Thunberg vs Trump
With the theme “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World,” billionaires, world leaders and other movers and shakers gathered last week at the ski resort town of Davos, Switzerland, for the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF). The annual meeting has been described as the place where billionaires tell millionaires how the middle classes should live their lives. It is remarkable that WEF’s organizers chose to focus this year’s discussions on cohesion and sustainability, even as its participants tend to be seen as the very impediments to the chosen themes. They even invited Greta Thunberg, the now-famous Swedish youngster who has gained worldwide prominence for scolding world leaders in various forums for lack of meaningful action on climate change.
But days after Thunberg delivered her now familiar strident message in Davos, US President Donald Trump indirectly rebuked her as he lashed out at “prophets of doom” and “alarmists” out to “dominate, transform, and control every aspect of our lives.” His statement virtually reaffirms what his predecessor George W. Bush once said in rejecting the Kyoto Protocol on climate change: “The American way of life is non-negotiable.”
The problem is that this so-called American way of life is widely seen, in and out of America, as highly unsustainable and harmful to the planet. There is simply no way that the earth can sustain the American consumerist lifestyle that is fast spreading around the globe as economies and incomes grow and people worldwide emulate their energy-gobbling and waste-ballooning practices. Increasingly unsustainable lifestyles have become part of developing economies’ transition to higher income status, with energy consumption growing way faster than overall economic growth—and climate change is one of its undesired results.
As the WEF highlighted the topic this year, three premises on climate change are widely accepted and well-established by science: One, climate change is happening and is a global problem. Two, global warming is causing climate change. Three, global warming is resulting from continued emission into the atmosphere of “greenhouse gases” (GHG) arising from human economic activities, including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide.
CO2 and other GHG emissions come primarily from the burning of fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal in power generation, industrial processes, and operation of motor vehicles. Atmospheric CO2 also rises with large-scale destruction of forests, inasmuch as plants use up CO2 and emit oxygen. Agricultural processes, such as burning of rice stalks, also emit methane and nitrous oxide, which are likewise emitted from the natural degradation of various wastes. All these come from escalating economic production, especially with the accompanying rise in energy consumption.
This is why the United States is so prominent in the climate change debates. And yet it is also the biggest recalcitrant in the climate change fight, with Trump seemingly even refusing to believe in climate change at all. The world is also watching Asia, home of many rapidly growing economies, and emerging to be the focal point of the global economy in the 21st century. With such economic growth comes rapidly increasing energy consumption, and the Philippines is no exception. Our sales of motor vehicles and electrical applian-
ces, and residential electric power consumption have been growing in the double digits since the 1990s. All this happened while our economic growth ranged within 4-7 percent.It is estimated that we would need nine earths to sustain the world’s rapidly growing energy appetite at its current pace. It is clear that business as usual simply won’t do, and there is a need for a significant change in lifestyles, whether in the large affluent economies or in emerging economies like ours. As for Trump and Thunberg, Time magazine chose the latter as its 2019 Person of the Year, while Trump expressed apparent jealousy in Davos for this. Unfortunately for him, Time and more of the world’s people appear to see Thunberg to be more worthy of serious attention.
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