UNITED NATIONS—Donald Trump, the reality TV president, is living in a fantasy.
At the United Nations on Monday, leaders from numerous countries, global corporations, and nonprofits came together for the Climate Action Summit, committing to real steps to fight global warming: new targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, billions of dollars to implement green technologies, and numerous public-private partnerships.
Trump popped into the summit for a few minutes, glowered in the back, and then gave a speech in an adjacent conference room about fake solutions to a nonexistent problem: America’s persecution of Christians.
On the positive side, much was actually accomplished at the climate summit.
Fifteen countries pledged to be carbon-neutral by 2050: an ambitious goal, but one that is eminently achievable given current technologies for renewable energy, zero-emissions transportation, and sustainable agriculture.
Contradicting the myth that only liberal globalists care about global warming, India’s ethno-nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, committed $50 billion dollars to moving his country away from coal and other fossil fuels. Interestingly, Modi presented his proposals in his own, values-centered terms, saying that “what is needed today is a comprehensive approach which covers education, values, and everything from lifestyle to developmental philosophy.”
And numerous new collaborations were announced. To take one example, India and Sweden announced that they will co-lead a private-public “leadership group for industry transition” together with the World Economic Forum and other participants. Dominic Waughray, WEF’s managing director, said that the group will focus on “key sectors of economy: steel, cement, chemicals, aviation, trucking, shipping – backbone areas of economy.”
As part of that effort, the board chair of steel giant ThyssenKrupp committed the company to carbon neutrality by 2050—a massive change that, if followed by the rest of the steel sector, could make an enormous dent in world CO2 emissions. (Steel is extremely coal-intensive, and ThyssenKrupp pledged to shift to hydrogen.)
Those steps still won't be enough to avoid some of the most disastrous effects of global warming, but they do represent a new level of collaboration and commitment. Basically, everybody is working with everybody, with the exception of the United States, Russia, and Brazil, who sat out the summit and who are actively making global warming worse, going backward on dirty fuels, deforestation, and climate denial.
And yet, even the U.S. wasn’t totally absent. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, now the UN Secretary General’s “Special Envoy for Climate Action,” pointed out that the U.S. states already committed to net-zero emissions by 2050 would form the world’s fourth largest economy. While Trump glowered, Bloomberg gloated that of 530 U.S. coal plants open in 2011, 289 had closed.
The contrast between the science-based, evidence-based, reason-based reality of the climate action summit and Trump’s own ignorance couldn’t have been more obvious.
Trump chose to spend his time trying to upstage the climate summit by addressing a separate UN gathering on religious persecution. That, of course, is a very real issue, but Trump focused on the non-existent persecution of Christians in America (non-existent unless you count not being able to discriminate against other people “persecution”), and praised himself for having “obliterated” a policy banning churches from engaging in electoral politics.
As if the separation of church and state is religious persecution.
Ironically, Trump’s absurd rhetoric is perhaps most offensive to Christians themselves. Christians are being persecuted around the world: terrorist massacres in Sri Lanka, the ethnic cleaning of Christians from the Middle East (where their numbers are down from 20 percent of the population a century ago to 4 percent today), continued violence in Egypt, anti-Christian hate speech from government figures in Turkey and Algeria.
But no, the real victims are bakers who won’t sell a wedding cake to gays.
Meanwhile, while Trump was busy fighting a non-existent problem, literally the rest of the world (except Trump pals Vladimir Putin and Jair Bolsonaro, of course) was focused on a real one.
As part of the climate summit, the UN released a new scientific report entitled United in Science. Its key findings read like a litany of terrifying facts:
“The average global temperature for 2015–2019 is on track to be the warmest of any equivalent period on record.”
“The amount of ice lost annually from the Antarctic ice sheet increased at least six-fold between 1979 and 2017.”
“Carbon dioxide emissions grew 2% and reached a record high of 37 billion tons of CO2in 2018. There is still no sign of a peak in global emissions.”
“Global emissions are not estimated to peak by 2030, let alone by 2020,” as the Paris Climate Accords had demanded.
The last time the Earth had this much CO2 in it “was about 3-5 million years ago, when global mean surface temperatures were 2-3°C warmer than today [and] ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica melted.”
And of course, “consolidated evidence reinforces human influence as the dominant cause of changes to the Earth system, in a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene.”
All of these facts are based on measurement, observation, and evidence. They are reported and analyzed by scientific experts who have no vested interest in the results (unlike climate denial pseudo-science which is invariably paid for by the fossil fuel industry).
And yet, when it comes to American politics, facts are no match for the persecution fantasies of Christian fundamentalists and the greed of the Republican Party’s fossil fuel industry donors.
As the young activist Greta Thunberg put it, in an astonishing, prophetic speech that has dominated coverage of the summit, “for more than thirty years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away?”
Or as her fellow youth activist Paloma Costa put it, “how many children will it take for adults to listen to scientists?”
We still don’t know.