Just Do It | COP28
COP28 (the 28th annual U.N. climate summit) has come and gone: twelve days of absolute talking, hosted by the U.A.E. and Abu Dhabi’s national oil company CEO, a topic you might remember from our last newsletter.
Did they finally solve climate change? We f*cking hope so!
And while we’re in the middle of the edit on our new video, we figured what the hell we can also write a newsletter, especially if we can make it mostly about Rollie’s original climate muse: Al Gore.
So strap in and get ready to read. Or, if you’d rather strap out and read something else, we are quite possibly the only newsletter in the world to put the unsubscribe button this high in the scroll (you have to click the button, then find the UNSUBSCRIBE on your account page):
And for the rest of you sticking around:
Just Do It
Goddamn can powerful people pledge shit. Seems like they’re all pledging shit every day. The thing is: it’s obviously worthless if they don’t DO IT.
And so, the international powers of the world found themselves at COP28 in oil-rich Dubai for a couple weeks, ready to pledge yet again.
But, of course, there’s an obvious conflict of interest when petrostates with oil expansion plans host COP28. Don’t believe us? They prepared talking points for the Abu Dhabi national oil company (ADNOC) CEO to use his position as COP28 president to sell more oil.
So it’s not shocking when they turned out a “historic” deal that fails to offer a concrete plan that might actually limit warming to 1.5C. But it did get good press for being the first deal to MENTION FOSSIL FUELS. We are 28 COPs in and they had never before mentioned fossil fuels in the final negotiated agreement. F*cking WILD.
When referencing the newly passed deal, this is what the lead negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States had to say:
“We didn’t want to interrupt the standing ovation when we came into the room, but we are a little confused about what happened. It seems that you just get on with the decisions and the small island developing states were not in the room.”
But even with this watered down deal: do what you say you’re gonna do. Transition away from fossil fuels. Or shut up if you can’t make it happen. Be really really quiet for a few years and let other people try their hand at power.
The U.S. stumps for climate praise, calling for aggressive cuts to fossil fuel emissions. But then turns around and breaks records for crude oil production, with no discernible plan to stop any time soon. It’s time to finally be the leader we make children say we are.
JUST DO IT.
If you want to get involved, and are looking for a couple resources for climate action, check out:
And if you’d like to read more about COP28, here’s a list of pieces you should check out, written by some of our favorite climate journalists:
The Crucial Years – What can we do with a sentence? (by Bill McKibben)
Centre for Climate Reporting - COP28 president secretly used climate summit role to push oil trade with foreign government officials (by Ben Stockton)
Al Gore & the Climate Protocol That Couldn’t (Be Signed By the U.S.)
Right around 1990, the U.S. seemed poised to become a leader on addressing this new issue everyone’s talking about: climate change.
Led by President George H.W. Bush – who declared himself the “environmental president” – the U.S. was on an early-stage climate action roll:
1989 – established the U.S. Global Change Research Program. And that program led to the Global Change Research Act of 1990, which required the U.S. to study and document climate change’s impact on the country every four years (the National Climate Assessment).
1990 – signed the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, which were designed to address “acid rain, urban air pollution, toxic air emissions, and stratospheric ozone depletion,” according to the EPA.
1992 - signed the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Rio de Janeiro, with the goal of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations "at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system."
But, although adding the U.S. signature on the UNFCCC was a victory, 1992 was also an election year. And the Republican (H.W.) Bush felt pressure from both political directions – he’d gone back and forth on even attending the U.N. summit in Rio, and decided against signing the Convention on Biological Diversity.
So, it looked like a big move back in the climate direction when Bill Clinton selected Al Gore as his running mate, a senator who had just released Earth in the Balance, an environmentally focused bestseller which… honestly neither of us have read. And we could have found a synopsis and just summarized that here, but we really wonder what we’d think of this three-decade-old book.
But the important thing is that the U.S. elected:
Al Gore, an environmentalist Vice President.
And he and the Clinton administration had a monumental task ahead of them: take the climate action talk from the 1992 Rio de Janeiro U.N. summit, and turn it into climate action action.
Starting in 1995, the U.N. organized the first annual Conference of Parties (COP) for this exact sort of action taking. The general plan was to get the big greenhouse gas emitters of the world to come together and agree to knock it off. And knock it off a lot.
“The European Union and the G-77 signed on to the Alliance of Small Island States proposal that developed countries commit themselves in a binding protocol to reducing their emissions 20% from the 1990 baseline by 2005.”
That quote is directly pulled from Reason in a Dark Time, a fantastic book by Dr. Dale Jamieson that’s all about our on-going struggle to address climate change, which we referenced a ton to write this section. We might not even have written this section without this book. Check it out!
And, of course, the U.S. was wildly opposed to that proposed 20% emissions cut. But the U.N. countries did agree to the Berlin Mandate, which told them to spend the next couple years negotiating:
A more friendly, likable (weaker) emissions reduction plan.
The big sticking point for the U.S. was the developed countries part of the plan, which meant that developing countries would be left out of emissions cuts.
And for a country obsessed with staying in a dominant global position, putting the climate action on the historically largest emitters was downright unfair. Uncompetitive. Unthinkably unpatriotically un-American.
