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OP-ED | 21-12-2019 13:56

I’m dreaming of a green Christmas

Especially in this country we are accustomed to a top-down mentality of expecting everything from the government, also assigning the blame accordingly, but saving the planet needs to be the reverse process. And so it is proving to be.

Everybody loves Christmas, apart from the odd Scrooge or Grinch, but above all it belongs to children, as epitomised by the figure of Santa Claus – that was our understanding during the decades when this newspaper’s predecessor, the Buenos Aires Herald, ran the Kiddies Xmas Fund (now in the conscientious hands of the Argentine-British Community Council, see Page 14 for more). It’s a time of the year when we all think of our children – or do we?

As each year goes by, Christmas becomes more clearly synonymous with a consumer splurge rather than a religious festival – the supreme expression of a consumer society which is straining the limits of sustainable development. There may be presents under the tree for our children next Tuesday night but what kind of future are we leaving them? A century ago many women were hesitating to bring children into the world for fear of losing them should the recently ended World War I be repeated (as indeed it was). Yet despite the appalling carnage, seven out of every eight men who then marched off to war eventually returned home (even if often not in the best of physical or mental shape). But the potential environmental catastrophe overhanging the future of our planet today threatens every single child, male or female.

Especially in this country we are accustomed to a top-down mentality of expecting everything from the government, also assigning the blame accordingly, but saving the planet needs to be the reverse process. And so it is proving to be. At last September’s United Nations General Assembly climate action only ranked fifth in the six priorities defined by the UN at the outset behind peace and security, poverty eradication, zero hunger and quality education but teenaged Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s fervent “How dare you?” reproach to world leaders entirely seized the initiative from other priorities or the denialism of Donald Trump. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres evidently grasped the need for stronger leadership because he was in more militant mode at this month’s COP25 conference in Madrid, warning that the point of no return is at hand if “our war against nature” continues.

Yet still not so late as to justify fatalism – if allowed, modern science has the means to reverse the worst pollution (as the return of salmon and other fish to the Thames might testify). But nor should this assurance diminish the sense of urgency nor lull us into complacency – the world needs to be constantly reminded of such horrors as the plastic island as big as Mexico floating in the South Pacific.

Argentina’s contribution to this global calamity is clearly minor when compared to Trump’s obstructionist boycott of the entire climate change debate, or China’s role as far and away the planet’s leading source of carbon dioxide emissions, yet the bottomup logic applies here too. If a Swedish teenager can make a difference, so can a middleweight nation. Argentina needs to raise its voice in the right direction. One far from impossible scenario is that the debt quandary leads to the new government turning to Beijing as the lender of last resort, in return turning a blind eye to China’s flagrant environmental transgressions among other forms of compensation. The Alberto Fernández administration needs to be warned now against any such temptation.

T h e r e h ave b e e n encouraging signs recently. The turnout for the September 27 march against climate change in the week of the UN General Assembly was impressive locally although Mauricio Macri’s 30 “#SiSePuede” rallies began the next day and immediately stole the show. After a campaign pledge by Alberto Fernández in San Juan to create a Mining Ministry to give the sector a soft landing, the absence of any such portfolio, plus the restoration of Environment to ministerial status after being downgraded the last 15 months, is also encouraging (even if the minister is a La Cámpora rather than green militant) but advances on this scale smack of too little, too late.

A white Christmas can only be a dream in these latitudes but is it not time we started dreaming of a green Christmas?

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