Climate Minister: Until People in Developed Nations Start Dying, Nothing Will Change

Yves here. While Tom Neuburger’s assessment of what it will take to produce serious action to combat climate change is pessimistic, it may not be pessimistic enough.

The US has the worst Covid death rate of any advanced economy, along with rising evidence that getting Covid imposes lasting health costs. Yet there’s effectively no willingness to take even modest action to reduce contagion rates, like promoting more widespread use of masks and improving ventilation. Worse, there’s not even much concern! United Airlines wants to see your smile rather than masks remind passengers that airplanes are high-infection-risk settings.

More specifically, the top wealthy will be able to insulate themselves from many of the health dangers of climate change, like being in a flood-prone area at the wrong time or having no air conditioning during a heat wave or not being able to eat enough due to meager harvests increasing food prices. And they’ll manage to rationalize the ones they can’t escape, like climate change increasing disease transmission rates. Of course, these “nice” people believe contagion only happens via interaction with the dirty servant classes (witness the weird spectacle in earlier Covid of elite dinners and parties with the guests all maskless and the waitstaff masked up) or just random bad luck.

By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at God’s Spies

The Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, scene of this year’s UN climate conference. Why there? Because climate luminaries, unlike climate victims, must be kept comfortable.

I’d like to put two facts before you, one a data point, and one a comment from the climate minister of a moderately well-off African nation. Each is important, but put together, the whole becomes more than its parts.

We’ve Heard This Song Before

First the data point. Not long ago, I wrote a piece entitled “Everything New Is Old Again.” As the piece explains, we live our lives at an unusual time, “tucked between the start of a world-historical collapse and stories about it so old they sound not special at all.”

Is there anything new in these facts? Yet here they come again, this time from the United Nations’ “Emissions Gap Report” for 2022 (hat tip Umair Haque):

Policies currently in place point to a 2.8°C temperature rise by the end of the century. Implementation of the current pledges will only reduce this to a 2.4-2.6°C temperature rise by the end of the century


1. Current policies that control the burning of fossil fuel indicate a global warming of nearly 3°C by the end of the century. And:

2. If every nation’s promise to reduce emissions were met — and few are even close — 2100’s global warming will be just 0.3 degrees less that it otherwise would have been.

Even if we were able to “dead-stop” fossil fuel emissions, global warming will continue well past the end of the century:

Even if humanity stopped emitting greenhouse gases tomorrow, Earth will warm for centuries to come and oceans will rise by metres

The report explains:

Using a stripped-down climate model, [lead author Jorgen] Randers [professor emeritus of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School] and colleague Ulrich Goluke projected changes out to the year 2500 under two scenarios: the instant cessation of emissions, and the gradual reduction of planet warming gases to zero by 2100.

In an imaginary world where carbon pollution stops with a flip of the switch, the planet warms over the next 50 years to about 2.3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—roughly half-a-degree above the target set in the 2015 Paris Agreement—and cools slightly after that. Earth’s surface today is 1.2C hotter than it was in the mid-19th century, when temperatures began to rise.

But starting in 2150, the model has the planet beginning to gradually warm again, with average temperatures climbing another degree over the following 350 years, and sea levels going up by at least three metres.

Under the second scenario, Earth heats up to levels that would tear at the fabric of civilisation far more quickly, but ends up at roughly the same point by 2500. [emphasis added]

To put this in kitchen terms, when you pull a roast out of the oven, the meat keeps cooking. In this scenario, we’re the meat.

One More Country Heard From

Yet while this is ho-hum news in the industrial, wealthy West, it’s a near-present catastrophe for the poorer rest of the world.

From the Guardian:

Nothing will change on climate until death toll rises in west, says Gabonese minister

Gabon is one of the former French colonies on the west coast of Africa.

It’s relatively wealthy for a small nation of less than 3 million people. It’s not a Pacific Island with 40 people and a boat. Nor is it Haiti (another former French colony), which seems always on the verge of collapse.

Gabon seems to be taking pretty good care of itself. Yet the Gabonese know which side of the global wealth gap the climate bread is buttered on:

The world will only take meaningful action on the climate crisis once people in rich countries start dying in greater numbers from its effects, Gabon’s environment minister has said, while warning that broken promises on billions of dollars of adaptation finance have left a “sense of betrayal” before Cop27 [the upcoming U.N. 2022 global climate meeting].

And there you have it, straight from the helpless-to-intervene minister’s mouth — until the rich world start dying, nothing will change.

That’s his opinion, of course. Blunt and stark. But is he wrong?

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  1. cnchal

    > But is he wrong?

    Yes. Rich people in the rich world don’t give a shit about anything except themselves. Poor people in the rich world can die by the tens of millions and it will make no difference with regard to CO2 emissions.

    Besides, once we are dead, the rich in the “West” will import Gabonese to fill the meat grinder gap.

    1. TimH

      …and the evidence for this is that rich have never cared about the poor dying in mines or in wars. And ordinary people still buy from Amazon while knowing the terrible working conditions.

      There’s really no accountability or even pretense at caring from the powers that be. Look at Christine Todd Whitman giving the official EPA all-clear for air quality in NYC after The Incident, and all the subsequent avoidance for compensation to the selfless responders who suffered horrible health issues afterwards.

      No, the world will burn and the rich will survive in their silos.

