Versailles to Glasgow — lot’s of hot air

A teenager told them… all they do is talk.

Their net output, she said,
is simply…
“Blah, blah, blah.”
And not much else.

This is a tale of two world conferences a hundred years apart — and two worldwide pandemics that went with them.

Are they both destined to be remembered as failures?

Here’s an up-to-date scorecard.

Just over a century ago, when the guns of World War One fell silent on Armistice Day 1918, the Treaty of Versailles was being drafted in Paris. But while the delegates talked and talked, the Grim Reaper was waiting in the wings in the form of an impending worldwide pandemic.

The Treaty of Versailles eventual ‘signing’ June 1919 – via

Following a year of horse-trading and an abundance of hot air, 32 countries eventually signed the Peace Agreement. But the United States weaselled out. Congress was not onside and rejected both the Treaty of Versailles and League of Nations membership.

Versailles and Spanish flu

Meanwhile, Spanish flu (Spaniards call it French flu) took hold and spread around the world like wildfire.

First identified in America, the virus followed American troops to France when they arrived to fight the Kaiser. But when the fighting stopped, the carnage that had begun in the trenches went on… and on… and on.

The Great Influenza Pandemic was at work.

And when Allied troops sailed back to their homes again, the virus went with them. Spanish flu soon racked up an estimated 22 million deaths. Some historians say the number was much higher.

COP21 to COP26 in Glasgow 2021

At this year’s COP26, that young girl accused the world’s leaders of making very little progress since their last appearances at the Paris conference in 2015. Not much more than talk, talk she rubbed in.

Nos espoirs et nos rêves noyés dans leurs mots et leurs promesses creuses.

All words and no action, she summed up.

And the heads of the biggest polluters, China and Russia were not even present.

Six years ago, at the winding up of COP21, French President François Hollande described what he’d seen as a momentous detente:

France commits to climate action. Go Paris Climate Conference!
The Eiffel Tower was lit up in green.
And the Arc de Triumph was bedecked with a banner stating:

Accord de Paris. C’est fait!

France’s Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius called it an “ambitious and balanced” plan and a “historic turning point”. But others noted that significant sections were “promises or aims” and hardly firm commitments. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the Paris agreement is that it was better than no agreement.                   

And even a child saw that nothing would happen without determined intervention by governments.

“Hot air” is the bottom line according to 18-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg.

“Politicians pretending to take us seriously,” is what she called them.

So no progress to speak of since the Paris agreement of 2015 when our leaders agreed to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. But as proof that “nothing’s changed,” the 2021 Emissions Gap Report predicts that the world is currently on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7°C by the end of the century. This is well above the Paris Agreement goals and predicts catastrophic problems worldwide.

COP26 and COVID19

Some of the news footage of COP26 has been totally disheartening. Joe Biden alone took 85 vehicles with him. Several hundred others arrived in their private or air force planes.

Now we’re told that 503 people with links to fossil fuel interests had been accredited for the climate summit. They’re the very ones who’ve spent decades denying and delaying real action on the climate crisis.

And public health specialists are now very nervous about the 30,000 mixes of royalty, world leaders, media representatives, climate change activists, and various other hangers-on. They have warned about the possibility of the event becoming an infectious disease incubator. Only time will tell whether the virus (or worse, a more deadly variant) will go home with the delegates and their entourages.

So we should all know quite soon whether, like the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, the Glasgow climate change conference will go down in history as a COVID19 superspreader.           

Maybe the lights should be put out on the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triumph for a while.

And that’s the end of my “blah, blah, blah.”

What’s your view? Ray has had his “blah blah blah” moment now its time for ours – let’s go! Ray would love to hear your views whether you agree with him or not. Comments below, please.

Image credits:

Portrait Greta Thurnberg by Ray Johnstone
Treaty of Versailles via
Alberta’s provincal board of health poster via wikipedia
Seatlle Policemen December 1918 via wikipedia
National Bureaux of Economic Research via their website
Greta Thurnberg COP26TV

About the Contributor

Ray Johnstone

Ray is an artist & writer. His favourite subjects are nudes and portraits. Art holidays for groups & families are catered for in their 800-year-old house La Petite Galerie in Gascony. They also take up to 6 walkers on the 'best bits' of the Pilgrims Route to Compostela. Check out Ray's 100+ articles - he has his own column called 'Perspectives'

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