This is part of our occasional series of articles borrowed from the Conversation, with added footnotes.
by Tony Ryan, Pro-vice Chancellor for Science and Director of the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, University of Sheffield and Duncan Cameron, Professor of Plant and Soil Biology, University of Sheffield. Tony Ryan receives funding from the Grantham Foundation and Tony Ryan receives funding from the Grantham Foundation.
[I expect that means that Duncan Cameron also receives funding from the Grantham Foundation but someone copied and pasted and forgot to change the names.]
Over breakfast at our riad in old town Marrakech, conversation was dominated by Donald Trump’s election victory and what kind of world we had woken up to.
[Isn’t there some law in Britain against taking your sustainability professors out of school during term time for holidays in exotic locations?]
← Cool, calm, green and air-conditioned: a Riad in the Marrakesh medina
We’re here in Morocco for COP22, the latest round of UN climate change talks. Climate experts from across the world have gathered here to decide on the actual detail of the Paris Agreement which was signed last year at the previous conference, COP21.
[Really? So there’s no “actual detail” in the agreement signed last year in Paris?]
Our group from the University of Sheffield is very diverse—delegates come from India and Zimbabwe as well as Britain—yet we were all in agreement: Trump’s election is shocking and scary news for the world.
[I can see how the idea of a leader getting elected might shock and scare someone from Zimbabwe.]
We arrived at the COP22 “blue zone” for delegates and were quickly approached by a French TV crew, wanting to hear our thoughts on Trump. Unsurprisingly, we said this was a disaster for the climate and a disaster for global equality.
[And unsurprisingly, that was just what the French TV crew wanted to hear. See IPCC AR6 WGII: chap. ‘Disastrous Effects of Elections.’]
It then began to dawn on us that there was something very different about the atmosphere at COP22. When we visited Paris last year, the sense of excitement in the air was palpable. But today, things feel altogether more sombre.
[Yes, I notice this in Paris too. It’s to do with having rumbustious politics, a (relatively) unshackled press, and freedom of speech. Not so much in Marrakesh.]
Trump’s assertion that climate change was a hoax “created by the Chinese” was never far from any of our minds.
[Trump is exaggerating here. He may have got the idea from newspaper reports about the insistence of the Chinese delegation at Paris COP21 on changing a “will” to a “would”. He won’t have got it from reading articles in the Conversation that’s for sure, since efforts by the indefatigable Robin Guenier and others to point out the importance of this change have been ignored.]
Swedish and American delegates discussed with us their concerns that Trump would now seek to renege on the US’s ratification of the Paris climate treaty. The Americans hoped “the system” would not let him.
[It’s not a treaty of course, but simply an agreement. Otherwise President Obama would have to get it ratified by Congress, which he can’t.]
An American artist we spoke to couldn’t even express her shock. She lived in Marrakech, she told us, and her work asked questions about human nature and our existence. Now, she questioned what had happened to her home country.
[An artist who can’t express her feelings is in a pickle, for sure. Questions about human nature and our existence are hard. Better to start with an easy one, like: “What has happened to my country?” (Answer: an election.)]
A Norwegian delegate and negotiator said the world needed to unite to contain right wing populism. And a member of the Libyan negotiation team, who had lived in the UK for five years, said, pessimistically, that this was just a game of democracy. For us, it feels like the endgame of neoliberal democracy.
[Not sure how you contain rightwing populism except by banning people from voting for it. Or crushing it with armed force of course. We’re not told which of Libya’s two or three governments the delegate represented, or what it was he thought to be a “game of democracy,” but since our soil and sustainability professors seem to think democracy is coming to an end anyway, I suppose it doesn’t much matter.]
We’ve seen big anti-establishment movements before—after the 1929 Wall Street crash in the US, for instance, during the rise of fascism in 1930s Germany, or in response to various more recent recessions.
[Among other big anti-establishment movements the authors forgot to mention were the English Civil War, the French and Russian Revolutions, the American War of Independence, and the anti-colonialist independence movements which freed half the world’s population from imperialism. Still, you can’t cover all the bases in one article. The important thing to get over is how jolly wrong it is to oppose the establishment.]
But, as scientists, we feel that the impact of these historic events on the environment was buffered by the planet’s natural resources, which allowed economic growth to continue. In the UK, for example, the economy was rescued by the exploitation of North Sea oil. Those resources—or at least those resources we could use remotely sustainably—are now all but exhausted.
[All but exhausted? Known recoverable resources of fossil fuels now are estimated to be enough for centuries, and these estimates double every what?—few decades? As the word “recoverable” changes its meaning, so does the word “sustainable.”]
Americans have elected an anti-sustainability president, a man unwilling to face up to environmental degradation. The US people have voted for a dream based on a time past—when America was “great”, oil prices were low, and the white working class felt secure. Whether the planet has the capacity to support a new round of unsustainable consumption is highly in doubt.
[Ah yes! Those far off days when America was the world’s most powerful nation and oil prices were low. And what right do the white working class have to feel secure anyway? How dare they vote for such a dream!]
However, it was brought starkly home to us that the rest of the world feels that Brexit paved the way for Trump’s victory. As a Moroccan scientist candidly said to us: “Well, you started it.”
[Yup. A British butterfly flapping itself free of a dysfunctional undemocratic European Union is bound to lead to the election of a property millionaire as President of the United States. Any climate scientist could predict that.]
To get a broader perspective, we moved from the UN delegate area to the “green zone,” where companies showcase their sustainable technologies and civil society organisations explore their role in climate change mitigation.
[We at Cliscep are pretty well acquainted with civil society organisations (or NGOs as they’re known—short for Nether Government Orifices). Exploring their own roles is what they do best, especially in Marrakesh.]
Our conversations here made it apparent that this diverse community has the appetite to effect change, but will need to demand sustainability and reject economic models dependent on growth.
[“Appetite,” “demand,” “reject.” A perfect definition of the role of the orifice.]
We, as a planet, now have to choose between the path of self-destruction by overconsumption or a more equitable and sustainable future.
[“We, the planet…” has a nice ring to it. It could serve as the preamble to the constitution of the World Unity government that Norwegian bloke was proposing in order to combat populism. Since there’s only one planet it would win any election with a majority of one.]