Of Mousy & Elephantine Cycles, Managing The Climate Crisis After Glasgow COP26

climate hypocrisy
An iceberg in Greenland, July 2019. Photo: Rob Moir.

The word hypocrisy has been bandied about on the heels of the Glasgow Climate Pact, reached by unanimous consent of nearly 200 nations, as goals remain unmet and the international community has failed to restructure, implement and enforce laws to do more to address climate change.

That stated, the international community cannot make binding commitments and plans nor are they responsible for failure to meet national goals. That’s the work of nation states. Time to recalibrate expectations.

Finally, the centrality of the ocean to problems related to extreme weather events and climate has been recognized. The “Glasgow Climate Pact” makes direct reference to the need to ensure the integrity of ocean ecosystems and the “importance of protecting, conserving and restoring natures and ecosystems, including marine ecosystems, to achieve the long-term global goal of the Convention by acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and protecting biodiversity, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards.”

It’s a further significant step forward to call for “an annual ocean-climate dialogue” to be held in June 2022 by the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice to formally anchor the Ocean Within the Climate negotiations. Nations controlling 85% of lands covered by forests have pledged to stop deforestation by 2030, yet no such measures are being taken for the ocean because much of it is international waters and beyond the jurisdictions of nations.

There’s no point in arguing over what biome is most important for climate. Focusing on only one, even the biggest one, will NOT solve the global problem. We must practice responsible stewardship for the entire planet Earth as if it were one living ecosystem, as some say it is. Dramatic restructuring of international laws and institutions is a waste of energy when climate impacts are local. Solutions must be indigenous place-based, bioregion by bioregion and watershed by watershed to be effective. What ‘s good for Greenland may not be best for Manhattan.

Speaking of the ocean, the challenge of climate change would be better met if a focus on restoring the hydrologic water cycles equaled the focus on fossil fuel burning. The atmospheric rise of carbon dioxide, measured as in parts per million, makes for a compelling hockey stick graph that matches the rise of the industrial revolution and the tarmacking/desertification of the land. Meanwhile, water vapor is measured by percent or parts per hundred. Water vapor is a much larger greenhouse gas than carbon, by a thousand times.

Nature turns the elephantine water cycle, unlike a big portion of the mousy carbon cycle driven by fossil fuel burning. The climate crisis worsens the more we destroy and separate from nature.

Let’s restore life to both land and sea, to watersheds, and the full fresh/salt-water continuum. Only then can we experience less extremes in the weather and improvements to the climate. The learning curve is steep given the complexity of each ecosystem. Act locally to improve the global wellness of the planet and then we may gather by the Red Sea at the next COP, perhaps virtually, to listen and learn from one another on how we can be even better stewards of the planet.  Together we can.

Dr. Rob Moir is a nationally-recognized and award-winning environmentalist. He is president & executive director of Massachusetts-based Ocean River Institute, a nonprofit providing expertise, services, resources, and information unavailable on a localized level to support efforts of environmental organizations. Please visit www.oceanriver.org for more information.