According to a report last November that appeared in the London Guardian, “just 90 companies … between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age,” citing a recent study by the Climate Accountability Institute in Colorado.
Even more shocking is the fact that one-half “of the estimated emissions were produced just in the past 25 years.” Michael Klare, an energy resources expert, writes that our society has a carbon addiction, in which now is the terminal stage. Referring to figures from the US Energy Information Administration, Klare notes that in the year 2040 — after humanity passes the climate threshold, incidentally — “four-fifths of the world’s total energy supply” will be derived from oil, coal, and gas.
There is also the issue of what is called climate justice, namely the moral problem that the wealthiest countries in the world bear the brunt of the responsibility for the crisis and it is the poorest countries in the world that will bear the brunt of the consequences of the crisis. But if you ask the law professor Eric Posner, climate justice is a poison pill for any possible climate accord: “countries will need to negotiate a climate treaty that does not redistribute wealth from rich countries to poor countries,” a plan proposed by nation-states like Bangladesh to be compensated (one figure puts it at $100 billion, to start) for the damage wrought by the 90 corporations from the global north.
Unleashing a hybridization of Captain Planet and Robin Hood is a non-starter, then. That might be too bad, because it would be just if the global south, which by any measure has far less culpability for creating the climate change conundrum, received its due compensation for its far larger share of the likely and imminent effects of accelerating climatic changes that are going to outstrip human ability to adapt especially in places like Bangladesh, home to 160 million people.
It is useful to imagine the severity of the costs of not compensating countries, not only on the moral equation but also in the interests of maintaining some kind of world order that will not devolve into anarchic violence as millions eventually become refugees and fight over dwindling resources. This is a living nightmare. But the fear cannot paralyze decision-makers, who still have some time and a lot of power on their side.