathe. Remember, we all breathe out CO2.

    • J'hon Doe II
      December 30, 2015 at 12:59

      rose colored glasses tend to un-see impending calamity, Anton.

      calliope and kaleidoscope present a fixed delusion
      as in spinning until dizzy… (childhood drunkenness).

    • Brad Owen
      December 30, 2015 at 13:52

      As you can see; the BattleLines are drawn, both sides are committed, implacable foes. I know nobody mentions the Maunder Minimum and the greatly varying intensity of Solar sunspot activity DIRECTLY relating to climate change. That would interfere with the plans of the “Green Fascist” faction amongst the broad enviro-movement; and they have the much wealthier sponsorship. I generally try to play it back upon them, judo-style. I see the “CO2 Crisis” as an opportunity revive FDR’s New Deal CCC/WPA/TVA policies and derail the Fascist “Privatization/Deregulation” policies in vogue since the 1980’s. Too much CO2? No prob. Bring more CO2 breathers into existence: vast forests and grasslands, greening the desert, etc…they breathe out O2; win-win. Not playing god; working with God as caretakers of Her Planet. Where’s the water, and power to move it, going to come from? No prob. It’s a WATER PLANET, duh. Desalination plants along the coasts and nuke powerplants to power them. We can’t build safe nukes? China and India disagree. Apparently our U.S. Navy also disagrees, having used them to power their ships for over sixty years now. Maybe we should take truly useless nuke subs (there’s no need for war, except to permanently entrench the Fascist Oligarchy in power) and permanently station them off-coast and run powerlines from them to desalinating/pumping stations. Hell, we don’t even need nukes; we got Yellowstone PowerPlant centrally located in USA. Build the PowerGrid off of it. It’s already Nationalized, keeping the filthy privatizing Fascist mits off of it. It’ll boil water far longer, to turn rotors within the stators of generators, than even the NukePlants will. No fuel waste to dispose of or (as was intended) recycle/re-use. There are thousands of ideas and garage inventor/geniuses around, abounding, but this comment is already too long. We have a Fascist Oligarchy problem to solve first, before we can come to grips with policies to advance the General Welfare of all living things on Planet Earth.

      • David Smith
        December 30, 2015 at 14:47

        Brad, you remembered to mention that Global Warming Is A Hoax, but forgot to mention The $49.99 Cold Fusion Powered Autogyros!!!!!!!!

        • Brad Owen
          December 30, 2015 at 17:10

          Tom Bearden, Mr. Searle, and many others have a lot to say about our current understanding of the entire electromagnetic phenomena, which is about one or two steps past total ignorance. Smart-ass quips really don’t help matters at all.

  3. Peter Loeb
    December 30, 2015 at 06:22


    This is a marvelous analysis of “the forest” (as in
    “the forest and the trees”). It is extremely helpful
    in getting us past the rhetoric (from both American
    political parties).

    The trees (often called by Davidson “localisms”)
    are vital.

    Lobbies and “interest groups” invariably
    frame their issues in terms ofJOBS and or
    income, subsistence. The weapons industry is
    a case in point. To take a stand for
    peace is marvelous But no one wants to
    lose his jobs in, say, armaments and as
    has often been pointed out many wish instead
    for WWIII . In wars, business is booming.

    Other groups do likewise. I cannot imagine
    that the many Senators and Representatives
    in Congress (one of whom incidentally is
    Majority Leader) will campaign in their states
    because the Marshall Islands will be inundated.

    A further “principle” is one I learned as a
    masters student in Case-Western U’s
    School for Advanced Social Sciences
    and as a subsequent practitioner of same..
    Enormous groups do not usually reach
    meaningful conclusions. In COP21 191 nations!
    But even smaller groups have problems.
    (I was also a ” group worker” then a community

    Except for some over-expert advocacy groups,
    few really feel this issue in their bones. That is,
    not until their city is inundated. Otherwise…
    it is someone else’s problem. Americans will
    take full credit for “solving” every other nation’s
    problems as we are (of course) “superior”.

    That is..until New Orleans sinks, and then New York etc.

    Otherwise, most Americans would prefer to make weapons
    to kill brown people somewhere else. It pays. And there
    is mumbling if “the grant” (for more and more weapons)
    fails to come through. And so forth and so on.

