Copenhagen: melt-down

Is this the date that our grand-children will look back and identifty as the moment when the planet’s fate was sealed?

George Monbiot in today’s Guardian certainly thinks so;

First they put the planet in square brackets, now they have deleted it from the text. At the end it was no longer about saving the biosphere: it was just a matter of saving face. As the talks melted down, everything that might have made a new treaty worthwhile was scratched out. Any deal would do, as long as the negotiators could pretend they have achieved something. A clearer and less destructive treaty than the text that emerged would be a sheaf of blank paper, which every negotiating party solemnly sits down to sign.

This was the chaotic, disastrous denouement of a chaotic and disastrous summit. The event has been attended by historic levels of incompetence. Delegates arriving from the tropics spent 10 hours queueing in sub-zero temperatures without shelter, food or drink, let alone any explanation or announcement, before being turned away. Some people fainted from exposure; it’s surprising that no one died. The process of negotiation was just as obtuse: there was no evidence here of the innovative methods of dispute resolution developed recently by mediators and coaches, just the same old pig-headed wrestling.[…]

Governments, whether elected or not, without reference to their own citizens let alone those of other nations, assert their right to draw lines across the global commons and decide who gets what. This is a scramble for the atmosphere comparable in style and intent to the scramble for Africa. […]

Even before the farce in Copenhagen began it was looking like it might be too late to prevent two or more degrees of global warming. The nation states, pursuing their own interests, have each been passing the parcel of responsibility since they decided to take action in 1992. We have now lost 17 precious years, possibly the only years in which climate breakdown could have been prevented. This has not happened by accident: it is the result of a systematic campaign of sabotage by certain states, driven and promoted by the energy industries. This idiocy has been aided and abetted by the nations characterised, until now, as the good guys: those that have made firm commitments, only to invalidate them with loopholes, false accounting and outsourcing. In all cases immediate self-interest has trumped the long-term welfare of humankind. Corporate profits and political expediency have proved more urgent considerations than either the natural world or human civilisation. Our political systems are incapable of discharging the main function of government: to protect us from each other.

Goodbye Africa, goodbye south Asia; goodbye glaciers and sea ice, coral reefs and rainforest. It was nice knowing you. Not that we really cared. The governments which moved so swiftly to save the banks have bickered and filibustered while the biosphere burns.

In the Independent, Johann Hari writes:

Those of us who watched this conference with open eyes aren’t surprised. Every day, practical, intelligent solutions that would cut our emissions of warming gases have been offered by scientists, developing countries and protesters – and they have been systematically vetoed by the governments of North America and Europe. It’s worth recounting a few of the ideas that were summarily dismissed – because when the world finally resolves to find a real solution, we will have to revive them.

The full article, with all the ideas outlined, is here – read it and weep. In The Guardian again, Polly Toynbee is also deeply pessimistic:

Walk around any supermarket noting the vegetables from Africa and South America. Feel the open fridges freeze you in the heat of the warm emporium, and it’s blindingly obvious that all this is not sustainable. Not the flying, not the city warmth billowing out so my geraniums no longer die in winter, nor the cars, nor the Christmas squandering and the sheer excess everywhere. Our grandchildren will not live like this – if they and their children survive.

Yet, she points out, that there are plentiful solutions:

Energy prices should rise to make renewables profitable – but credits would have to go to half the population who couldn’t afford to heat their homes. Personal carbon trading … would be fair and transparent, giving every citizen a carbon quota to spend as they choose on heating, flying or driving.

The well-off could buy unused carbon quota from the half of the population that never flies, so money passes from richer to poorer. The price would rise every year, as the quota shrank to limit emissions. Sensible, fair and redistributive, it would be easy to implement with plastic cards for energy and transport bills, compared with wartime rationing of everything all done on paper. But it would require a gigantic collective will to action and a will to redistribute to make it happen. No country as unequal as the UK, let alone the US, can have a collective will when citizens’ interests are diametrically opposed to one another. Inequality between and within nations may be the death of us.

Fixing the climate is not a practical conundrum, it is a purely political problem. We could build the windmills, the solar, the nuclear and whatever it takes to be self-sustaining with clean energy for ever if we wanted to. But enough people have to want to change how they live and spend to make it happen. So far they don’t, not by a long chalk. What would it take? A tidal wave destroying New York maybe – New Orleans was the wrong people – with London, St Petersburg and Shanghai wiped out all at once. But cataclysms will come too late for action. Just pray for a scientific wonder or that Lord Stern is right and the market can fix it, as green technology becomes more profitable than oil and coal. As things stand, politics has not enough heft nor authority. It would take a political miracle to save us now.

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