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The COP26 Summit and the Global Age of Shams
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on day three of COP26 at SECC on November 2, 2021 in Glasgow, United Kingdom. (Photo by Steve Reigate - Pool / Getty Images)
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at COP26. (Photo by Steve Reigate - Pool / Getty Images)

The COP26 Summit and the Global Age of Shams

Walter Russell Mead

If there is one thing the world should take away from the Glasgow COP26 summit, it’s that the most dangerous greenhouse-gas emissions come from the front ends of politicians, not the back ends of cows. Pandering is much more dangerous to human civilization than methane, strategic incompetence a graver threat than CO2; and dysfunctional establishment groupthink will likely kill more polar bears than all the hydrofluorocarbons in the world.

The 19th-century writer Thomas Carlyle wrote of an Age of Shams in prerevolutionary France, when the chattering classes and political leaders had so fundamentally lost contact with the underlying realities of the day that they could no longer understand the political challenges facing the French social order, much less respond to them. The elaborate rituals of court life in Versailles persisted, the ministers and bureaucrats went through the motions of governance, and intellectuals sparkled in the salons—while the French monarchy sailed, like the Titanic, toward its rendezvous with destiny.

COP26 was the kind of hollow ritual that characterized Carlyle’s Age of Shams. As one politician after another committed their countries to carefully crafted unenforceable pledges, none had the bad manners to observe that no country anywhere fully honored the climate pledges made with such fanfare in Paris six years ago. Even the pledges are insufficient to meet the stated goals of the U.N. climate process, and nobody is keeping the pledges.

The intellectual and political disarray on display in Glasgow was terrifying. President Biden boasted about America’s new climate goals and its dedication to them. Yet in the same week he begged OPEC+ to bail out the world economy and his presidency by pumping more fossil fuels. Let future presidents face the rough contours of a world without fossil fuels; this one means to get re-elected, no matter how much greenhouse gas spews into the sky.

Read in The Wall Street Journal

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