So while the U.S. was pushing to make the future U.N. protocol more palatable, Congress wanted to make sure the U.S. couldn’t possibly sign onto that protocol no matter what. And for the task, they created a dynamic Congressional duo:
Senator Chuck Hagel (R, Nebraska) – a Vietnam veteran, who joined the Senate less than a year earlier, and would later go on to serve as Obama’s secretary of defense. Hagel also loved to dress up for Halloween. But really we want to talk about:
Senator Robert Byrd (D, West Virginia) – the longest serving senator in U.S. history (51 years), who got his political start in that very famous white supremacy group you’re probably thinking of as you’re reading this right now, but it couldn’t be, right? Unfortunately, yes, it could be. The [K][K][K]. In the early 1940s, Byrd formed his own chapter of the [K][K][K]. When asked about it years later, he reportedly told young people interested in politics to:
You really don’t want to inhibit your operations in the political arena. THAT’S what’s wrong with starting your own [K][K][K] chapter. He was a senator until 2010 (when he passed away) – Byrd was replaced by Joe Manchin, a changeover we guess we now have to look at as a big win.
And so, it was that two man team that created:
The Byrd-Hagel resolution.
The resolution stated that the U.S. should not sign any protocol or agreement unless there are “commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for Developing Country Parties within the same compliance period.”
And then Congress passed that resolution UNANIMOUSLY. 95-0. Effectively ending the potential for the U.S. to sign on to the expected Kyoto agreement. Goddamn sometimes you lose the big game before they even take the big tarp off that perfect green grass.
But despite having almost no chance of signing on, the U.S. continued to push back against the potential agreement.
The reductions should be smaller. You should be able to buy non-emission offsets from countries who don’t blast CO2 into the atmosphere and count it against your own CO2 blasting. Oh wait – maybe there are so many trees in the U.S. that a third of the emissions reductions are already taken care of. Trees, Jackson!
Then, finally, on December 11, 1997, after the many sleepless nights of COP3, the U.N. officially adopted:
The Kyoto Protocol.
A historic climate deal in a line of historic climate deals. The Clinton administration even signed the protocol in 1998, but then never submitted it to the Senate for ratification.
Then, in 2000, Gore became the first presidential candidate in over 100 years to win the popular vote, but lose the election – and while many believe he actually should’ve become president with a fair vote count, the new (George W.) Bush administration had “no interest” in implementing the Kyoto Protocol. And so it was: de-nied.
The Kyoto Protocol would finally be ratified in 2005 by most of the other developed nations, although without the involvement of the two largest emitters at that time (China, a developing nation, and the U.S.) – by 2005, the protocol reportedly only affected 20% of global emissions.
It would take another decade to reach the Paris Agreement in 2015, which effectively replaced the Kyoto Protocol.
And here we are now, almost a decade after the Paris Agreement, still searching for a concrete plan to actually address climate change. What could have been.
Chart Town: the Fifth U.S. National Climate Assessment
Remember that National Climate Assessment the first Bush president signed into law? You might not, because it was all the way at the other end of the last section, and sometimes we reeeeeally write more than we need to.
But the good news: the National Climate Assessment is still going. The U.S. actually takes the time and money to consistently assess and prepare for climate chaos. And the most recent (fifth) NCA was recently released. Hoopie (just thought of that one, hope it doesn’t mean anything else)!
The bad news: there’s a lot of climate chaos to assess.
“The effects of human-caused climate change are already far-reaching and worsening across every region of the United States. Rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions can limit future warming and associated increases in many risks.”
Even more good news: that most recent assessment has had a meteoric rise up the ranks of our list of Favorite PDFs, currently sitting at #4. Exciting!
Official Rollie (no prize)
We read and write and think (the big three) about climate change a lot. And honestly, writing the newsletter this time around was a bit of a bummer, because people in power have had MAJOR opportunities to address climate change, and then skipped right past them. Pretty much every time.
But we do what we do because we have hope. We think there’s a chance we change our course, and we want to change our course because we believe humanity is worth saving from climate change. But sometimes you need a little reminder of that beauty of humanity.
It turns out it’s pretty common for U.S. presidents – and vice presidents – to dress up for Halloween. Normally, the costumes are either tasteful safe bets with moderate effort or basically not a costume at all, like when Biden dressed up as hat-and-longer-coat-Biden in 2022.
So here’s the Official Rollie (no prize) trial:
Spend no less than 10 minutes looking for an embarrassing picture of Al Gore. And if you find a truly embarrassing one, and it took you more than 10 minutes – send it to us (email, reply, etc.) to enter yourself into consideration for Official Rollie (no prize).
And of course, here are the successful Official Rollie (no prize) candidates from our last newsletter:
How about that, friend?
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Also, if you think you found a mistake, let us know. We try our very best to research and review our way to full accuracy, but it's a big world out there.
Edited and additional research by: Caroline Schaper
Art by: Kelsey Bravender
Legal support from: The Civil Liberties Defense Center
Executive produced by: Rollie Williams, Ben Boult, Nicole Conlan, and Matt Nelsen
This newsletter has been supported by the Meliore Foundation. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this newsletter lies with the author. The Meliore Foundation cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained or expressed therein.