The United Nations global conference on climate change that has been running for more than two weeks in Glasgow, Scotland, has produced a great deal of lofty and urgent rhetoric and some serious proposals for dealing with the looming disasters that are being brought on by a warming planet, but the conference got a rude wake-up call on Tuesday when a study by U.N. scientists was released. The bottom line: All the promises and goals announced by the world’s governments will not be enough to keep the Earth from warming another 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the not-too-distant future.

That level of warming will produce a two-foot rise in global sea levels; regular, life-threatening heat waves over half the world; and loss of polar ice-sheets, permafrost thaw and permanent ecosystem collapse. And that is just the short list.

There is a growing global consensus that bold changes must be made in the way humans live and fuel their economies in order to achieve net-zero emissions of the fossil fuels that are driving warming. Unfortunately, the words of political leaders are not being matched by sufficient action. The pledges being made not only fail to do enough to achieve net-zero emissions quickly, those meager efforts are very likely to be undermined by short-term political concerns and the negative influence of the fossil-fuel industry.

Humanity is facing an existential threat, but, most of the time, nobody acts like it. Climate change is seldom at the top of anyone’s political agenda, and when it does rise to the level of serious debate in governing bodies, such as the American Congress, special interests, not the interests of future generations, too often prevail. President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan contains some serious climate measures, but not only does it face unanimous opposition from Republicans – most of whom either deny climate science or are in thrall to the oil industry – it may still be blocked or watered down by West Virginia’s Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, whose home state coal industry is of more concern to him than the fate of homo sapiens.

Meanwhile, the Chinese, among the top emitters of greenhouse gases, did not make an appearance at the Glasgow conference until the last day, while the Russians did not show up at all. The only leaders that seem to feel the full urgency of immediate action are those from the tiny Pacific island nations that are being relentlessly swallowed up by rising seas.

It is terrible to conclude that the human race does not have the political will to save itself from doom, but that hard reality seems more apparent every day.

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