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Week 27: We pledge and we aim, therefore we lose
In this issue: ▸ Aiming is not committing ▸ Coal is back in Germany ▸ EU’s biogas targets are unachievable ▸ Military spending goes up and up ▸ And much more
Nullius in verba. Take nobody’s word for it. It’s probably the best way to describe what we are experiencing right now. Whatever has been said, promised, or pledged in relation to tackling the climate crisis is not worth the paper it is written on.
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As Mike Tyson, a heavyweight boxing champion, famously proclaimed: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”.
The issue we have is that we have been punched in the face for so long that the punches, the dysfunctionality of the system we have created, have been normalised. We don’t even flinch anymore. No, we welcome this ongoing beating, it is normal now. In the same way that the war in Ukraine has been “normalised” even though people are still being killed every day.
In our dysfunctional system it is normal that the politicians we have voted for deceive, lie, and run their own agendas over the body of their constituents, while convincing the same that all of it is for their own best.
Aiming is not committing
It is also normal now that business leaders talk about economic security while slowly paraphrasing what they have said on the climate crisis and their own responsibility just couple of months ago. Legal departments calling back all published documents on sustainability, to correct things and add “aim”. It sounds good, but does not mean a lot.
The verb “aim” is the new black in the financial industry. We aim but we don’t know if we really want this. We aim because aim means we don’t have to commit. Aim is cosy, nice, almost noble if you look at it from a language perspective. Like in aim to reach the stars, or aim to end global poverty.
What we aim at is to prevent the gradual extinction of entire civilisation as we know it. We aim, but we are not sure. We aim, given what we have to take into account and all the financial loss this aiming may create. We aim carefully, so not to rock the leaking boat. The notion that boat doesn’t really exist didn’t even cross our minds.
But we aim. It feels ok. We know it. We take the beating. And it is pretty much the end of it. Nothing more, nothing else. There is no meaning. Most likely never was.
Coal is back in Germany
Coal was dead. But now has resurrected like a dark angel. Because we aim. In the largest European economy, Germany, the two houses of parliament have passed an emergency legislation to reactivate mothballed coal-fired power plants in order to support electricity generation amid fears of gas shortages as Russia curbs capacity.
The move has been described as “painful but necessary” by the government’s environmentalist economics minister, Robert Habeck. It has the backing of leading Greens in the coalition government, who argue it is needed as a short-term crisis management tool.
Before the Ukraine conflict, Germany planned to phase out coal by 2030 as it is far more carbon intensive than gas. But when gas supplies from Russia – on which Germany is highly dependent – started running short after Russia reduced the flow, moves were made to restart coal-fired power plants that had been mothballed.
Ricarda Lang, the chair of the Greens, said the coal-plant decision made her “stomach ache”, but that in the short term it was vital to ensure energy security over the coming months. “It is therefore right that we’re enabling coal plants to be used again, but at the same time we of course need to bust a gut to ensure that we still manage to stick to our goal of withdrawing from coal by 2030.”
And here it is, “painful but necessary” and “a stomach ache”, but “in the short term vital to ensure energy security”. The Greens in Germany think they have a crystal ball, and they see that all of this is a short term. But once you open a coal box it might be hard to shut again. But we can always aim to do it.
Let’s call it what it is. Unconditional surrender.
What could have been
The only way we can beat the ruthless dictators around the world is to be even more ruthless with our own principles, if we have any left. Yes, Germany will most likely struggle in the winter without coal and prices will go up and people will lose their jobs.
But at the same time new partnerships and new innovative solutions would emerge, cooperations between countries that fight for something larger. We have done it in the past, the generations before us did it. They knew why they were taking the beating and they prevailed for us.
However strange and odd and even destructive it sounds, it’s reckoning time for Europe in so many ways. We need shocks of powers shortages, we need to be hungry again, at least for a while. So naïve from me. But so meaningful.
I’m sorry for this short detour on what could have happened. Let’s stick with the aim.
EU’s biogas targets are unachievable
Europe’s largest biogas producer has warned that it will take years to significantly boost production despite the EU pushing for a rapid increase in output to reduce reliance on Russian gas.
