[This comes from my friend, Tad. Thanks, Tad! As non-uplifting as it is, it is very worthwhile to share…]
From Planet Drum Foundation:
Climate Report #5 from Copenhagen
David Simpson is a long-time Northern California bioregional pioneer and community leader based in the deeply rural Mattole River Valley of Humboldt County. Having written about and performed theater pieces with his partner Jane Lapiner on the subject of climate change in many places for several decades, David went to the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark to participate in whatever ways seem appropriate. It’s “Mr. Bioregion Goes to Copenhagen”.
Copenhagen and the Nature of Power
December 17, 2009
By David Simpson
To readers. Please forgive the tardiness of this essay. I think you will find it still quite relevant even though the COP 15 has been declared officially over as of about 3 PM today when UNFCC Director, Ivo De Boer, gave his last press conference. He did what he could to paint a happy face on a sobering event, portentous in its lack of success. A concluding report will follow.
There was an eerie quiet Thursday morning in the area of the Bella Center
where participants of COP 15 first enter. Right across from the expansive
coat check area are the booths and tables that NGO’s occupied as late as
yesterday where bright displays had told of their various missions
throughout the world–protecting ecosystems, forests, indigenous peoples,
communities. Some offered new processes or products that could help
communities achieve sustainability, others financing concepts to make
idealism work. Overall, these organizations represented the incredible
breadth, dedication and diversity of citizen-run efforts to overcome the
threat of climate change.
This morning, though, they were unmanned, the photo displays, the
brochures, the bright statements of decades of accomplishment in
protecting or renewing some precious aspect of the great planet
puzzle-Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Climate Action Now, on and on….All gone.
Some of the places still had bits and pieces of their displays in place,
half-taken down, half packed to go, their crews probably waiting for
permission to reenter after the event was entirely over. Many others
were barren except for simple white signs with this message printed
on them, “Civil Society Has Been Removed. How can they decide
about us without us” All were untended. It was a ghost town of good
intentions that offered mute testimony to the nature of power.
It seemed especially egregious in light of the fact that it has largely been the work of these non-profit warriors who over many decades have fought against abuse and corruption and brought to the world’s attention the damage being done to our mother planet. Govern-ment has been involved for the most part only after citizens and civil society initiatives have forced them into conscientious action,
One could too easily jump to the conclusion that now, when there are huge
amounts of money at stake in a vast potpourri of market-related
potential-ities, the big boys in the dark suits have moved in, shoving aside
the foolhardy idealists and dedicated activists, especially since these same
activists have shown clear common cause between environmental urgency
and the plight of people in the poor nations who are helpless before the
onslaught of a warming planet, the sacrificial canaries in this coal mine of
One thing is for sure, The event has lost a good deal of its color, literally.
The displays and the very clothing, mostly informal, worn by the civil society component were filled with color and ethnicity. The spectrum that meets the eye at the Bella Center has been reduced. In these closing days black–as in black suits–had come to dominate.
The black suits, though, have not yet indicated that they can succeed.
There is considerable doubt that an agreement can be reached at all now
or if it can that it will have any teeth to it. It seems that the process, at least
in the minds of many of the developing nations, has been hijacked by an
elite core of some 25 or so nations led by the US.
After experiencing the small draft of the desolation that blew through
these empty booths, we forged on to the pressroom for the next blow to
good cheer. It was delivered in an impromptu press conference held on
a stairway in the media press center where the press congregate was
assigned to work. US Senator James Inhofe had made a more or less
spur-of-the-moment trip to Copenhagen, intended to last all of five hours.
Inhofe is a fiercely conservative Republican from Oklahoma for whom
climate change is the biggest hoax ever perpetrated against the American
people–by the environmentalists.
He had come for only five hours, he said, and his ambition was simple;
to disabuse as many of us as possible of any notion that something binding
could come out of Copenhagen. If it did, he said, “it would be rejected by
the American people.” And if that wasn’t sufficiently disabusive, he added
that “there was not a chance in the world that the US would be passing any
climate legislation” anytime soon.
Pressed for reasons for his stand, he cited the fact that China, which holds
a huge amount of American debt, was not, as an Annex 2 (developing)
country, obligated under Kyoto to achieve specific levels of emissions
reductions while the US, had it actually signed on, would have been. He saw
China’s recent commitment to reductions in “carbon intensity” as
unverifiable and untrustworthy.
In my first ever press conference question, I asked Inhofe if China were to
come up with a credible plan for significant greenhouse gas reductions as
well as a way to accurately monitor and verify the cuts, would he support
America making its own commitment to cuts. He humphered and
fumphered, sweat a little and finally said he probably wouldn’t. So much for
reason. The press corps openly reeled and then laughed. It was almost
refreshing to see a real dinosaur amidst the extreme modernity of the
Bella Center. Several reporters told me later that they hadn’t quite realized
up until then what Obama was up against.