    —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  4. J'hon Doe II
    December 29, 2015 at 19:13

    A Crisis Worse than ISIS? Bank “Bail-Ins” Begin…”Your Life Savings Could be Wiped out in a Massive Derivatives Collapse”.

    By Ellen Brown
    Global Research
    December 29, 2015

    While the mainstream media focus on ISIS extremists, a threat that has gone virtually unreported is that your life savings could be wiped out in a massive derivatives collapse. Bank bail-ins have begun in Europe, and the infrastructure is in place in the US. Poverty also kills.


  5. J'hon Doe II
    December 29, 2015 at 19:01

    Planet Mars = Next Exodus for the ‘chosen people’ — am I right?

    Faced by a Red Sea crossing will be Moses’ hop-scotch
    vis-a-vis Matt Damon’s years long space trip to Mars.

    Planet Earth is a relic- inhabitants doomed – resources spent — am I right?

    “The meek shall inherit the earth” – desolate, ravaged and depleted
    Yet It’ll be harder for the rich (selfish) man to enter the ‘kingdom’

    “That which is seen is temporal/that with is unseen is eternal” — am I right?

    • Zachary Smith
      December 29, 2015 at 19:46

      Elon Musk quoted:

      Fuck Earth!’ Elon Musk said to me, laughing. ‘Who cares about Earth?’


      I’ve no idea at all if Musk actually feels that way, but his actions indicate he’s a lot more serious about leaving Earth than saving it. Witness that new reusable rocket his company just demonstrated. If that practice can be continued and improved, the cost of putting a pound of “stuff” in orbit is going to get a whole lot cheaper. To go to Mars is going to take a hell of a lot of that “stuff”, especially if the plan is to remain there.

      Since the entire US space program has been essentially privatized, people like Musk have an outsized influence these days. Taking Rich People to Mars may turn out to be a really big business if conditions on Earth deteriorate as quickly as I expect they will. The Earth may well be sucked dry of any and all resources needed to ease the way for the new Exodus.

      Sometimes I wonder where the Deniers figure they fit into all of this. There will be a few jobs on Mars for the ‘servant classes’, but the competition for these will definitely exclude the double-digit IQ Deniers. It could be as simple as them wanting to participate in the greatest murder-suicide of all time.

      So the very same billionaires who’ll fly away to Mars are currently successful in funding the propaganda claptrap of denying basic science, forcing the rest of us to continue our imitation of the Gadarene swine in rushing down a war-torn slope to a barbarian existence in the blackened rubble.

      • J'hon Doe II
        December 30, 2015 at 10:55

        So the very same billionaires who’ll fly away to Mars are currently successful in funding the propaganda claptrap of denying basic science, forcing the rest of us to continue our imitation of the Gadarene swine in rushing down a war-torn slope to a barbarian existence in the blackened rubble. >> Zachary Smith

        For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions
        The very richest are able to quietly shape tax policy that will allow them to shield billions in income.



  6. Zachary Smith
    December 29, 2015 at 15:26

    This essay made me remember a piece I saw in The New Yorker a week ago about some Rich People housing in the Miami area.

    We got back into the car. Driving with one hand, Wanless shot pictures out the window with the other. “Look at that,” he said. “Oh, my gosh!” We’d come to a neighborhood of multimillion-dollar homes where the water was creeping under the security gates and up the driveways. Porsches and Mercedeses sat flooded up to their chassis.

    “This is today, you know,” Wanless said. “This isn’t with two feet of sea-level rise.” He wanted to get better photos, and pulled over onto another side street. He handed me the camera so that I could take a picture of him standing in the middle of the submerged road.


    This is the very earliest stages – hang around for when it’s necessary to find new homes for many millions of East Coast residents.

    • David Smith
      December 29, 2015 at 21:36

      Today, some really bad news, it is raining north of Greenland, nearly to the north pole. A very large triangle formed by north coast of Greenland, Spitzbergen/Svalbard, and the North Pole. 40F temps above 80 degrees N.Latitude. This is happening in arctic winter with 24 hour darkness. Source: Robertscribbler com, a good site for very unsettling climate news.

      • Zachary Smith
        December 29, 2015 at 22:23

        I went to Google News and made a search for “rain” and “north pole”. Lo and behold, there was a story about a freak storm which may cause this unthinkable event.

        Thanks for the link.

Comments are closed.