The Power of the Words ‘Fossil Fuels’ | Sojourners

The Power of the Words ‘Fossil Fuels’

After 27 years of global climate talks, politicians at COP28 finally named the elephant in the atmosphere.
The graphic shows a typewriter with words and letter in the background, on a multi-colored, striped canvas.
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RELIGIOUS PEOPLE ARE used to the idea that words matter — it’s why we pay attention to scripture and go over the language carefully in sermons and Bible studies. Lawyers know words matter too — it’s why they pay attention to contracts and argue over “shall” vs. “may.” But in political life, we generally assume words are cheap: You say what you want, and everyone knows it’s “just words.”

The final declaration of December’s global climate talks (COP28) falls somewhere in between. It’s not gospel, and it’s not even binding law — there’s no enforcement mechanism. But it’s argued over, carefully, and when countries sign on, they theoretically mean it. So, it was a great victory for campaigners when the world’s governments caved to pressure and put this sentence into the final agreement: The time has come for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly, and equitable manner.”

This was, unbelievably, the first time in 28 of these global climate talks that the words “fossil fuels” had slipped into the text (it’s as if it took 28 lung cancer conferences before someone mentioned “cigarettes”). And it’s not as if it calls for an immediate end to the use of fossil fuels — sadly, given our long delays, that’s not possible.

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