Another COP Out: Have We Run Out of Time?

The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) happened in Paris last week as representatives from all the countries of the world came together to try and save it (y’know, climate change, carbon emissions etc). The results were predictably disappointing especially as the deal that 195 countries negotiated was voluntary – so, each country can say it will reduce emissions but there are no legal mechanisms in place to actually make them do it. An incentive to cut emissions? Cut corners more like. Now, before I bore you with another blog on why COP21 was such a cop-out I thought I’d get a little philosophical and write about time instead (that’s right, the stuff on clocks).

Back in 1992 the Rio Earth Summit (which got the COPs rolling) set out “to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. 20 years later, the clock’s still ticking, and what with another warmest year on record and a booming fossil fuel industry it kinda looks like we’ve failed. Or maybe some good will come out of the COP21 deal (or should that be “deal”) and there might be just enough time to change things. Or maybe it really is too late and all the deadlines have passed (goodbye Arctic, hello defrosting methane).

Well, I don’t like deadlines. Not only is the word ‘dead’ in them but they’re so pressureful – all that rushing about having to appear busy and that false sense of achievement once I’ve reached one only for another to appear. All that time slipping through my fingers. And maybe it’s not just deadlines that I don’t like but time itself. All those little lines etched on a clock face passing swiftly by, those digits on my Apple watch silently ticking, serving only to remind me that time doesn’t stand still for anyone, not even me (the cheek!). And when it comes to saving the planet, is it too late, have we run out of time?

Or maybe one could argue that we’ve never had enough time anyway – from the moment we set foot on the planet humans have gone about thinking up increasingly inventive ways to inflict violence on each other culminating in a war that will take down our planet as well as our enemies. Maybe our minutes were always numbered from the get go. Or maybe the time we tell is arbitrary – who gets to decide the time when something becomes a problem (why did it take until 1992 to start talking about climate change?), who sets the deadline, who watches the clock and who, if anyone, actually holds anyone to account if nothing has been done by zero hour? Is it a wealthy Western nation that hasn’t really had to experience the brunt of climate change or is it a small island state that faces submergence or someone who has struggled through desertification, increasingly extreme weather patterns and dislocation? Sure, some of us still have time but for many people it ran out long ago. Perhaps all this time telling is just arbitrary anyway.

But if you’re one of those people who really needs a deadline otherwise you won’t even get out of bed in the morning then you can have one, if you must, but not for me. I think caring for others and the planet makes sense without a ticking clock, it’s just a shame it doesn’t make sense to globalised business, the arms trade and belligerent nation states (and belligerent, aspiring nation states). We either ran out of time a long time ago or maybe we never had enough in the first place or maybe time is just a number, a number invented by humans to help us navigate the spaces in between day and night. Either way it’s still a great idea to be nice to one another, to cut down on meat consumption and start sticking it to the globalised military-industrial complex. We can be 100% renewably powered, we can keep fossil fuels in the ground and we can all get on. And there’s no time to waste because there’s no time anyway, so game on. Meanwhile, here’s Brandalism making poster-based mischief in Paris the other week as they brew up a mug of ‘say-it-like-it-is’…

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