    2. NoFreeWill

      Totally correct. Really until the rich people in the west start dying, and the only chance for that is if the poor people realize the fate they are being left to and start sharpening the guillotines, or actually using the plentifully available projectile weapons for [REDACTED]

  2. Acacia

    Even if humanity stopped emitting greenhouse gases tomorrow, Earth will warm for centuries to come and oceans will rise by metres

    The difficulty with pitching the argument in the way that Neuburger does here, is that sort of it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

    1. NoFreeWill

      His difference is without distinction because the real logic is:

      Massive suffering and many deaths vs. Civ collapse, 6-10 billions dead, possible human extinction

      so it’s sort of 1,000,000 harms vs. infinity harms

      infinity being a number that’s always bigger that makes whatever is on the other side might as well = 0 or 1

  3. Paul Handover

    “And there you have it, straight from the helpless-to-intervene minister’s mouth — until the rich world start dying, nothing will change.

    That’s his opinion, of course. Blunt and stark. But is he wrong?”

    No, he is not wrong. Here we are facing a crisis that affects us all and the news is about, in the main, anything and everything else. I really wish we had an answer, that is a global ‘we’, and maybe younger people than me will protest in a way that makes our leaders take notice. But whatever happens to reduce the heating of the planet, it has to happen NOW!

    1. Ignacio

      Not enough though…
      Compare that with Covid deaths considered now normal. Our ability to normalize things is enooooormous so may be the Minister is not so right.

      1. coloradoblue

        Covid deaths still running an estimated 300-450 a day in the U.S., and those are only the ones we (maybe) know about. Add to that estimate all the ones unknown or not reported.

        At the lowest estimate that’s still more than 100,000 a year.

  4. John

    We paid our dime to dance with the devil. It looked easy and cheap, maybe even fun, at the moment never realizing, or caring, that the dime was just the down payment. The installments are now coming due.

  5. LAS

    From the Guardian:

    Nothing will change on climate until death toll rises in west, says Gabonese minister.

    The death toll already is rising in the west, from heat, fires, hurrianes, and floods. As things are now structured, the lives of westeners are not of any particular higher value. Don’t wait for Godot to appear.

  6. Michael.j

    While stark enough, other food/climate models suggest a much more pessimistic perspective. One model states that the probability of simultaneous grain production collapses increase dramatically from >1.5 C (bad) degrees to >2.0 C (global chaos), to 3.0 C (extinction due to disease, droughts and floods).

    From this perspective we are already cooked at current non intervention projections.

    IMHO, we are living in the Anthropocene and will eventually require geo-engineering for survival, irrespective of hopes natural carbon sequestration. We crossed that bridge about 20 years ago.

    If you watch the jet stream degradation daily, this is painfully obvious.

  7. Sausage Factory

    That’ll be “until white people in the West start dying.” Came to this conclusion several years ago. Everyone is expendable to the elites, sadly the way climate change works is that the disaster is already in motion and nothing they can do will stop it, so by the time they start paying attention it will be way too late. Plenty are dying anyway, every heat wave, every unmanageable snow storm, every power cut, every virus caused by human encroachment on nature as cities and favellas spread like a cancer into the interior. Question is, are we already too late?

    1. Thomas Neuburger

      Everyone is expendable to the elites

      That is, unfortunately, the psychopathic fact around which we structure society. I have a hard time imagining a solution that doesn’t involve dismantling. All roads, or so they say…


    2. Roland

      That won’t fix things, either. Ruling classes are ruled by their own vanity, not by reason–or rather their reasoning is vanity-based. Ruling classes are often rather indifferent to their own survival, because they’re totally obsessed with their own self-defined, self-referential idea system. If ruling classes had strong tendencies to self-preserve, societies wouldn’t collapse the way they do.

      Besides, the governing mentality of a society doesn’t have to be concerned with life or weal. Cultures can rejoice in agony, and regard both its imposition and its endurance as meaningful forms of human expression and achievement.

      Remember that, in the modern West, God died a while ago, and we don’t have Jesus to kick around any more. We do have a religion, a fervent and fanatical religion, but the mysteries of transhuman capital are much too sacred to be discussed by those such as me, a low material rational.

      In the comparative study of religions, transhuman capital is pathetic, with its Oprah’s Secret metaphysics, Bart Simpson ethics, and teleology from the prophet Yuval Harari. It strains politeness not to laugh, but the zeal is for real.

      Finally, why the racism? Ruling classes that are non-“white” are just as heedless, whether past or present. Moreover, since when have “white” rulers ever given a damn about their “white” subjects? Racism is such a bloody waste of time! Why do I even have to type out this paragraph? Why can’t we deal with an actual matter, rather than talk about who slid out of which vagina? Carbon don’t care.

  8. Claudia

    Don’t worry- it’s probably already too late to stop the feedback loop humanity has created with the industrial revolution. But the Earth has had major extinction events before and recovered in a few million years. I take comfort in that.

  9. Dave

    It’s another example of a politician that doesn’t understand economics

    Screwing people in the ‘advanced’ countries is the business model according to the insiders at the Rand Corporation:

    $50 trillion in earnings that’s been transferred to the Financial Aristocracy from the bottom 90% of American households in the past 45 years

    Trends in Income From 1975 to 2018 (Rand)

    Additionally, the ‘healthcare’ system isn’t designed to save them

    1.3 Million US Adults With Diabetes Ration Insulin Due to High Cost

  10. Jorge

    If the Thwaites glacier breaks off, that starts the flood clock all over the world. There’s enough beachfront property to sharpen affluent minds.

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