Chapter 10: Greenwashing
So what should we do to avoid a climate disaster beyond human control?
That is the question of our time. It is being asked by people all across the political spectrum from all over the world.
But what if the question to a great extent has been phrased the wrong way? What if it should rather be “what should we stop doing to avoid a climate disaster”?
This year – 2020 – the emission curve must be bent steeply downwards if we are to still have even a small chance of achieving the goals world leaders have agreed to. And then it’s of course not going to be enough with a temporary and coincidental reduction of greenhouse gas emissions where the purpose has been to stop a pandemic.
A common misconception about the climate crisis is that people think we need to reduce our emissions. But the fact is that if we are to keep the promise of the Paris Agreement, a reduction won’t be enough. We then need to reach a full stop of emissions within a couple of decades, and then quickly move on to negative figures.
There are generally three ways of reducing emissions – apart from the most obvious, to replace current fossil energy with renewables, such as solar and wind.
Number one is technical solutions. Techniques where you capture and store CO2 at the emitting source or directly out of the air. The problem here however is that the emissions need to drastically reduce now, and these techniques won’t exist at even close to scale in the foreseeable future. These plants are still prototypes. Believe me, I’ve myself visited two of the leading facilities in the world.
The second alternative is to use nature’s own ability to absorb and store carbon, which today often gets mistaken for only planting trees. Despite the fact that the most efficient way most often is to just leave the forests and natural habitats be in the first place.
A forest area the size of a football field is being cut down every second, according to Global Forest Watch.
That is every second of every hour of every day. No tree planting in the world could compensate for that. And even if we miraculously decided to shut down the entire forestry industry and use all the available space in the world to plant trees, that still would only compensate for a few years’ emissions at current rates.
The third option is the only method that is available at scale already today. And that is to simply stop doing certain things. But it is also the alternative which people seem to find the most unrealistic. Just the thought of us being in a crisis that we cannot buy, build or invest our way out of seems to create some kind of collective mental short circuit.
Then there’s of course a fourth way of doing it. And this is the procedure that undoubtedly has been the most successful one so far, when it comes to reducing emissions. And it is so-called “creative accounting”. To simply refrain from reporting the emissions, or move them somewhere else. To systematically sweep things under the carpet, lie, and blame someone else.
My own country Sweden is a textbook example. In our case this strategy means that over half our emissions simply don’t exist on paper.
Year after year people in power are allowed to appear in the media unchallenged and claim that Sweden’s emissions of greenhouse gases have decreased 20-30% since 1990. But the truth is that they haven’t decreased at all, if you include consumption and international aviation and shipping. And obviously the statistics will look much better if you simply choose not to count everything.
But this is not unique to Sweden. The same approach is being used by pretty much everyone in the richer part of the world. Whether it being the EU, individual countries, states, cities or companies.
We have simply moved our factories to different parts of the world where the labor is cheaper – and by doing so we also moved a significant part of our emissions overseas. And of course this is a very convenient solution for the global north, but since the biosphere doesn’t care about neither borders nor empty words, it doesn’t work as well in reality.
But the real problem is that when it comes to the climate and ecological emergency the people in power can today say basically whatever they want. They are practically guaranteed to not receive any follow up questions.
The issue of nuclear power is still for example allowed to dominate the entire climate debate, even though science has concluded that it can –at bes – only be a very risky, expensive and small part of a much larger holistic solution.
You can claim that we can achieve impossible results through so-called green investments, without having to explain how it will be done, or what the term “green” even means. Words like green, sustainable, ’net zero’, ‘environmentally friendly’, organic, ‘climate neutral’ and ‘fossil free’ are today so misused and watered down that they have pretty much lost all their meaning. They can imply everything from deforestation to aviation, meat and car industries.
And basically because the general level of public awareness is so low you can still get away with anything. No one is held accountable. It’s like a game. Whoever is best at packaging and selling their message wins. And since the truth is uncomfortable, unpopular and unprofitable, the truth doesn’t stand much of a chance.
Moral, truth, long term and holistic thinking seem to mean nothing to us. The emperors are naked. Every single one. It turns out our whole society is just one big nudist party.
This is the transcript of Chapter 10 of the Sverige Radio program aired on June 20, 2020 with the title Greta Thunberg: Humanity has not yet failed.
The full transcript was published by Time magazine on July 10, 2020. Here it is offered in chapters to make it easier to read.