My telephone rang yesterday morning, and as is my habit, I checked the caller ID before answering. The screen revealed that the call originated from Glasgow. What?! My heart skipped a beat. My eyes and ears had been on Glasgow and the United Nations Climate Summit (COP26) for the past two weeks, so I was tempted to answer it. But upon closer examination I saw that the call was actually coming from Glasgow Virginia, not Glasgow Scotland. What a let down, a disappointing start to the day! 🙁

That unanswered erroneous phone call is the catalyst for this blog post. It symbolizes for me the emotions felt by people from around the world who saw the Glasgow proceedings as an exciting and hopeful next big step in combating the climate crisis, only to have those hopes deflated once again and emerge from the conference disappointed at best and depressed at worst. Disappointment and depression have become the all too common emotions accompanying these periodic United Nations gatherings that mimic Lucy pulling the football away from Linus as he attempts to kick the ball through the goal posts.

The UN set three goals for the COP26 summit, and not one was achieved. When all was said and done, the participating countries settled for signing a watered-down agreement on combating climate change that cannot achieve the under 2 degrees Celsius goal in global warming to which the Paris accord aspired. The stark reality is that even if every pledge made in Glasgow were kept (which will not happen) the world will still be on track for truly catastrophic levels of warming. Reflecting the general “glass-half-empty” feeling in Glasgow while trying to imagine a glass half full, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres stated, “Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread. We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe… We did not achieve these goals at this conference, but we have some building blocks for progress.”

Two of the prime reasons that goals to limit the worse case scenario of global warming are continually scuttled is because of the dominance of corporate influence and lack of political will. The former reason is well documented in a report issued by Global Witness which reads in part:Researchers counted the number of individuals either directly affiliated with fossil fuel corporations, including the likes of Shell, Gazprom and BP or attending as members of delegations that act on behalf of the fossil fuel industry.

The analysis finds:

  • If the fossil fuel lobby were a country delegation at COP it would be the largest with 503 delegates – two dozen more than the largest country delegation.
  • Over 100 fossil fuel companies are represented at COP with 30 trade associations and membership organisations also present
  • Fossil fuel lobbyists dwarf the UNFCCC’s official indigenous constituency by around two to one.
  • The fossil fuel lobby at COP is larger than the combined total of the eight delegations from the countries worst affected by climate change in the last two decades – Puerto Rico, Myanmar, Haiti, Philippines, Mozambique, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Pakistan.
  • 27 official country delegations registered fossil fuel lobbyists, including Canada, Russia and Brazil.”

In this unsustainable linear economy, business-as-usual model the deck is stacked against climate sanity and the playing field is drastically tilted in favor of those whose goal is to maintain the status quo as long as possible in the face of the alarmingCode Red for humanity issued in the recent IPCC report. In this suicidal scheme where global corporations ‘circle the wagons’ (and paint them green) and world governments fail to show up or live up to their anemic pledges, climate justice advocates and activists can be led to the conclusion that there can be no good COPs, only bad COPs.

So, if we can’t look to the COPs to protect us from the perpetrators of ecocide and bring them to justice, what are we left with? Where do we turn? To help answer my question I went searching for Bill McKibben’s take on COP26, and found it in this article in The Guardian. I encourage you to read the whole article, but in summary this is what Bill said: The idea that the world’s governments will simply do what needs to be done is just a fairytale… In that sense, the Cop tells us not just what we’ve done in the past few years, but what we have to do in the ones ahead. The planet is out of its comfort zone; we had best be even further out of ours.”

Or to put it succinctly, “It’s up to us.” Which means it’s time to heed the sage wisdom of Margaret Mead:

Life as we have known it on planet Earth since the dawn of civilization now hangs in the balance, and Bill is proposing that it is fantasy to think that the most powerful world leaders in public and private sectors will save the day. The reality is that if the balance of life in earth’s biosphere is to be restored, it will be up to us, thoughtful people in all parts of the world committed to Creation Justice, to tip the scales. That reality brings to mind another quote that has appeared in these blog posts on numerous occasions: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But, I would add, only if thoughtful, committed citizens do the bending.

Bending moral arcs and tipping scales of creation justice is not for the faint of heart, not for those seeking comfort, pleasure and victories as their reward. With every uncomfortable, unpleasant setback (loss) comes a gnawing sense of hopelessness and an urge to ‘throw in the towel’ and call it a day. At the inglorious end of COP26 it feels once again like one of those days. On such a day I search to find a positive influence to rekindle a flame of hope and ‘soldier on.’ And then I recall the documentary from 2020 that lit such a match for me last year when I watched Kiss the Ground.

So engrossing was it that as I watched I hurriedly scribbled down notes and quotes. One that received an underline was this: “In every fight that seems unwinnable, there are those who refuse to give up.” That resonated with me as I recalled the way the documentary began with the narrator (Woody Harrelson) confessing, “There’s so much bad news about our planet, it’s overwhelming. The fear that we’re headed for a cliff puts most of us into a state of paralysis. The truth is… I’ve given up. And the odds are so have you. But what if there was another path?

The documentary describes that path as a ‘dirt path,’ a path to carbon sequestration grounded in sound agricultural principles of soil regeneration. We need to stop being ‘degenerates,’ and return to being ‘regenerates.’ The movie can serve as a real ‘shot in the arm’ for those of us who need to build up an immunity to hopelessness and burnout.

You can see ‘Kiss The Ground’ on Netflix or Vimeo:

Let’s close this post on a positive note that encourages us to keep on keeping on in the face of the evils that assail us on all fronts, keep on keeping on as the fate of life on planet Earth is at a tipping point. Let’s recall the wisdom of Maimonides as we recommit to being scale tippers for the common good.