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Archive for December 22nd, 2009


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I think most people in the environmental movement expected a lot from Copenhagen. The outcome certainly disappointed  nearly every commentator. But what is baffling this morning is the blame game being played out in the pages of the Guardian. On the one hand George Monbiot squarely placed the blame on Barack Obama, the US Senate and the vested interests who pay for senators – and the rest of us who did not protest enough. On the other hand Mark Lynas gives a blow by blow account from inside the room, and points the finger at the Chinese.

In the Monbiot analysis,

Obama went behind the backs of the UN and most of its member states and assembled a coalition of the willing to strike a deal that outraged the rest of the world. This was then presented to poorer nations without negotiation: either they signed it or they lost the adaptation funds required to help them survive the first few decades of climate breakdown.

The British and US governments have blamed the Chinese governmentfor the failure of the talks. It’s true that the Chinese worked hard to mess them up, but Obama also put Beijing in an impossible position.

Lynas bases his report on what he saw in the room and some very specific details such as

The Chinese premier, Wen Jinbao, did not deign to attend the meetings personally, instead sending a second-tier official in the country’s foreign ministry to sit opposite Obama himself. The diplomatic snub was obvious and brutal, as was the practical implication: several times during the session, the world’s most powerful heads of state were forced to wait around as the Chinese delegate went off to make telephone calls to his “superiors”.

But, if Monbiot is right and there was a back room deal that was untenable for the Chinese, that response seems understandable. Lynas also seems to pin a lot on the Chinese “lack of civil society” which meant they faced less criticism of their actions at home. Equally plausible, however is that the Chinese in general are less concerned about the planet than they are about their own economic well being. After all, that applies equally to many Canadians – at least those who can be bothered to vote.

Interestingly the Chinese also see economic opportunity – and are rapidly expanding both in solar and wind powered generation.

And then there was the bizarre sight of Gordon Campbell being given an award in Copenhagen by Tzeporah Berman – which I doubt anyone outside of BC noticed or cared about.

It does seem that for all of us, the buck has definitely been passed. We can no longer rely on the politicians – any politicians – to do anything effective. So it is now up to the rest of us to start making changes – in our own lives first, and then in the communities around us. If we want to see change, we have to be the change. They might have built superhighways, but that doesn’t mean we have to drive on them all day and everyday. We can indeed influence markets by our choices, and one of the most effective ways is to simply reduce our consumption. We can close our bank accounts and move our funds to local credit unions – where we can also influence policy discussions, if we are so minded. If we are fortunate enough to have savings we can invest in ethical ventures that support sustainable living rather than just buying a mutual fund that could be invested in anything – but will inevitably include companies like Shell or the big banks unless we make more effort at finding better choices. Getting out of debt will be a very good place to be for nearly everyone, and should be an objective rather than striving for the unattainable, illusory consumer heaven we are proffered every day. But above all we need to look around us at the positive things that are happening all around, that we can join in and support. “Civil society” may have to acknowledge that our efforts to influence public policy are going to be ignored unless we can mount a much more effective mobilisation. There have been small victories – the power plant in the park being the one that comes to mind – so I am not suggesting giving up. But I do think we need some positive reinforcement, as the only satisfaction to be gained from banging one’s head against a brisk wall is that it is so nice when it stops.

Afterthought: thanks to Celia Brauer, there is a much better account of why the conference went wrong on the BBC which looks at a whole range of issues. While it is easy for a columnist to point fingers at a person or country, reality is, as always, much more complex.

And finally: Naomi Klein blames it on Obama for whom no opportunity is too big to blow

Written by Stephen Rees

December 22, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Posted in Environment

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