Sweet Nothings and the Corporate Cats

“Making you happy is all I ever want to do.” “I love you more than words could ever tell.” “My love is greater than the stars in the sky.” These little morsels are what are called “sweet nothings,” romantic phrases whispered in a lovers ear. The first about them, of course, is that they’re sweet. They speak to our cravings to love and be loved and – when believed – can be sweet indeed. That’s the “sweet.” Then there’s the “nothings.” There’s nothing to guarantee their sincerity. Falsehoods sound a lot like truths – because they are meant to. When they turn out to just be empty calories it can feel like deep betrayal. Even more so if decisions have been made based on trust.

We get served plenty of the empty-calorie variety of sweet nothings in the house-of-mirrors power structure we live under. As I write this, representatives from around the world (especially the rich countries with vaccine surpluses) are gathered in Glasgow for their annual Sweet Nothings Climate Fest. This meeting, COP26, is being billed as the “last best hope for humanity” to avoid climate disaster. It is no such thing! Aside from the fact that disaster already walks among us, the objective of those who dominate these events is not to save the world. It’s to save their world.

Corporate mouthpieces are not alone in Glasgow this week. Fierce and beautiful pleas from the poor, the island nations and low-lying regions ring out over the assembled delegates and protesters beyond the walls clamor to be heard. But COP-OUT26 – like the Paris accords, Copenhagen and so many others before – is destined to generate grand declarations about carbon emissions, deforestation and resource sharing that would be dangerously inadequate if carried out – which they won’t be.

“Try convincing your cat,” I wrote in a 2010 article. “To stop hunting birds. It would certainly be in her interest to leave enough birds to reproduce so that there will be birds in the future. You have identified a problem—the decimation of the bird population—which you assume your cat will have an interest in. The cat can immediately see the problem but defines it differently: it’s that you’re bugging her. The solution is obvious to her: she must get you to go away so she can get back to killing birds.”

That is the purpose of the sweet-nothings of the rich and powerful: to get us to leave them be. Their pledges to fund climate mitigation and famine relief, to honor treaties or provide stable housing, reform the police or offer global vaccine assistance are proclaimed loudly and abandoned quietly. You see, their entire world is based on killing birds – or clearing rain-forests, building pipelines, churning out plastic junk and selling toxic food. That is the world they are fighting for, not ours. They have to present themselves as the solution or we might notice that they’re the problem.

Don’t be disheartened by the predictable failure of COP26. That’s not where we should be looking for wisdom and foresight. Cats will be cats, after all. Living systems – whether they be soil, mangroves, reefs or immune systems – are remarkably able to heal and restore themselves once they are no longer under attack. It’s pretty simple. If you want to save the birds, you can’t leave the cats in charge!

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