I admit to becoming somewhat cynical about news reports of countries pledging to take real, substantive actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but, in the spirit of the season, and also admitting to a slightly dormant but unquenchable hope, I’m letting Lucy line up the football and I’ll charge forward hoping this time it doesn’t get jerked away. We’ll find out soon enough if it is “here we go” or here we go again.”

A recent New York Times article noted the state of New York’s $226 billion pension fund would divest from fossil fuels in the next five years. Importantly, according to the article, the trustee of the pension fund who had staunchly resisted divestment for years, arguing that his fiduciary responsibility to the millions of state and local employees who rely on the fund for their pensions meant he could not take social issues into account when determining where to invest, “signaled that his main reason for adopting the new plan was to protect the fund and set it up for long-term economic success in a world that is moving away from fossil fuels.”

Whaddaya know? Activists have for years been arguing that fiduciary responsibility is exactly the point of divestment.

By the way, the article indicates that “the movement to dump fossil fuel stocks began as an effort to make an ethical statement and to cast polluters as pariahs, much like the push to divest from apartheid-era South Africa.” While it may be going too far to claim complete credit, the city of Davis was on the forefront of advocating divestment from South Africa (thank you Patti, Dave, Melinda, Dallas and friends) and it is nothing short of wonderful and appropriate to point out the city’s and its citizen’s role in germinating this form of social activism that is now being used to address the climate crisis.

Another Times article reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain “promised to end direct taxpayer support for fossil fuel projects overseas as soon as possible.” This is where my cynicism kicks in. For one, what does “as soon as possible” mean? Britain will be hosting a United Nations forum on climate change and big plans are often announced prior to such events but often seem to dwindle away afterward.

Second, this apparently applies to ending “financing, aid, and trade promotion for new projects overseas.” It’s the word “new” that raises my eyebrows. Though it may be difficult, or nearly impossible, to address horses already out of the barn, in the last four years British banks have supported overseas projects to the tune of nearly $30 billion. Similarly, he announced “plans to end the sale of new gas and diesel cars within a decade” Call me greedy, but, again, plans, not actions, and not addressing the huge number of vehicles already out there.

Another recent article reported on an online summit recognizing the fifth anniversary of the Paris Accord. Several countries made new commitments or upgraded old ones. Canada said it would substantially increase its tax on carbon. Pakistan indicated it would stop building coal-fired power plants by 2030.

The European Union was probably the star of the show, announcing its member countries would ”slash emissions by 55 percent over the next decade, relative to 1990 levels.” All good, but not everyone was on board. France, which had hosted the Paris Accord, made no new commitments, nor did India, a huge contributor to the problem, and some didn’t even participate including the U.S. (of course), Australia and Brazil.

China did participate, and Xi Jinping somewhat mysteriously pledged to do many big things in the future but he didn’t want to talk about details until the U.S. said what it would do. Huh? So, he indicated they’re going whole hog for solar and wind and would be at net zero CO2 emissions by 2060.

For our (USA) part things appear to be looking up, but it’s hard to say whether this lifting of our gaze from our feet to the horizon, will be enough to overcome massive political opposition and sabotage from the current administration. Suffice it to say, however, it appears we are off to a great start, or will be on Jan. 20. President-elect Biden may not have embraced the Green New Deal in its entirely, but he has indicated, both through what he says and by his directions to cabinet appointees, that the climate crisis will be embedded in every branch of the government; housing, health, the military, the treasury, the whole ball of wax. And, he has elevated the climate emergency to an office in the White House to be occupied by John Kerry.

Several people who say they should know about these things indicate that when he becomes president, Biden will make investing in reducing greenhouse gas emissions a focus of his overall program for repairing the damage done to the economy by the pandemic.

One has to have hope that a “whole of government” approach to the climate crisis will finally get us on track and maybe, just maybe, the example will encourage state and local governments to do the same.

— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears twice a month. Please send comments to johnmottsmith@comcast.net.

Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise

Published online on December 16, 2020 | PRINTED in the December 18, 2020 edition on page A10