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A Totem to Net-Zero Emissions by 2050

Supporters of the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) marked the end of the COP26 annual meeting in Glasgow with a ceremonial burying of a totem pole over the weekend. I have heard of burying the hatchet but I doubt it is the same.

The Totem Latamat was commissioned by Border Crossings/ORIGINS Festival, a UK non-profit dedicated to” creating intercultural, multi-media theatre in response to the contemporary globalized world.” The totem pole was carved in Mexico and travelled from there across the UK to raise awareness of how climate change affects indigenous people. It was “returned to the Earth” near Crichton Church to decompose naturally following a brief ceremony. 

Michael Walling, the artistic director of Border Crossings stated that “unlike Western materialist cultures, which seek to preserve their artworks as a way to attract monetary value, indigenous cultures regard their artifacts as beings with life, and therefore perishable . . . that is why Totem Latamat, having done what it needed to, will be returned to the Earth with gratitude . . . and because it is made of natural materials, its decay will enrich the planet.”

I read this news to my son from my BBC app as we waited on an order of fried mushrooms at the Hare & Hound in Landrum. As is our custom over dinner, we talk and laugh about the political issues of the day – the more absurd the better – and we could not let the smug and shamanistic tone of the totem pole article pass without comment.

Remember that the goal of COP26 is to secure worldwide net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 by phasing out coal production, curtailing deforestation, speeding up the switch to electric vehicles and encouraging investment in renewable resources. Not only did the totem pole carver miss the no-deforestation memo, he killed a tree to imbue the resulting totem with life only to bury it with no hope of resurrection. Seems a waste of effort but then I am a member of the much despised “Western materialist culture.”

Speaking of Western materialism, Rolls Royce has their own clean-energy solution to climate change. They recently unveiled plans touting their latest developments in nuclear reactor technology. Their new Small Modular Reactor (SMR), to be built on a site about the size of two soccer fields (or about 1/10th the size of a traditional nuclear reactor site), will provide enough power to electrify 1 million homes. 

The Brits seem slightly ahead of us with SMR development but the US should catch up. Last year, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the design of an SMR from Portland based NuScale. They expect to sell over 1,600 SMRs by 2047. With any luck South Carolina will have straightened out our Santee Cooper problems by then. 

Whether or not you believe that climate change occurs from automobile emissions, automobile electrification has arrived and the need to increase our production of electricity is real. We are about where London, Paris and New York were in the 1890’s. By the end of the 19th century, the populations of these cities had exploded. Other than steam powered trains, the only practical transportation was horse-powered – either you rode one or rode on something pulled by one. 

New York City had an estimated 150,000 horses at this time. Having that many horses crowded in the city created a health and environmental disaster. One newspaper described New York City streets as “one mass of reeking, disgusting filth, which in some places is piled to such height as to render them almost impassable.” The city could not get rid of the horse manure fast enough.  

The health and environmental problems caused by horses were the catalyst that drove automobile development and created enormous wealth for American workers, investors, and industrialists throughout the 20th Century. The current environmental problems caused by automobiles will undoubtedly create new economic opportunities if we don’t bury our heads, hatchets or totem poles in the political sand.


  1. David Laurine

    As usual – words are typed but no idea where you actually stand on the issue of man made climate change (so called) – other than it appears you will move along with whatever direction the political wind blows.

    • Tommy Stringer

      I believe that global warming, climate change or just the occurrence of bad weather has been co-opted by the left on an international level to extort money from rich nations (i.e. the U.S.) and redistribute it to poor nations. It fits nicely into the left’s global anti-colonial, anti-capitalist and anti-free market playbook.

      I was in elementary and middle school during the fuel crises of the 1970’s. Like many families in Blue Ridge, we had a wood burning stove to help offset the cost of propane. I spent many Saturdays working a hydraulic wood splitter so I have a great appreciation for cheap and available fossil fuel energy resources. I won’t be voting to ban the use of them.

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