Biomethane is chemically identical to natural gas but produced through the controlled decomposition of animal and industrial waste. The EU wants output to more than double and contribute to about 3 percent of a targeted two-thirds reduction in imports of Russian gas by the end of the year.
Biogas is produced primarily using waste from crops, animal manure and industrial activity through “anaerobic digestion”, a process by which bacteria break down organic matter in an oxygen-free environment. This is then purified into biomethane by extracting carbon dioxide, and can then be treated identically to natural gas in the pipeline network.
Proponents say the CO2 emissions generated during the purification would have been emitted naturally anyway, so the technology saves emissions that would have been released by burning natural gas.
How to win? Let’s buy more guns… 🥺
Luckily, there is still one way we can secure our precious future. We can simply buy more guns. The total global military expenditure has increased by 0.7 percent in real terms in 2021, to reach $2113 billion. The five largest spenders in 2021 were the United States, China, India, the United Kingdom and Russia, together accounting for 62 percent of expenditure, according to new data on global military spending published today by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
World military spending continued to grow in 2021, reaching an all-time high of $2.1 trillion. This was the seventh consecutive year that spending increased. “Even amid the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, world military spending hit record levels,” said Dr Diego Lopes da Silva, Senior Researcher with SIPRI’s Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme. “There was a slowdown in the rate of real-terms growth due to inflation. In nominal terms, however, military spending grew by 6.1 per cent.”
In the end, the ones who spend most on buying the biggest guns will win. It’s not clear what they will win, but a win is a win. The world is preparing for war. Meanwhile, nearly half the world lives on less than $5.50 a day.
Now, imagine what we could have done with the 2.1 trillion dollars spent on guns.
Covid-19 in a lab?
Nullius in verba or not, but this could make your Sunday burn. In an article published Thursday, economist Jeffrey Sachs called for an independent investigation of information held by U.S.-based institutions that could shed light on the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Sachs and his co-author, Neil Harrison, a Columbia University professor of molecular pharmacology and therapeutics, said that federal agencies and universities possess evidence that has not been adequately reviewed, including virus databases, biological samples, viral sequences, email communications, and laboratory notebooks.
Sachs and Harrison also highlighted a tantalizing scientific detail that may be an indication that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, originated in a laboratory: a sequence of eight amino acids on a critical part of the virus’s spike protein that is identical to an amino acid sequence found in cells that line human airways.
Sachs and Harrison are hardly the first to suggest that SARS-CoV-2 might have been created in a lab. Since its genetic sequence was first published in February 2020, scientists have puzzled over the furin cleavage site, an area on the virus’s spike that allows it to be cleaved by a protein on the membrane of human cells and makes the coronavirus particularly dangerous to people. Once split, the virus releases its genetic material into the cell and reproduces. While attaching to cells and spike cleavage is part of how all coronaviruses work, SARS-CoV-2 is the only one of its class, sarbecoviruses, that can use furin for the cleavage.
It seems, if you read their statement carefully, that U.S.-based research laboratories may have been involved in the development of the deadly virus. What a jackpot Covid-19 has been and still is for the pharmaceutical industry.
Gas and nuclear are now officially ‘green’
This week we save the last aim for last.
European lawmakers have now approved a law designating gas and nuclear as sustainable energy sources, as part of a system that was intended to influence direct investment in clean energy.
The vote in Strasbourg on Wednesday followed months of heated debate over the inclusion of gas and nuclear in the EU’s financial labelling “taxonomy”, as the bloc attempts to cut its reliance on Russian gas while simultaneously meeting its pledge to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in order to limit global warming.
Only 278 members of the European Parliament voted against designating investment in gas and nuclear as “green”, falling short of the 353 majority needed to reject the legal act. Member states have until July 11 to object to the proposal but EU officials said that it is unlikely to be blocked.
Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, defended the new taxonomy, saying she was “deeply convinced” it would help the bloc’s transition to clean energy.
Hmm… “deeply convinced?”
I am too very “deeply convinced” that this is the end of what we can now call the Pledge Age, and most likely the end of any chance to curb global warming. But let’s stay aimful!
I wish you all an aimful week!
PS: The next 2-3 weeks I will take a Summer break from my newsletter. But I will be back in August.
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