To prevent the worst climate catastrophes, the world needs to break off its love affair with fossil fuels.
Vanessa Nakate and Luisa Neubauer, The Independent
In January 2022, we find ourselves two years into the decisive decade for our climate. It’s the decade in which we need to see unprecedented changes across the globe — you could call it the “great break-up from fossil fuels”.
To prevent the worst climate catastrophes, within the next eight years we need the world to break off its love affair with fossil fuels. We also need the world to break free from its profit-driven habit of ecological destruction. And when we say the world, we actually mean, first and foremost, the wealthiest world leaders ones — the biggest polluters, and those whose hands are full of coal, gas and oil.
Yet instead of seeing rapid reductions, we witness rising global emissions and temperature extremes. Countries like Germany, Luisa’s home, which was praised for lower emission levels during the first year of the pandemic, saw a 4.5 per cent increase in emissions in 2021.
Global emissions are projected by the Global Carbon Project to have risen by 4.9 per cent in 2021. In 1996, the year Vanessa and Luisa were born, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere amounted to 364 parts per million (ppm). In May 2020, it was 417 ppm. We should remember that 350 ppm was once considered the safe benchmark that shouldn’t be crossed.
The political response to these developments has been absurd, to say the least. In November, as hundreds of thousands of us marched on the streets of Glasgow, governments from across the globe were discussing whether to include the term “fossil fuels” in the final agreement. This is an agreement that was supposed to be a response to the crisis caused by fossil fuels.
We are both 25 today. We are halfway through our 20s, most of which we’ve already spent protesting against rising emissions. So far, no climate conference, political promise or “deal” has helped us. The loss and damage caused by this crisis grows week by week. By the time we both reach 30, the decisive decade will almost be over.
One could argue that we’ve tried and we failed. For three years, Fridays for Future has been protesting, joining a long history of environmental struggles in all parts of the world. For three years, we have been mobilising masses on all continents, suing governments in courts, calling out the banks and industries driving the climate breakdown, speaking in the largest media outlets across the globe, carrying the message to the furthest corner.
Those living in the most affected areas suffer when the catastrophes hit, such as when typhoons hit the Philippines again and again, causing devastation and suffering, when the floods in India washed away livelihoods, dreams and hopes, and when the droughts left millions of people struggling to find food and water in Africa.
When the pandemic hit, we kept going. We found allies, we kept fighting, we united with unions and frontline workers. We tried so hard, and yet emissions keep rising.
Over the years, the growing time pressure and the escalating climate crisis have changed our activism. Fighting for climate justice increasingly means fighting climate disasters physically, and fighting climate anxiety mentally. What resistance means for us has changed too.
It is no longer “just” about resisting climate destruction. Resistance today includes having the emotional capacity to resist despair. The people we are fighting have changed too. We fight less against institutional and political climate silence. Instead, we fight the institutional and political greenwashing that has taken over.
Climate disaster after climate disaster and protest after protest have dismantled the social licence to openly deny or ignore the climate emergency. The delay tactics are still happening, but they are covered in green. So emissions keep rising.
Shell opening a carbon capture and storage facility in Canada that, according to an investigation by Global Witness, emits more CO2 than it captures, is dubbed a “step in the right direction” because we all agree the climate crisis is an important topic. A spokesperson for Shell subsequently dismissed Global Witness’ findings as “simply wrong” and emphasised that the Quest facility was designed to capture a third of CO2 emissions.
Similarly, Europe publicly attempts to call investments in fossil gas “sustainable”. In George Orwell’s 1984, the phrase “slavery is freedom” was an equally bold lie. That was fiction. Sadly, this is the truth in an area that likes to think of itself as a green climate leader. It sends a cynical signal to the world, but especially to Africa, where some already dream of decades with billions of euros from continued gas exports. Why is this still possible?
We will find ourselves saying the same things over and over again, we will organise similar protests again and again, and we will fight the same fossil infrastructure again and again. Because at one point, it will start working.
There is hope that the future we dream of is possible. We see it, we imagine it, we envision it and we know that we will eventually walk into it.
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