Many people want to believe the lies being spread about by fossil fuel corporations, state and mainstream media, as well as our political class. They feel better being on the side of the powerful. And then one day that is over.
Wolfgang Knorr is a climate scientist, consultant for the European Space Agency and guest researcher at the Department of Geography and Ecosystem Science, Lund Universit
For a long time I have been struggling to make sense of the COPs. Not the cops, but the Conferences of the Parties of the UN’s climate talks, those that happen once every year, and back in 2015 delivered us the Paris Agreement. But now I got it, thanks to the Climate Majority Project’s two directors: the COPs are really a sitcom about a character in eternal search of love. Every year, tensions mount again, we watch with anxiety, hoping for some kind of solution, only for those hopes to be dashed, in an endless cycle. And as with all sitcoms, it’s really not about the character (read: the delegates), but about us and how we get glued due to our identification with the actors’ trials and tribulations.
We, and I mean us having this gut feeling that something is not going well with the planet, are both spectators and objects in an endless show designed to catch us at our weakest point: our need for love and kindness. Take this headline by the Guardian a day before COP start: “Deal to keep 1.5C hopes alive is within reach, says Cop28 president”. Isn’t that breaking your heart? What a good man he is – and a sultan to boot?
When we are being seduced with all that kindness, who would remember that this year, the planet has already surpassed 1.5C warming, even if only temporarily? That climate warming gas emissions are still on the rise? Or, well, that the good man had to look a little bit also into how he’d continue doing a tiny little bit of his own business? Wouldn’t we rather want to believe he’s innocent?
As Marc Lopatin, long-time friend and collaborator on climate matters and former Shell communications adviser, keeps telling me: the oil and gas industry is ALL ABOUT YOU! When it comes to psychology, the industry’s marketing prowess is light years ahead of 99% of climate activists, because they know where we stand deep down, without being able to admit it to ourselves: we crave to be loved by the powerful, and to love them, too! Just like Winston in George Orwell’s 1984, when in the end he gives in to the pull of big brother, and they become one! How can anyone be so naive and think scores of fossil fuel industry reps at COP will not use their arsenal of psychological tricks to their own advantage? And if they didn’t, wouldn’t they be fired immediately?
Let’s all answer this question: How much do we wish that the world in the end is a good place, and that the bad guys will eventually come round and be nice to us?
Fortunately, it looks like this embrace is showing signs of relenting. A recent survey by People Get Real, a project co-initiated and led by Marc, shows that as many as one in five UK adults have already said goodbye to the hope of eventually finding that love and caring. Those respondents support the notion that it is already “too late for governments around the world to take urgent climate change action and secure a liveable future for all.” Take note of what that means: these respondents declare their belief that, because of what has been happening, some of us do not have or will not have a livable future!
I believe this is a most significant result, given how well the loving embrace of the fossil fuel lobby has worked so far. That the embrace is showing signs of cracking is maybe not surprising given how obviously the same climate destabilisation that we can all see and experience, had been predicted decades ago. As former IPCC and IPBES chair Bob Watson states in his foreword to the report, the iron rule that bad news has always to be packaged in cheery optimism has now once and for all been thoroughly refuted. But by and large the fossil industry’s seductive power has worked very well, and continues to work, because the glue that holds us and power together is strong. Just like in any loving relationship, even if the relationship has turned sour.
The respondents who have said no to the ability of our leaders to prevent disaster are the lucky ones. They are the ones who have already gone through the divorce, and are now free. Eventually we will see more and more coming over to the other side. And then we can put all the cards on the table, and it will be humanity on one side, and all those caring elites on the other. Those elites made up of the fossil fuel proponents, their willing helpers in politics and media, and the academics and experts who still haven’t understood that divorce can not only be healthy, but altogether life saving. This will be the moment of universal climate action – something that organisations like Climate Majority Project, People Get Real, or Larger Us, The Collective Change Lab, Kaiāulu and many more are already laying the groundwork for.
P.S.: Some of you might ask me about the visceral hate of the fossil fuel lobby found in so many environmental circles. As I wrote above, this loving relationship has turned sour for many a long time ago. As in any relationship turned sour, there is a lot of anger and resentment. But that anger is a sign of the bond’s strength, not of freedom and resolve.