Crutches won’t save the Climate

Climate Change

This past summer set new heat records all around Europe. A cascade of hurricanes in the Caribbean followed. It’s becoming harder and harder to deny climate change. Couple with that the ongoing protests around the globe, and you’d expect change. However, all this hasn’t actually translated to action yet.

Have your cake and eat it

The Dutch government, and many other ones as well, have been following a familiar rhetoric regarding climate for a few decades now. They set targets for pollution reduction a number of years in the future, then don’t do very much, stall, and when the deadline hits and the targets are nowhere near met, they rinse and repeat.

The result is clear. The Netherlands has been shouting about their great climate goals for years, but none of those goals have ever been met. We’re at the bottom of the EU rankings in climate goals.

One large problem is that the measures that are taken to curb climate change are usually ineffective. There is a convenient set of crutches that governments, and individuals, can turn to to justice this. Let’s look at a few of them.

Future technology

Ever hear about thorium reactors, fusion reactors, carbon capture/storage, and technologies like that. They sound cool. They promise to solve our promise. They’re also right around the corner. Like, right around the corner. As they have been for the last few decades.

The problem with future tech is that it’s future tech. It doesn’t exist yet, or it isn’t nowhere near delivering what is promised. However, the promise of future tech is that it can save us from climate change without us having to make tough choices. Basically, the idea is it will allow us to have our cake and eat it.

No new tech has delivered a revolution so far, but politicians are betting our future on them. And a lot of people think that’s okay, because, you know, tech will save us. It’s a crutch that allows politicians to pretend to be able to meet their climate goals in the near future, without a prayer of a chance to actually do so. It helps people sleep, while the problems mount.

Climate futures

The Dutch government has gone all-in on replacing coal by biomass. The idea is simple: you burn biomass (wood pellets) in a coal plant instead of coal. You then plant trees to create new biomass and suck the CO2 out of the air again. Circular economy at its finest.

Sound fishy to you? Good call. A report came out this week that the CO2 generated by burning biomass is actually worse than using coal. By the time the new trees have taken enough CO2 out of the air to offset burning the old ones you’re a few decades down the line. Meaning it isn’t circular at all, at least not in the amounts the governments wants to burn biomass. And because the Netherlands is importing trees from North America, there’s even extra CO2 from transporting the wood over.

Basically, the government is taking out a loan on CO2 reductions in the future. It’s like a pyramid scheme, only with CO2 reduction, where the climate ends up paying the bill.

The stuff of dreams

What if I pollute now, but have a plan to offset that pollution in the future? Sounds good, right? That’s what the Dutch government said regarding nitrogen pollution. Unfortunately, they didn’t check if the same plan wasn’t used for different projects, what the time frame of the reduction was, or if it was even effective.

Luckily, the organization responsible for checking the Dutch Government on EU guidelines put a stop to it. That put a wrench in 18,000 Dutch plans ranging from road construction to housing.

You can’t reduce pollution with vague plans for the future, you need to do it now.

Good intention backlash

People and governments doing something about climate change in one area have an unfortunate tendency to feel their conscience eased enough to make things worse in other areas.

For example, a family might get solar panels, then — their guilt assauged — they will take a vacation to a far away place by plane. The net result is that they’re actually producing more pollution.

Governments have the same tendency. I remember a Dutch politician proclaiming that there was ‘enough room’ environment-wise to increase the speed limit in the Netherlands, since they’d done so well in other areas. Of course, ‘so well’ is relative, given we’re doing the worst job combating climate change in the entire EU. Oh, and the increased speed limit is one of the contributing factors to the problems with nitrogen described above. Oops.

Conclusion

We can only fight climate change with real changes. The number of people in the world combined with our way of life is destroying us. We have to radically change our way of life, and we have to do it now. Or radically reduce our population, of course. If we don’t, nature will reduce our population for us, worst case all the way down to zero.

Author: Martin Stellinga

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands