Given capitalism’s dependence on economic growth, world leaders appear to have blundered in 1994 when they ratified the critical UNFCCC agreement. As stipulated in the agreement’s objective (Article 2), this committed them to maintaining GHG concentrations at safe levels. Because these levels were already unsafe (CO2 was at 360 ppm), the only way to achieve this goal was to immediately eliminate emissions while removing the hazardous gases from the atmosphere. However, this would have deprived the global economy of the fossil fuels it needed for further expansion. The agreement thus had to be quickly nullified, and it was.
In 1995 the IPCC, in its second assessment report, effectively threw the threatening objective out the window by refusing to specify dangerous GHG levels and restricting itself to emissions reductions. In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol consolidated this approach by expunging the word “concentrations” and referring to emissions exclusively. In 2015 the Paris Agreement did the same.
It now appears that 2015 also marked the end of the nice-guy stage for the nullification process. With emissions on everyone’s mind and concentrations largely forgotten, it was time to shift from subtle deception to outright falsification. It was time, that is, to convince the world that the agreement’s objective in fact refers to emissions rather than concentrations. The deception’s Orwellian stage had arrived.
I first noticed this in early 2018 while viewing a video series titled Climate Literacy by a scientist at the University of British Columbia. In her segment on policy changes she stated that “the ultimate goal [of the agreement] was to stabilize GHG emissions at a level that would prevent dangerous climate change”.
To see how devious this is, consider the agreement’s actual wording: The ultimate objective … is to achieve … stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.
The scientist thus copied some of the agreement’s text to establish credibility, but replaced the impermissible word “concentrations” with “emissions”.
A single academic can’t modify the wording of an international agreement, but there was more to come. Later that year The Atlantic magazine, in an article about a recent IPCC report, repeated the falsification in an even more egregious manner: “The ultimate objective,” [the agreement] said, was to cut greenhouse-gas emissions so as to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Here the accurate text is not just copied, it is quoted for even greater credibility while the word ’emissions’ is carefully left outside the quotes.
In October, 2021 this process was complete when the New York Times joined the deception. An editorial about the CoP26 conference in Glasgow began by stating that In 1992, more than 150 countries agreed in Rio de Janeiro to stabilize emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases at a level that would “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system …”. As with The Atlantic, the Times used an accurate quote to mask the falsification in the unquoted part. This behavior is in stark contrast to the paper’s ethical guidelines, which include a commitment to “the complete, unvarnished truth” and a promise to, “correct our errors, large and small, as soon as we become aware of them.”
I protested all three of these falsehoods, but to no avail. I was told by the academic, The Atlantic, the Times, and also the progressive media watchdog FAIR (“Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting”) that the falsification either didn’t exist or was inconsequential. There was no point in arguing with these compliant minds.
What is the significance of the UNFCCC’s nullification for youth ecological survival? In this section I address potential youth leaders to offer my views.
Let me first explain what this travesty is really about. Alarmingly, it’s just one part of a much broader deception to disorient and disarm your generation in the face of capitalism-driven collapse. The overall strategy is this:
- reduce the actual crisis of ecological overshoot to a manageable scope by fixing public attention on “climate change”;
- restrict climate-change solutions to the emissions reductions that are compatible with capitalism’s economic logic;
- restrict emissions reductions to increased efficiencies in order to evade the consumption and population decreases that would threaten both the system and rich-world lifestyles;
- implement only profitable efficiency increases to maximize wealth.
Briefly stated, the strategy is to sharply diminish the extent of the crisis and to strictly limit climate action to the most system-friendly and profitable measures. If the UNFCCC objective had been allowed to stand, the second and third components of this plan would have been severely compromised. The falsifiers are thus protecting critical elements of a strategy that undergirds the capitalist system, its continued expansion, and the resulting lifestyle benefits.
These are the main conclusions for you and your prospective youth movements:
First, intellectual corruption on the environment is now so far advanced that you should believe nothing that scientists, social leaders, the media, and educational institutions tell you. The fix is in. Think independently or perish.
Second, the fundamental reason for theatrical events like CoP26 is to entrench the emissions fallacy: the massive lie that the solution to the GHG crisis is reduced emissions rather than safe concentrations (initially) or a safe global temperature (now). The detailed and often bitter battles over emissions reductions are almost entirely for show.
Third, the rich, the powerful, and many of the older will ruthlessly defend the ecocidal status quo to protect their material interests. It is now absolutely clear that only revolutionary change will terminate their expansionary onslaught and hopefully prevent catastrophic collapse.
Fourth, ethical commitments are meaningless. The New York Times shamelessly flouted its accuracy commitment to readers, and climate scientists consistently violate their ethical and professional principles.
Finally, the above strategy is perched on an extremely precarious branch. The four components are highly deceptive and can be maintained only through extensive manipulations of the public mind. If you can discredit the plan and expose the lies, the whole rotten structure could collapse like a house of cards.
That’s the collapse we now need.
The author, Frank Rotering, is an independent Canadian social thinker who has studied the ecological crisis for more than thirty years.
Frank has published Youth Ecological Revolution – A handbook for leaders, and The Economics of Needs and Limits – A theory for sustainable well-being.
To read his publications and learn more, visit his website: Ecological Survival.
The article is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.
Cover: The power of money – A graffiti in Ronco Pollo, Queretaro, Mexico – Photo by Arie Wubben – Unsplash.