Casaubon's Book

There’s an old Far Side cartoon, with a split panel, one side showing St. Peter greeting people passing the pearly gates, saying “Welcome to Heaven, here’s your harp.” On the other panel, the Devil greets folks at the gates of Hell, saying “Welcome to Hell, here’s your accordion.” My guess is that getting off the plane in Copenhagen to attend the climate talks, is, for most of the truly sincere people who care so much about the climate, a lot like entering into the warmer territories – oh, goody, you get polkas too! No torment will be denied!

Here’s what we know about Copenhagen so far – it is doomed to failure, if one measures success by stabilizing emissions at any level that is potentially useful in, say, not starving a whole lot of people by allowing their irrigation sources to dry up. The truth is that even the majority of climate change supporters would change their tune rather rapidly if they realized what would have to be done to achieve the critical 350ppm levels that are gaining rapid mainstream acceptance. Only because most people imagine a fantasy world in which Carbon Capture and Storage isn’t bullshit, you can build out renewable energies at a literally unimaginable rate, apparently without fossil fuels, and people are willing to cheerfully pay more for their energy without political consequences, do they imagine we can “do what it takes.”

Instead, what we are seeing is precisely what we expected – all nations will attempt to use climate change politically to grab what they want. The “Danish Text” which seems increasingly likely to to be the basis of the adopted protocol is designed to screw the poor and benefit the rich. Can you think of a clearer way of saying “fuck you” to the world’s poor nations than by assigning much of the regulation and management to the World Bank, and institution that they have profound and deeply relevant reasons to distrust? The poor nations will bear the consequences first and hardest and pay the highest price.

This should not surprise us – at every level our energy and environmental process has chosen the destructive over the effective. Think about the biofuels debacle of the last few years, which according to the UN FAO estimates was responsible for between 40 and 60 percent of the precipitous rise in food prices that has left us with a billion hungry people. Many of the rich nations failed to make good on their additional food aid commitments made in that crisis, and then slashed food aid in 2009. I guess in some ways we’re lucky that we’re not having an international peak energy summit, since we don’t need any better chances to rape and pillage there.

Copenhagen is a trip to hell for those who truly and most sincerely grasp the scope of the problem. In Hell, whether your kids and grandkids have enough to eat, whether we have resource wars over the remaining water are treated as distant tertiary (if that) issues, over how much money we can get for not burning the last bits of rainforest. In Hell, politicians who view this as a purely political issue – they will be long out office before their constituents suffer much – puff themselves and their nation, making small commitments they probably won’t keep, with no real grasp of what is needed, while the people who are already paying the price get hosed again. And good people, who actually really do give a shit and are watching their life’s work be ignored in every meaningful respect get to describe future suffering, and watch people shrug and move on. And Sarah Palin gets to weigh in, to add insult to injury. She’s your accordion. And someday you get to tell your grandkids you were there when they threw it all away. With polkas. Welcome to Copenhagen. Here’s your accordion.



  1. #1 Greenpa
    December 10, 2009

    I like the Palin/accordion tie. 🙂

    I was IN Copenhagen, 20 freaking years ago. Only it was Cairo, Egypt; 1989, just before Christmas. The hotel had a big pretend camel, with Santa Claus on it, in the lobby. But it was the same bloody conference. I gave a talk; science.

    As far as I can tell, virtually ALL of the discussions are identical- and still stuck in the exact same place. Nobody much ever heard of that conference, because right in the middle of it, Reagan invaded Panama, and all the press left. Same people; same scope.

    Yes indeed, the people there are almost entirely sincere, earnest, and well intentioned.

    There was lots of agreement that the 1st world countries would have to, and would, help the 3rd world folks with technology and money.

    The disconnect comes, I think, when those folks go home, tell the home government “Look what we did! Now please send money to the folks on this list.”

    Right. My faith in “policy” discussions has not really ever recovered. Now I work on the ground, pushing icebergs.

  2. #2 Brad K.
    December 10, 2009


    We can hope no one holds a Peak Oil summit or goes to war over diminishing resources. And I suspect that if Copenhagen doesn’t accomplish any environmental goals, it will certainly cost the world a lot to line a few corrupt pockets.

    My suspicion, though, is that Peak Oil, as it unfolds, will enact all of what you wanted Copenhagen (and trusted polititicans and a corrupt UN) to do.

    It won’t take much more rise in oil prices to push up transportation costs – to start disconnecting over-the-ocean and transcontinental non-rail transport. Food security – having food available – will dismantle much of the Monsanto/ADM superstructure in modern agribusiness. Victory gardens, farmers markets, and a new emphasis at grocery stores on local (and cheaply transported) foods will make a dramatic comeback – and all just happening to diminish demand for fossil fuels.

    A guy can still dream, I hope.

  3. #3 Shamba
    December 10, 2009

    I don’t like accordions! Couldn’t I just play my piccolo instead? I really did play a piccolo and flute for about 12 years in school.

    Well, I think you’ve hit the situation spot on, Sharon, from what I can see from here.

    I love the look that chicken is giving us!

    peace, Shamba

  4. #4 Green Assassin Brigade
    December 10, 2009

    It’s all getting damn depressing, its obvious that the rich will not heed the needs of the poor or in fact their own needs to have a sustainable future.

    Just yesterday someone made a big fuss about a Group of Canadian Olympians taking a letter to our PM asking for progress on climate change. While this is a good plublicity stunt these atheletes are just like the west as a whole, selfish idiots. They claim they want a deal on climate but they spend huge resources training and traveling to competitions producing nothing of real value. Like the west they want a magical fix but don’t see that they can’t maintain their current energy greedy lifestyles. They want a deal but expect someone else to make the sacrifices.

    In an era where marytrs will blow themselves for a cause we can’t even get people to stop being selfish greedy consumers, we have lost and I am sad!

  5. #5 EMJ
    December 10, 2009

    I’ve always liked accordions (probably the result of too much Weird Al as a kid)! I suppose it’s a good thing since it’s likely to be getting pretty hot around here in the next few years. Great post, I only hope the Tuvalu proposal gains traction and takes some heat out of the invective from rich nations (I’m looking at you Financial Times).

  6. #6 Keith Farnish
    December 10, 2009

    Ooh! She swore!

    The only good thing about the Danish Text is that it’s the complete opposite of what “Lord” Monckton read bits from a few weeks ago, claiming that the USA would lose all power to the United Nations and a “World Government”.

    Monckton would hang his head in shame if he had any shame. What an arse!

  7. #7 Sharon Astyk
    December 10, 2009

    Keith, you really don’t read my stuff that often if you think my swearing is a novelty ;-). I grew up thinking “yougoddamnmotherfuckingcocksuckingsonofabitch” was one word – it was, as my father pronounced it.

    And yes, Monckton…sigh.

  8. #8 Julie
    December 11, 2009

    For what it’s worth I think Brad is right. With increasing oil/transport costs we are all going to be getting our needs met locally and I have to believe we are up to the task. It is going to be a monumental change.

  9. #9 Peter
    December 12, 2009

    Those nations screwing the poorer ones would say better the accordian and not the bagpipes, you ken? But bufferring the worlds climate change commitments with poorer nations will not meet the commitment for reductions. Increasingly the climate change window is closing and unfortunately things wont change when Ahmed, Chong, Poonam, Santos or whoever else from developing countries phones to say that their feeling the heat. It’s when the John’s and Joe’s in the world feel the skin burn that anything of real consequence will happen and then they will just slap on a sun visor and keep merrily going on. Is the west showing the east that even the earth cant win against them?? Very sad.

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