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Thanks Copenhagen! More Year Round Beaches!

January 22, 2010

I finally sat down to review newspaper articles and editorials concerning the recently convened international climate conference in Copenhagen.  The holidays were a busy time between visiting family in Indianapolis and my night job here in New York, and I did not give the events of the meeting the attention it deserved.  Though, as I sit here and think about it, that may be more of an excuse rather than the truth.  I just was not very interested in following the whole debacle.  Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but a global conference is convened to address a social or economic issue; heads of state deliberate long hours; seemingly insurmountable divisions arise along the lines of rich/poor countries; demands and threats are made; a watered down version of what was originally intended is drafted; and a future date is set where more substantial progress is intended to be made.  Doha round of WTO negotiations anyone?  Those negotiations started in 2001 and still there is no resolution.

Optimists may point out the leadership shown by an American president, the 100 billion offered to developing states to cope with climate change or the acceptance by the Chinese of sharing their emissions information as cause for celebration.  I would also argue that the glass is half full if in the agreement forged by the U.S., China, Brazil, India and South Africa there was a provision that the reconvening in November 2010 would produce a legally binding treaty.  That promise could not be made and thus will not happen.  Even Obama, the “hero” of the meeting, recognized the shortcomings of the agreement forged.  He noted the large gap between what is on the table and what the scientific community would prescribe to lessen people’s influence on climate change.  If my understanding of human nature and realpolitik are of any worth I would say this deal will not get done without many major catastrophes that are weather related occurring in a short period of time. 

Weather will have to cause catastrophes that play well on 24 hour news cycles.  Buildings crashing, people crying, chaos; these are the kinds of indelible images that move people and governments.  If not, what can explain the U.S. government’s initial ability gain the populace’s support in their reaction to the September 11th terrorist attacks?   They quickly dispatched troops and declared war in two countries with public support.  Billions of dollars were immediately mobilized to fight a “war on terror” and American lives offered up in sacrifice in order to protect our homeland and our way of life.  More Americans die of peanut allergies than from the diabolical schemes of terrorists!  This is the mad world we live in.  We jeopardize the economic future and safety of our children over a handful of psychopaths half-way around the world whose terror plots rarely cause catastrophic events.   

Without fear, real or imagined, or resources to be gained, I can not foresee 193 governments suddenly finding consensus addressing climate change.  If the recent acrimonious dialogue between the British and Chinese is any indication, we will not see a substantive treaty until it is too late to meet aggressive emission reduction goals.  It is interesting to see that the accord that did come out of Copenhagen was devised by five major nations with the push of the American president.  It reminds me of a conversation I once had in Tanzania with two other political science students I was studying with at the University of Dar-es-Salaam.  They were opining about how much better the world could be if true philosopher kings were at the helm of nation states.  Governments would be headed by a person of prudence who acts in the best interest of the people in all decisions.  These decisions would be quick, efficient and good.  In looking at the democratic process used by the UN in the process of creating the Copenhagen Accord, I think they philosophically have a point.  I find it unsettling that a madman such as Hitler decided and almost accomplished taking over the world while at Copenhagen world leaders proved that we may not even be able to make the decision to save us from ourselves.  I hope I am wrong.

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