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.