Friday, December 18, 2009

Copenhagen - Just whose deadline is it anyway?

As the clock winds down at the Copenhagen climate change boondoggle, the theater has become evermore tedious and predictable. Obama, playing so well the ineffectual postmodern hero; Wen Jiabao, Premier of China, mouthing the usual lame alibis of the nasty heavy, and Stephen Harper.. well I'd say, the court fool, but that would denigrate a very useful medieval occupation and, Stephen is only funny when he's trying to act as if he was actually a human being.

Meanwhile myriads of primarily useless bureaucrats from all sectors scurry about self-importantly, accomplishing very little except that they will be able to go back home soon and act as if, somehow, breathing the fetid air of a predictably failed treaty process, makes them special, worthy claimants of insights into something that so very few, if any, have.

The hubris of humans individually and collectively is, of course, at the spiritual roots of why we are in crisis. Like boozed-up teenage boys on prom night, we've got high and been speeding around in our souped up vehicles, sure that cold scientific facts of impending doom will make never catch us, that we shall escape becoming a fatal statistic.

In part the foreseeable failure at Copenhagen has to with the excessively complex nature of the event itself. Billed as treaty-making it has few of the requisites for that seemingly lost art. The hitherto most complex exemplar of relatively successful multi-nation environmental diplomacy were the United Nations Law of the Sea negotiations. The process of developing a substantive multi-faceted treaty that won most of the world's support took 15 years of steadily building. In contrast, foolish hopes blossomed in Kyoto with few or no sanctions for duplicitous participants - like Canada - who figured that a climate treaty was like an election, that it's okay to promise more than you ever intend and hope that the public goes amnesiac. The global climate issue, unlike the global ocean issues, has never seen power and knowledge combined in dedicated visionary leadership. Obama, the heir apparent to saving the world, shows little of the sustained commitment that he did, for example, to passing medicare and, even more vigourously, to getting himself to the White House. Now, there was a cause he could really sink his teeth into!

No one is even asking the right guiding questions: what future course will save us and the biomes we are so powerfully affecting? What does the path to salvation actually look like? We need that vision in as much specificity as we can muster. Instead we (I refer to the collective "we" of humanity) have busied ourselves bickering about meaningless reduction targets -- is 1.5 % reduction compared to 1990 emission levels enough or should we agree on 2%? - as if scientific knowledge is anywhere close to being able to say what different outcomes such alternatives might lead to. Will this difference really matter in coastal Bangladesh and, indeed, will we ever have the predictive insights to make that call?

Meanwhile, like jealous infantile siblings, the leaders point accusatory fingers at each other, saying in effect, "I'm not going to behave if my brothers and sisters won't." There is no thought of any significant nation (something which Canada once was on the verge of being), saying in essence, screw you all: we are not going down in history (if there is any left to be read) as having dithered around while the storm tides swelled. We will make sacrifices regardless of who else does it, adopting the noble disposition of the great Spanish existentialist, Miguel de Unamuno, who said: "If it is nothingness that awaits us let us so act that it will be an unjust fate."

Meanwhile back in Copenhagen, one question that none of the legion of reporters on site seemed to have asked, is where this ostensibly unshakable deadline comes from? Yes, yes, I know that this is an urgent global problem but it is not going to be significantly less solvable (if it is solvable at all) the day, or month or year after Copenhagen than it is now. To believe that this fractional assemblage of the human population, well-fed and overpaid as it is holds the key to all our futures is just more of the same bloated self-importance and hubris that got us where we are.

Like it or not, the same pompous politicians and their lackeys will have climate change to deal with next week and into the very distant future. They don't get to just move on to the next flavour of the month issue. If there is the thinnest vein of real leadership among them, they will leave the Danish capital humbled by the enormity of what must be done, and committed to act, as they have not so far, as if - paraphrasing Unamuno once again - they are the valourous parents of our future rather than just the whimpering offspring of the past.

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