Reporter's notebook: From the climate front lines to COP26, the gap is wide between talk and reality

A giant globe spins over COP26 attendees at the OVO Hydro arena in Glasgow.
CNN Chief Climate Correspondent Bill Weir attended COP26 last week, an international climate summit where global leaders are trying to limit future global warming.

Glasgow, Scotland (CNN)Just past the giant model Earth slowly spinning overhead there winds a labyrinth of booths and displays competing for eyeballs. Around them, world leaders and delegates mingle, each one sent to Scotland to negotiate for climate action on behalf of their nations.

On paper, their challenge is simple enough for a 4th-grader to understand: The same fossil fuels that built the modern world are now destroying it. The same energy sources that powered the innovation that extended human life spans are now shortening the lives of the most vulnerable. Something must be done. ASAP.
But in practice, this "something" will be the most difficult problem humans ever solve, and the sensory riot in Glasgow's OVO Hydro arena -- named for a natural gas utility -- is proof.
    Take Australia, for example. There was buzz that the booth from Down Under had the best coffee, and while I was unable to investigate, I can that confirm that the booth of the nation led by former climate change skeptic Scott Morrison is branded with the logo of Santos, an Australian oil and gas company.
      While leaders from China and Russia were conspicuous in their absence, there's a faux birch forest at Sweden's display, while over in France's, the #MakeOurPlanetGreatAgain signage feels like a leftover from 2020, back when Donald Trump pulled the United States from its Paris Agreement promises in one of the most egregious dine-and-dashes in human history.
      Many COP props are illustrated with scenes from nature or the gaze of disappointed children, but few stop you in your tracks like the display from the tiny Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu, which features a large, cartoonish sculpture by eco-artist Vincent Huang with frightened polar bears huddled together in orange life jackets and a penguin hanging from a noose. It is up to the viewer to decide whether the poor thing was executed or suicidal.
      Tuvalu's booth at COP26 includes a sculpture by eco-artist Vincent Huang that features polar bears in life jackets and a penguin hanging by a noose.
      "A combination of diplomacy, trade show, and circus," is how science fiction novelist Kim Stanley Robinson described the Conference of Parties ritual after receiving his invite. His latest dystopian novel, "The Ministry for the Future," is titled after an imaginary United Nations task force that formed after a heat wave in India killed 20 million people in a week.
        Against a backdrop of industrial sabotage, bioterrorism and Bitcoin busts, protagonist bureaucrats in the book scramble to deploy moon-shot feats of geoengineering, like sorties of jets rigged to spray forms of sunscreen across the sky in a desperate effort to shade the planet, turn down the heat and buy our self-destructive species some time.
        Such an idea is no longer the stuff of fiction. We've reached a point where the climate models are so grim, brilliant minds from Harvard to Cambridge are actively working on break-glass-in-case-of-emergency ideas, just in case this COP ends up like the first 25, with an increase in planet-cooking pollution.
        But no one came to Glasgow to discuss the best sunscreen for the sky. They came for signs of hope, and after a summer witnessing firsthand the reality of the climate crisis, I arrived on the River Clyde desperate to find something -- anything -- to silence the inner Debbie Downer that lives in the head of everyone on this beat.