Meanwhile, like the heartbeat underlying and sustaining the body as a
whole, the delegates of the Parties carried on their negotiations in the
backrooms and side tables scattered throughout the great Center. One
can only imagine the actual work getting done. A lot of it has to do with
drafting acceptable language about a whole slough of issues in sufficient
detail to represent what the Parties feel and that is not perforated with
too many loopholes.
Hillary arrived and stepped right into an afternoon press conference to
hang out the US flag, She’s quite a study–very good at manifesting
America’s casual style of power. She delivers her message with complete
assurance which would be far more impressive if it were tied to consistency
and leavened with a little modesty.
The Secretary lay down for the first time the elements of a new Obama
plan. It included some things that no doubt Senator Inhofe would take
great pleasure in slashing. But he needn’t have worried. The Obama/Clinton
Plan seemed to be right out of Inhofe’s playbook. Blame it on the Chinese
even though you’re not really going to offer the world much anyway,certainly not in legally binding language.
The most interesting thing that the Ms. Clinton seemed to be putting on the
table was a commitment by the US to “join with other countries to mobilize
financing amounting to $100 billion a year by 2020”, but only if everyone
signed on right away and only if recipients agreed to thorough monitoring
and verification of use of funds and their successful applications. (Since,
as far as I know, the US has never shown willingness to compromise its
sovereignty to allow monitoring by third parties on its soil, what we seem
to have here is a “My Way or the Highway” kind of deal.)
Note that the Secretary of State did not commit the US alone to this
amount. (In fact, the only specific figures she seemed to be committing
the US to were emissions reductions at levels of about half of what science
indicates is required.) It is highly unlikely that she or Obama are still going
to be in office anywhere near 2020. So it is an easy promise. It should be
said, though, that this was the first time any Annex 1 Party had even
mentioned a figure high enough that it could actually offer real help to the
As the day wore on, one head of state after another held forth at the
Plenary. Brazil, Iran, Mexico, South Africa, Israel…They continued for
quite a while, carrying on about how grave the danger was and the
great sacrifices their governments were already making or preparing
to make in response.
France seems to be playing a quiet but treacherous role. Sarkozy, by all
appearances, charmed or maybe bribed the Ethiopian Prime Minister,
Meles Zenawi, into coming on board with the great powers. Zenawi, as
leading negotiator for the African Group had been up until this intervention,
antagonistic to the agenda of the large nations. Chants of “sell-out’ were
heard the next day outside the Bella Center from a team of close to 50
At the end of the day, on the Metro heading to our Copenhagen home,
(made available to us by a wonderful family related to close friends in
California) I ran into Bjorn Lumborg, the well known Danish business
academic, thinker and author of The Skeptical Environmentalist (2001),
and Cool It (2007). He claims that his earlier repute as a major greenhouse
skeptic (one who has doubts about the science of climate change as well
as its human origins) is entirely unearned.
Lumborg is open and friendly and had made himself available for interviews
in the Media Center over several days. He has a clear position now and is
extremely deft at fielding criticism of it. For him, this UNFCCC process so
many are now agonizing over is a waste of time and money. The cost, even
if we could come to basic agreements as to how to proceed, will be huge in
terms of meeting the needs of the poorest nations, and forgone productivity
from emissions cuts and other expenses. Better to direct a lesser amount
of money at research and development of new technologies. When asked
about the risks of putting all our eggs in the technological basket he retorts
that the known methods of combating climate change are just as or even
more risky. He is both persuasive and simplistic in his understandings of
nature and for both reasons he is dangerous.
I did share one perception with Lumborg, though. No matter what we do
now, even in the best case scenario, there is going to be a significant
climatic lag period before positive responses occur. We are already well
into that period as our small island, lowland and African brothers so
poignantly inform us. This is the reason why there is so much talk at
COP 15 about adaptation and financing it.
For Lumborg, though, the fix both for the lag period and what follows is
geo-engineering. One example-a massive form of cloud seeding that
would establish a high altitude aerosol layer capable of reflecting sunlight
back into space and thus keep us cool. One of the projects being
developed by his think tank/company, the Copenhagen Consensus Center,
happens to promise to do just that. (Lumborg’s Center has been backed
financially by Denmark’s conservative political party now in power.)
There is big money–potentially very big–involved here. One might be led
to conclude that Lumborg has a conflict of interest large enough to reflect
his intellectual position harmlessly back onto space. He runs from interview
to interview wearing a tee shirt, blue jeans and sneakers but one detects the
black suits waiting in the wings. Can the climate withstand the enormous
speculative surge which the attempt to provide technological fixes is on the
verge of precipitating? Will the benefits of those technologies provide both
return on investment and survival for beleaguered people of the global
south, the island states and low-lying countries?
Some grave questions on the relative power of self-interest, compassion
and the simple desire for survival must soon be answered.
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