Judging by what happened at COP26, we're just monkeys collecting poisonous nuts as the planet burns up


The 26th Conference of Parties that took place in Glasgow, Scorland, from Oct 31 to Nov 12, 2021, was supposed to be THE most important meeting on the climate – but, like previous meetings, there were a lot of pretty speeches but no immediate action plans to deal with the now urgent climate crisis. — 123rf.com

Did you ever hear the story about the nut monkeys?

Probably not. The nut monkeys were a group of primates that lived isolated on an island. They had everything they needed – food, shelter, etc – but over time they began to value a poisonous nut.

The poisonous nut had no real value to them (it was poisonous!) but they liked how it looked. The monkeys liked how it looked so much that they started to organise their entire society around growing this poisonous thing. All their resources were piled into cultivating vast quantities of the nut.

Most of these nuts would go to the few monkeys that had organised their cultivation while the majority of the monkeys worked growing the nuts so they could receive a few of the nuts in payment.

As time went on and the cultivation of the poisonous nut got more and more intense, the monkeys used more and more resources until their little island could no longer grow other things like edible food or trees to build shelter. The monkeys saw this happening but instead of shifting production to things they needed, they just ramped up cultivation of the poisonous nut. Because, hey, the monkeys wanted more of the nut.

Eventually – and you can probably see where this is going – the monkeys spent so much time growing this nut that their home became uninhabitable and they had to leave the island. All life on the island was gone because all the island grew was a nut that was poisonous. All this happened because the monkeys became enamoured with a poisonous nut that had no intrinsic value except that, well, they liked how it looked.

The moral of the story is: monkeys are short-sighted and stupid. Don’t trust them to run a responsible society.

You’ve never heard this story, right?

I’ll bet you haven’t because I just made it up, which is why it’s not very creative and feels familiar and tired. It’s familiar and tired because it’s the same story we’ve been living for 20 years if not longer.

For 20 years, scientists have warned that climate change is coming. But doing something about climate change would mean changing how our society is wired to make money. It would challenge existing power structures of how we make money, and possibly shift wealth drastically from areas that are currently rich to other regions.

And so we do nothing about climate change. Because, hey, money is pretty.

Even now that climate change is upon us, and the effects that scientists predicted are happening right before our eyes – the record high temperatures every year, the increase in the number of extreme storms, and the insane wildfires that scorch the earth every summer – we still do nothing because, hey, money is pretty.

COP26, the climate conference that happened in Glasgow, Scotland, last week was labelled a failure by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg: “The COP has turned into a PR event, where leaders are giving beautiful speeches and announcing fancy commitments and targets, while behind the curtains governments of the Global North countries are still refusing to take any drastic climate action.”

Is she right? Let’s look at what COP26 (the 26th Conference of Parties to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change) has accomplished so far:

> More than 100 world leaders have pledged to reverse deforestation.

> Ninety nations have agreed to reduce methane by 30% by 2030.

> And in the critical aspect of coal consumption, 23 nations have agreed to end coal usage. In what time frame? There isn’t one.

Hmmm, maybe Greta isn’t being a pessimistic hater after all.

The problem with these developments from COP26 is that they’re not actually developments. Nations are promising to face the problem by some future date, and there’s no explicit plan on what to do right now. If you’ve followed climate conferences from the Kyoto Accords (1997) to the Paris Climate Agreement (2016), you’ll see a pattern: Politicians talking the talk of change and promising wholeheartedly to do so ... in the future. Well, we’re still not seeing that change and our planet is literally burning, right now.

Greta is right, these climate conferences are a farce. A PR campaign to tell the public that something is being done while, really, it’s just business as usual.

The thing is, in my story about the dumb monkeys, they could leave the island. Sure, their home was trashed but they could move on. Humans, the dumb monkeys that we are, can’t leave this planet for another one. All we can try to do is fix this planet, except we’ve become too enamoured with poisonous nuts to do anything. And so we watch the world burn while a few of us keep accumulating something with no real value.

Remember the moral of the story? About monkeys being too dumb to run their own society? Well, we’re the monkeys, and the moral is currently playing out.


Big Smile, No Teeth columnist Jason Godfrey – who once was told to give the camera a ‘big smile, no teeth’ – has worked internationally for two decades in fashion and continues to work in dramas, documentaries, and lifestyle programming. Write to him at lifestyle@thestar.com.my and check out his stuff at jasongodfrey.co. The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own.

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